At the end of Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, after the Israel Defense Forces took over the West Bank's cities and Ariel Sharon's government imposed a boycott on Yasser Arafat, I asked then-foreign minister Shimon Peres how he was able to support the destruction of the Palestinian Authority. "What do you want from me?" he said. "Ask the Americans why they stood on the side. You expect me to oppose an operation that they have given a green light to?" I also asked the question to a senior official in the Bush administration. "How can we condemn an operation that the leader of the 'peace camp' is peddling around the world, while defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, a leader of the Labor Party, is running things at home?" I was told.
This story explains why Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Tzipi Livni would be the first person he'd call after President Peres assigned him to form a government. Were Peres, Arafat's Nobel Peace Prize partner, available for a job offer, Netanyahu would gladly include him in his group of supporters. He learned from Ariel Sharon that a little leftist spice improves the flavor of a rightist dish.
Livni did terrific work with Condoleezza Rice on peace. What fun it will be to tell the guys how she explained to Hillary Clinton that Netanyahu does not really intend to keep the Golan Heights and the Shuafat refugee camp. When Barack Obama pressures Bibi to dismantle the outposts, he will ask Livni to tell the American president why a Kadima-Labor government, with Amir Peretz and Ehud Barak at the defense ministry, stuck him with this problem.
The question, therefore, is not why Bibi is interested in Tzipi, but why should a politician who has made a name for herself as a woman of principle be interested in joining his government. Livni directed her comments to the "children of the winter of 1973" less than two weeks ago. "There is a dove on the windowsill," she said. "We can slam the window shut and it will go away, and we can open it and let the dove in, carefully, and promote the peace process." The children of '73, and also the children of the '67 and '82 wars, believed that if they voted for Kadima in the elections, Livni would bring the dove home and save it from Bibi and Avigdor Lieberman.
Polls supporting the Geneva Initiative by the company New Wave suggest that Kadima owes its narrow election victory to these people. Unlike previous elections where Kadima supporters positioned themselves in the middle on all political issues - between Likud and Labor - before the last elections, at the peak of the Gaza fighting, 70 percent of those who described themselves as Kadima supporters favored continuing talks for a permanent settlement (compared with 45 percent of Likud supporters). Moreover, 63 percent of Kadima supporters favored a withdrawal to the 1967 lines with minor changes based on the exchange of territory. They also backed the division of Jerusalem and a limited return of refugees, which Israel would agree to.
If Livni poses for a photograph at the President's Residence next to Netanyahu and Benny Begin, as if nothing had happened since she left Likud, these good people will be contemptuous of her. And what will her partners in Ramallah say, the same ones gripping what is left of the diplomatic process? And was the "Big Bang" that Haim Ramon promised actually the entry of Kadima into a coalition government with Avigdor Lieberman?
The history of governments that were erroneously called "unity governments" teaches us that no party ever rose to power by being a co-pilot. This has only happened after a period of rehabilitation on the opposition benches. More important is that history dispels the overused argument that the presence of moderate politicians (everything is relative, of course) in such governments helps balance the ship. All our important political agreements were reached under governments led separately by Likud and Labor.
In Livni's dove-on-the-windowsill speech, Livni presented Israel's citizens with a challenge by calling them to choose in the elections between a Jewish state and a binational state, between a state of fear and a state of hope, a state of initiative and a state of gridlock. In other words, to choose between her and the rest. Now the challenge is entirely hers. She must not join a Netanyahu government.
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