Had Tzipi Livni promised to remove East Jerusalem from the Israeli-Palestinian agenda, she might have removed Ehud Olmert from the Prime Minister's Office tomorrow. But no Israeli leader, including opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, can permit herself or himself to sign a document that clearly contradicts a formal commitment made by the country's prime minister to the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. It is not hard to guess what would happen if Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) were to promise Hamas that the issue of Palestinian sovereignty over Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount) would be removed from the negotiating table.
In the previous elections Kadima requested and received a mandate from the public to transfer the formula for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza ("the disengagement") to a unilateral withdrawal ("the convergence") from select parts of the West Bank. Olmert had no difficulty at the time promising that Jerusalem would remain outside the diplomatic negotiations. Only several months later, thanks to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the traumatic war in Lebanon, did Kadima change direction and follow the Oslo Accords route. Former prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon pushed the Palestinian partner outside the Jewish consensus. But Kadima brought it back.
To the credit of Olmert and Livni, it must be said that they lifted the peace process out of the dumps. The "process," but not the peace. It's a shame that their public declarations were not heard in the negotiating rooms as well, and that the interviews in the press were not translated into understandings. On paper, Livni bypassed Barak on the left and almost reached Meretz. Last July, at the end of a meeting with the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan, who came to Israel as emissaries of the Arab League, she said that the Arab peace initiative was "a historic opportunity that should not be missed," and explained that its essence was that the more Israel advances toward the Palestinians in the context of the peace process, the more it will benefit from progress in relations with the Arab world.
According to the initiative, in exchange for normal relations with the 22 members of the Arab League, Israel must withdraw from all the territories occupied in 1967, support the establishment of a Palestinian state with (East) Jerusalem as its capital, and agree to a just solution of the refugee problem on the basis of UN General Assembly Resolution 194.
Almost a year has passed since Livni began negotiations with Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala). To date the foreign minister has not achieved significant progress toward understandings on any of the issues. She has not presented a map delineating borders, has declared that no refugee will be allowed to return to Israel, and has avoided serious discussion of Jerusalem. As far as is known, she was ready to promise Shas chairman Eli Yishai that her government would not offer the Palestinians any concessions in the Old City. She also rejected the demand of Meretz to mention the Arab peace initiative among the government's basic guidelines.
In the coming elections Livni will be the one to raise the banner of the struggle over the Jewish and democratic nature of Israel, and entrenching its status in the world and in the region. If Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and his supporters do not pull her toward the right, she will try to turn the peace process into Kadima's spearhead in the election campaign.
To that end, it will not be enough to flaunt her refusal to surrender to the "political blackmail" of Shas. The candidate of the ruling party for the premiership will have to reveal to the electorate the positions she presented in negotiations with the Palestinians. Because the positions of the Palestinians and of the Arab League have barely changed during the past year, it will not be difficult for people to find the differences.
And where is the Labor Party, the one that paved the way for dialogue with the Palestinians and eight years ago began the negotiations over the final status agreement? If the defense minister is afraid to present his own peace initiative, why doesn't he evacuate several mega-outposts and stop the construction in the settlements entirely? But instead of demanding that Livni give an accounting of her achievements in the negotiations with the Palestinians, Ehud Barak last week repeated the mantra that Abu Mazen is not ready for a peace agreement. It turns out that in the draft of his coalition agreement with Livni, there was no mention of the Annapolis process, of evacuating outposts or of freezing settlements.
The time has come for someone to tell him that Benjamin Netanyahu has won the battle over the declaration that "there is no partner," but the battle for peace is still on.
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