Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attempt to bring the Kadima party, "or part of it," into the governing coalition has ended in embarrassing failure. Netanyahu blundered first by trying to persuade Knesset members to quit the largest opposition party, and then by publicly appealing to Kadima leader Tzipi Livni to enter the cabinet as a minister without portfolio. The prime minister's statements about the need to broaden the coalition due to "the challenges Israel faces," and his hints of a major national crisis similar to the run-up to the Six-Day War, were not convincing.
The prime minister's problem is not his political tactics, but his strategy. In his talks with Livni, Netanyahu asked her why no one seems to believe his stated intention of advancing the peace process with the Palestinians. The answer to his question is clear. His decisions and actions raise doubts about his desire to bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Netanyahu is superb at equivocating. He halted new residential construction in the settlements and then added settlements to the list of national priority areas. He promised that "the time is ripe to renew the peace process" and went to Cairo to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and at the same time issued public tenders for hundreds of new apartments in East Jerusalem. How is it possible to take his call to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table seriously when Israel is tightening its hold on the disputed city?
At one of the lowest points in his career, in a televised debate with Yitzhak Mordechai before the 1999 election, Netanyahu asked his opponent, "what is your path?" Now he should pose the same question to himself. His political maneuvering between left and right and his attempts to satisfy his political partners are leaving him bereft of public credit.
Livni was right in refusing to accept a cabinet position devoid of content after Netanyahu refused to hold even the most basic discussion of policy with her. This stance united Kadima's ranks behind her and halted her colleagues' planned desertions to Likud. There is no point in broadening the coalition simply for political convenience.
If Netanyahu wants people to believe him, he has to convince them that he is committed to advancing the peace process, with no tricks and no gestures aimed at compensating the settlers. Only after he proposes a new path and demonstrates willingness to confront the right over it will it make sense to shore up the coalition from the left.
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