Twenty-four hours after Ehud Olmert sneaked under cover of darkness and bodyguards to the President's Residence to tender his resignation, his heiress Tzipi Livni arrived to be named prime minister designate.
What a difference a day makes: Despite live broadcasts on all the channels, it was not a festive occasion. Rather, a melancholy gloom prevailed, perhaps because of Livni's black outfit, perhaps because she wasn't smiling. Maybe because one could imagine Shimon Peres thinking to himself: If I hadn't retired, I would be named prime minister designate today, not this girl.
There is no doubt that Tzipi Livni has learned something in the last few days. Her speech yesterday made up for a few of the mistakes she made in her first days as Kadima leader, like pushing Olmert aside and openly settling scores with Labor. Yesterday she showed respect for Olmert, who kept his word and resigned. More importantly, she spoke directly to Ehud Barak, the man who holds her key to the prime minister's bureau.
Livni realized that Barak is a difficult, unexpected partner. So she played along with him, stating her intention to form a government that would serve until November 2010 and calling on Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud to join a national unity government, just as Barak has been saying in the past weeks. She did not forget to mention that Barak and his party had forced Kadima to change its leader in order to avoid elections, and said Labor would be her main partner in the government.
These are Barak's messages. Now that the first payment has been made in public, they will have to discuss the details, which is where God is, as well as the devil. Barak will demand full partnership, amending the budget by the end of the coalition negotiations and firing or restraining Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann. Perhaps he'll even demand a veto right, something like Ariel Sharon's demand of him in the winter of 2000, when the two negotiated for Likud to join Barak's collapsing government.
Livni will have to decide just how far she is willing to go to set up a coalition. Yesterday she said she wouldn't pay any price - that was meant for the voters' ears. "Any price" is a relative term. She is no longer determined not to renegotiate coalition agreements. She no longer says, if she ever did, that Friedmann must remain justice minister. Livni is entering the age of pragmatism. The days of innocence and splendor are behind her.
As of today she wheels and deals and negotiates. She had better set up a negotiationing team rather than do everything herself. Those who know her say that's her character - unless she does everything herself, she feels it hasn't been done. There are people around her who have already set up governments. She should use them.
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