The way the new Kadima chairwoman, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, is treating her political partners in the coalition negotiations is reminiscent of her attitude toward her Palestinian partners in the final status negotiations. Does Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas want to reach an agreement? Let him give up the right of return and part of the West Bank and Jerusalem and we'll sign. Does Ehud Barak want to remain defense minister? Let him give his blessing to the outcome of Kadima's primary and we'll sign.
The platform, after all, remains the same platform, the interests are the same interests and the challenges are the same challenges. All that has happened is that a few thousand Kadima members have replaced a boss who is suspected of corruption with a boss whose hands are clean.
It is taken for granted that the supreme interest of the public's elected representatives is to make the transition period between governments as short as possible, so that they can return to running the affairs of state. But if Livni were the head of the Labor Party, or of Shas, would she be instructing her faction colleagues on the very first day after the primary to announce that they were crowning the leader of a rival party? That they were removing the modifier "vice" before "prime minister" just like that, without any give and take? Without talking about the distribution of ministerial portfolios and without a debate on principles, if only for the sake of appearances?
Livni is so sure she is right that she has no room for the positions and perspectives of others. Her concentration on the goal, be it a diplomatic agreement or a political agreement, blinds her to her partners' interests and constraints.
There are good reasons why the legislature decided that a prime minister's resignation should be considered the resignation of the entire government. It is not by chance that the law instructs the president to consult all the Knesset factions before deciding whom to charge with forming a government.
The 42 days granted the Knesset member whom the president views as having the best chance were intended to enable that MK to conduct serious negotiations with all potential partners. If no MK succeeds in putting together a Knesset majority, Kadima will go into the next elections with Ehud Olmert as prime minister; the party's chairwoman, Livni, will have to content herself with the Foreign Ministry.
This scenario is Kadima's nightmare and Labor's dream. However, Labor also fears, and rightly so from its perspective, that Livni might continue riding the waves of affection that brought her to the leadership of Kadima.
Ehud Barak is taking into account that from Livni's standpoint, it is essential to enlarge the narrow mandate she received from less than half the members of her party and win the trust of a majority of the public. He clearly has no interest in giving a political (or military) seal of approval to his main rival for voters in the center and the moderate left, whence she drew most of her support in the primary.
But it is a long way from there to a partnership between Labor and Likud, headed by MK Benjamin Netanyahu, with the help of Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman. It is to be hoped that the meeting between the man who has pretensions of continuing Yitzhak Rabin's legacy and the head of the rightist opposition was nothing but a transparent show of muscle-flexing.
However, it is not only the senior coalition partner's right to pose conditions for continuing the partnership; it is his duty. The Labor Party has legitimate demands, including replacing Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann with someone friendlier to the Supreme Court. Barak should long since have conditioned Labor's partnership in the coalition on an end to the chaos in the judicial system. Negotiations on the establishment of a new coalition, even if it is the same coalition with a different head, are the right time to fix what is awry. And if Labor Party chairman Barak were not personally responsible for the rule of law in the territories, he would also have to demand that Livni promise to dismantle the outposts immediately and halt the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
A commitment to a "true partnership" over the long term has no legal or political validity. What sanctions would be taken against the side that breaks that commitment? Should parties or MKs have to shelve their worldviews and interests and support a peace agreement, or an economic policy, solely because they signed a political agreement? A partnership agreement, no matter with whom, holds up only if all the partners are satisfied.
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