Hope is in her hands
Livni must use the trust the public has given her to surprise us with a new kind of government.
Tzipi Livni must not get confused: Her victory over Shaul Mofaz in Kadima's leadership race was not a victory of the righteous. The work that Immigrant Absorption Minister Eli Aflalo did for her up north was not the work of the righteous. The work the vote contractors did for her in the south was not the work of the righteous. Nor are Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's courtiers, who are now flocking to her court, the righteous.
Thus the slim victory the foreign minister achieved on the nerve-racking night between Wednesday and Thursday was not a victory of the Sons of Light over the Sons of Darkness. It was a victory of yearning. A victory of the hope for hope.
Ariel Sharon's ranch forum used the word hope - in Hebrew tikva - in a malicious way. Hope not as in the title of the national anthem, "Hatikva," but rather as in the name of a cow. Behind this expression were Reuven Adler and Eyal Arad. The two taught the old warrior that what this nation wants is some sort of glimmer on the horizon. What this nation needs is a promise of some sort of good.
Sharon, whose worldview was not at all optimistic, internalized the audience demand and set up an assembly line of hopes: the grandfather on the tractor, the disengagement, Kadima. Sharon knew very well that these hopes were virtual, but he also understood that such hopes work. They worked for him in 2001, they worked for him in 2003 and they worked for him in 2005.
In 2008, they are working for Livni. Kadima MK Tzachi Hanegbi and Finance Minister Roni Bar-On did not enlist on Livni's behalf because they believe in her. They did so because they believe that she is the hope this time around. Like the grandfather on the tractor, the disengagement and Kadima, Livni now bears on her shoulders Israelis' longing for good. Let it be good at last. Enough with the garbage.
As of now, this hope is a hollow one. Tzipi Livni is a principled, intelligent and cautious woman, but until now, she has not done anything real in the realms of statesmanship and leadership. Livni did a service for the nation by replacing Olmert and defeating Mofaz. However, she does not yet have either the vision or the experience that would qualify her to be prime minister. Her victory was not a victory of substance, but rather one of image. The political decision to trust her and deposit the country's fate in her hands is a huge gamble.
What gives this gamble a chance is Livni's integrity, modesty, directness and sense of responsibility. These character traits will be put to the test in the coming weeks. They will determine whether Livni succeeds in transforming the image that she broadcasts into substance. Whether she succeeds in transforming the hope that she radiates into a real plan of action.
Livni must read the map accurately. Two immediate threats are at the gate: Tehran and Wall Street. Beyond them are two deeper threats: education and the occupation. It is necessary to grapple with all four of them, but it is also necessary to prioritize. The urgent requires urgent treatment; the deep requires in-depth treatment.
In dealing with Iran, Livni has a big advantage. Her international image is positive, and therefore, her chances of leading the international community into energetic diplomatic action against Iran's nukes are better than others'.
As foreign minister, however, she did not do enough. As prime minister, she will have to do a great deal more - and right away. She must formulate a comprehensive Israeli strategy whose aims are sanctions on Iran, on the one hand, and negotiations with Syria, on the other. She must present this strategy to the American president-elect in November and lead an emergency campaign to block Iran. If Livni treads water on the Iranian issue, she is useless.
In dealing with the economic storm, Livni is in a weak position. She is not an economic authority, she is not an economic expert, and her political ally is a middling finance minister. Her first mission is thus to replace Bar-On with the best economic leader Israel can produce. It is possible that an emergency cabinet will be necessary. It is possible that a 1985-style package deal will be needed. But first of all, Livni has to prove that she is prepared to pay the necessary political price in order to establish a worthy economic leadership.
Neither the education problem nor the occupation problem will be solved tomorrow. In both these areas, Israel has made fateful mistakes that cannot be rectified with a flick of the wrist. Livni will have to formulate comprehensive plans to deal with these two existential problems from the bottom up.
No cosmetic New Horizon education reform, please. No hallucinatory Olmert-Mahmoud Abbas delusions. What are needed are real moves that will truly change the reality, even if the change is not immediate, but rather a process. Livni must elaborate a vision and draw road maps. She must advance Israel cautiously and judiciously toward the goal of a Jewish-democratic nation-state that will once again be an educational powerhouse.
Livni will not be able to deal with these four threats without a strong, high-quality government. Therefore, she must not try to put together the same coalition that Olmert had. If Livni wants to grow and become a true national leader, she must recognize that not only did Olmert fail, but his government failed. She must recognize that the current structure and makeup of the government are unacceptable.
Livni must use the trust the public has given her to surprise us with a new kind of government. A government that will replace image with substance. A government that will replace spin with responsibility. A government that will not exploit the hope for hope, but will actually make it come true.