Tzipi Livni's promise, and many disappointments
Israeli politics mirrors human life in the often arbitrary allocation of reward and punishment. Livni may yet get away with it. Still, for the record at least, here is a brief catalogue of her most egregious inadequacies – from a fan.
Tzipi Livni has dealt her fans – I number myself among them – a double disappointment.
First, she got trounced in Kadima’s party primaries, putting paid to many people's hopes of a principled, peace-loving politician running against Netanyahu for the national leadership.
Second, she's failed to evince even a smidgen of introspection over why she got trounced.
The whole world is to blame, as far as she's concerned. Everyone, except Tzipi Livni.
It wouldn't really matter if, having been trounced, she was dropping out of politics, at least for the forseeable future, as she indicated she would immediately after her defeat by Shaul Mofaz in the primaries.
But the forseeable future shrank to about a week – and she's back, at least in the (Livni-inspired) punditry, plotting her comeback, at the head of a new party, or as part of Lapid's, or in some other configuration.
Israeli politics mirrors human life in the often arbitrary allocation of reward and punishment. She may yet get away with it. Still, for the record at least, here is a brief catalogue of her most egregious inadequacies – from a fan.
1. Livni never understood what the role of leader of the opposition is in a parliamentary democracy, and, to judge by her most recent statements and conduct, she still doesn't. The role is – to oppose. First and foremost to oppose the government, with every political and rhetorical resource at his or her disposal.
Livni, immature and ill-advised by slick-willy operators, thought her main role was to run for prime minister. From day one, she was campaigning. That meant, she thought with faux sophistication, curbing her tongue instead of lashing out with it; nodding-and-winking at middle-of-the-roaders instead sharpening the political debate and widening the divide.
But a leader of the opposition is judged, when elections eventually come around, by how effective he or she was in opposition, not by how pale a shadow he or she was of the prime minister. Bibi, at the head of a defeated and demoralized Likud (2009-9), understood that brilliantly; Tzipi Livni never did.
2. Tzipi Livni claims she "refused to sell out to the haredim" and for that reason failed, twice, to create a coalition under her leadership. In fact, however, she demonstrated an unfortunate fusion of aloofness and ineptness that ill-befits a would-be national leader in a country with a large and growing haredi constituency.
Shas’ leader Eli Yishai, she later recalled with misplaced pride, demanded that she sign a commitment not to negotiate over Jerusalem – and she tartly turned him down. That, she maintained, was principled politics.
Rather, though, it was pompous, prudish alienation. A more down-to-earth politician with a more sensitive ear would have duly signed – and then proceeded to continue Ehud Olmert's negotiation with Mahmoud Abbas over Jerusalem. That is what Yishai expected and indeed probably intended. And if not he, then certainly his master, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, did. Coalition agreements and new governments' policy platforms are regularly honored in the breach. Livni ably – and rightly – defended Ariel Sharon for flouting his. Why should a signature by Shas be any different?
3. And speaking of Olmert and Abbas, who came so close to a peace deal, the last and worst – in time, the first – of Livni's egregious blunders was her disloyalty to her prime minister at that critical moment in history, late in 2008. The allegations still need concrete proof. But there have been hints from Abbas, from Condoleezza Rice and from Olmert himself, that Livni, over-anxious to be rid of the scandal-enmired prime minister, failed to back his bold, historic lunge for a peace treaty.
If that's true, perhaps there is reward and punishment in Israeli politics after all, and Livni’s got her comeuppance.