Will she or won't she succeed? Like spectators at a gladiator match, the public waits to see whether Tzipi Livni succeeds in building a coalition - whether she pays bribes to Shas, learns how to respect Ehud Barak, returns Shaul Mofaz to the Transportation Ministry and recruits Benjamin Netanyahu. Indeed, there is much to wait for. The show has just begun.
The audience waits eagerly, with peanuts and Livni's CV in hand. It knows her weaknesses and what she has said about others. It doesn't expect big surprises. A government, it seems, will be formed, and it appears there are already volunteers offering to provide it crutches. This will naturally be a limping government, one that lacks understanding in security and economic issues and has yet to prove a thing in the social arena.
Barak, for example, has already demanded from Livni that he be allowed to manage negotiations with Syria - not only manage them, but become an active partner. These are, after all, security-related negotiations. Still, it would be wise to keep a cool head. The government's composition must prove that Livni - not Barak, Mofaz or Shas chairman Eli Yishai - will handle the real crises facing Israel, according to her own judgment.
As in the governments of Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak, Israeli democracy produces an elected, not appointed government. But in practice, like in the United States, this is a presidential regime. The leader at the top of the pyramid is the one who dictates policy, makes difficult decisions and takes responsibility for failures. Parliamentary or governmental responsibility are phrases that have sat on the shelf for years.
As we saw with the Winograd Committee, each minister knows how to elegantly shirk collective responsibility, and each had an excellent plan, which it's a shame the prime minister failed to heed. Each knows best, and this would have been evident had they themselves been prime minister.
The truth is they don't, and it would be best if Livni internalized that view herself. The Israeli public may be indicating that it is about to accept a lowest-common-denominator government, one that will continue the pseudo-policy inherited from Olmert - pseudo-talks with the Palestinians and Syrians, and pseudo-concern for the economic situation. Still, the public is hoping its leadership does not settle for a seal of incorruptibility from the police, but that this time it actually leads.
Managing talks with the Palestinians or Syria is not a holiday bonus granted to a minister for qualifications he may have had in the past. Rather, it is based on that leader's worldview and political vision, not on how many soldiers he deployed to Hebron or the Golan Heights.
Livni is no longer associated with the phrase "Tzipi will divide Jerusalem." Jerusalem is already divided. Instead, her name comes up in reference to how she will divide it in order to guarantee security to its residents and a stable political solution. Likewise, her worldview must not be reflected solely in the disbanding of a few tiny outposts, but on drawing the State of Israel's national borders.
Livni will have to determine, not as strategy but as a policy, whether a political solution with Syria has a future, or whether it is wiser to prepare the army for a series of wars on the northern border. Should she put together a government, Livni will not be able to serve as her own foreign minister. Until now, the public has allowed her to indulge in the odd verbal runaround to conceal ambiguous policies. In any case, the important stuff always came from Olmert's lips. From now on, all ears are cocked for what she says.
The Israeli citizen is an impatient listener. Lack of confidence in the past few prime ministers has produced the impression that each has run circles around the public, only to leave it in the lurch.
Each prime minister "navigated," to borrow a phrase from Yitzhak Rabin, but seemed to be using a blank map, always relying on the Israel Defense Forces to cover up political errors. Livni could also tread this well-worn political path - to wink at Barak, bow to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef of Shas, smile at Mahmoud Abbas and boldly gaze ahead past the Hamas leadership's threatening pronouncements.
In short, she too can claim to be entitled a few runarounds of her own. But for a reason still unclear, she has thus far left the impression of being something new and more solid - wooden, in the good sense of the word.
So let's let her begin to manage, and begin to lead.
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