Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tzipi Livni & Bibi Netanyahu

Wednesday - Livni's moment


Netanyahu does not believe in the peace process and is a prisoner of the Right's worldview.
- Tzipi Livni

The ideological divide between Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and Likud chief Binyamin Netanyahu can be bridged by a strong set of toothpicks. And yet Livni claims that she cannot become Netanyahu's vice premier and foreign minister because they disagree over the two-state solution. This unhelpfully reinforces the misperception, mostly among foreign critics, that Israel is primarily responsible for blocking the emergence of a Palestinian state.

The truth is that Livni and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have been energetically negotiating with Palestinian leaders to achieve just such an outcome. They offered significant and far-reaching concessions - to no avail.

Netanyahu is not keen on a Palestinian state (though it's a stretch to claim he opposes it) for precisely the reasons Olmert and Livni have failed to achieve one: The Palestinians won't compromise on borders; they insist on flooding Israel with millions of "refugees," and the nature of the sovereignty they seek poses an existential danger to Israel's survivability.

The Likud may be center-Right and Kadima center-Left, yet the argument that either leader would have to make a huge ideological leap to collaborate with the other is simply not credible.

It might be helpful if Netanyahu announced that the two-state solution is in harmony with his ultimate diplomatic vision of peace. But as things stand today, Netanyahu correctly points out, a fully sovereign "Palestine" in which the West Bank and Gaza are contiguous is just too dangerous a prospect to contemplate. Nor is it practical given the chasms within the Palestinian polity itself, and the fragility of Palestinian political institutions.

LAST WEEK, after hearing the disconcerting demands of the National Union's Ya'akov Katz, Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu rushed to see Livni and her husband, Naftali Shpitzer, at their Tel Aviv home. But by Monday, with Livni still refusing to join his government, Netanyahu initialed a coalition deal with Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman which, nevertheless, allows for flexibility over the distribution of portfolios should the Kadima leader change her mind.

Meanwhile, the Likud's coalition negotiations with Shas, United Torah Judaism, Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union drag on. Netanyahu is asking President Shimon Peres for a two-week extension to a put a government together. He's also asked Peres to persuade Livni to join it.

Her insistence on a rotation government suggests that Livni is not genuinely interested in a collaboration. She well knows that such an arrangement is unacceptable to Netanyahu, and that it worked poorly when Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir tried it in the 1980s.

She may simply not want to be Netanyahu's Number 2, having seen how limited her influence was in that role under Olmert.

Frankly, her refusal to play a senior role in Netanyahu's cabinet may make political sense. She gets to spend the next year and a half as leader of the opposition, as an "advocate of peace," and as a "voice against extremism." She's betting, too, on early elections and a more favorable outcome to finally catapult her to the number-one job.

SO THE only reasons Livni could possibly have for putting her own aspirations on the back burner to join forces with Netanyahu would be that most Israelis want her to, and that it would be good for the country. Kadima's 28 seats and Israel Beiteinu's 15, together with the Likud's 27 would make for a comfortable 70 mandates. So stable a government could work for urgently needed electoral reform, navigate the economy through the global recession and limit wasteful patronage.

It could develop coherent consensus positions on how to deal with the Iranian threat, Hamas's stranglehold on Gaza, and the Hizbullah menace from Lebanon.

On the diplomatic front, a Likud-Kadima-Israel Beiteinu government could finally articulate Israel's "red lines" with regard to the Palestinians. And with Livni back as foreign minister, the Obama administration, and our allies in the EU, would feel reassured that pragmatism, and not extremism, informs Israeli policies. Finally, the Arabs couldn't use the alibi of Israel's "extreme-right government" for their continued intransigence.

With time running out, Livni can yet demonstrate that she is not only popular at the polls, but can make statesmanlike sacrifices for the good of the country.

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