Gideon Levy / What if Tzipi Livni were prime minister of Israel?
With Livni in charge, Israel would have continued the 'peace process' charade while deepening the occupation.
Did you see Tzipi Livni's speech in the Knesset last week? It was the best show in town. She was outstanding. Sharp as a razor, sure of herself, eloquent, refined, witty and downright venomous. The head of the opposition has come across in her latest appearances as an excellent speaker. "The flip is worse than the flop" and "Be a man and give in" - everyone keen to mercilessly attack the prime minister would use her witticisms, calling him by his nickname "Bibi" as he pretended not to listen. It set off the imagination: What would have happened had Livni formed the coalition? Well, the situation would be even worse.
If Livni were prime minister, she of course would have traveled to Washington, just like Benjamin Netanyahu, but she would have returned home in a hail of glory and success. Barack Obama and his guest would have emerged from their meeting smiling and embracing to tell reporters of the palpable "chemistry" between them. Two states for two peoples, the end of the occupation, they would recite. Two fresh, promising, young leaders taking the journey together, because it is their lot.
Back in Israel, Livni would have immediately invited Mahmoud Abbas to renew the negotiations, and he would have happily consented. Once a week, perhaps every two weeks, they would meet at the Prime Minister's Residence for one-on-one sessions, and the chemistry would know no bounds. He would jot down some poetic phrase in the guest book, she would host him hospitably and with respect. Livni, after all, is a pleasant conversationalist. Just ask Abu Ala - Palestinian Authority chief negotiator Ahmed Qureia.
On the plus side, the "peace process" would be launched once again. Obama would ease the pressure on Israel to dismantle the outposts and freeze settlement construction because we have a fruitful negotiation process that has seen unprecedented success; there is simply no need to intervene too much.
Even Europe would be nice to a prime minister who says the things Europeans very much want to hear, just like her predecessor, Ehud Olmert, the man they embraced after two futile wars. The settlers - those dispossessed Cossacks of ours - would scream at the injustice, for they always scream at the injustice. Every now and then, they would put up another mobile home and pave another road, because heck, who cares? The shelf agreements are on the verge of being signed and the shelf is about to be stacked with agreements. Peace is at hand.
Livni would ostensibly put off talks with Syria; this is not the time for two parallel tracks. President Bashar Assad can continue to speak of peace and wait for George W. Bush. We don't have time for him. And there is of course nothing to talk about when it comes to beginning negotiations with Hamas. Lifting the endless siege on Gaza wouldn't even be considered. This would likely harm the negotiations with Abbas, Livni would tell her interlocutors.
She, too, would have raised hell and fury in threatening Iran, though much less so than Netanyahu - this is his raison d'etre. In the West Bank, Livni's defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, would have continued with the only handiwork he knows: liquidations, liquidations, liquidations. America would have given us a pass here as well, because the negotiations would be in full force. Journalists would have reported on significant progress.
A year would pass, maybe two. These are, after all, "complex" negotiations that have no equal. Every so often there would be some mini-crisis about Jerusalem or the right of return. There would be an occasional outbreak of violence, which the Americans would make sure to extinguish immediately. But this chorus - the negotiations - mustn't be stopped. The settlement enterprise would continue to flourish, and the Palestinians' lives would continue as they were: killing, destruction, checkpoints, arrests, unemployment and humiliation.
All this would end in tears. Time more valuable than gold would be wasted for nothing. Livni would not have taken any tangible steps - no evacuation of settlements, no release of prisoners, no lifting of the siege and no reconstruction of Gaza, all of which are much more vital than any declaration of negotiations. In contrast to the Netanyahu era, the U.S. and world would once again have allowed this masquerade ball to take place. They even would have taken part.
Thankfully, Livni was not elected. True, with her, things would have been much more pleasant, but this would be a deceptive charm. With Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the world may wake up and end the sleight of hand. Who knows, maybe some Israelis will follow its lead and wake up as well.