In Search of Tzipi Livni

Now, when Livni bears the title of vice prime minister and serves as foreign minister, her voice has disappeared.

During her previous ministerial roles, Tzipi Livni was a key player in several central political and diplomatic incidents. She played an important role in filling coalition potholes on the road to the disengagement plan's passage, and she is credited with having a significant part in preparing the ground for U.S. President George W. Bush to sign a statement recognizing possible border changes between Israel and a Palestinian state, and rejecting the Palestinian right of return. And now, precisely in these times, when she bears the title of vice prime minister and serves as foreign minister, Livni's voice has disappeared.

Her absence is particularly tangible during this period, when the government is on the verge of a decision to dramatically expand the scope of the war. For four weeks, the events in Lebanon have been controlled by military considerations, and at this stage too, it appears that the operational dynamic has completely taken over the decision-making process. The Foreign Ministry's voice is not being heard, or at any rate, it is not being brought to public attention, and appears to have negligible influence over the shaping of reality.

This may be a natural aspect of any war, whose tempestuous nature focuses all discussion on achieving victory. It does not leave room for the assimilation of other considerations, nor does it give them a chance. But this does not exempt the foreign minister from fulfilling her traditional role: attempting to lower the flames with alternative ideas, political ideas. That is how most of her predecessors have behaved, even when the cannons were roaring. This includes Moshe Sharett in the 1950s and Abba Eban during the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, as well as most of those who were considered hawks before being appointed as foreign minister such as Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres, David Levy and Ehud Barak.

Livni is a natural candidate for undergoing a similar process. She is a thinking and non-dogmatic woman, and she has moderate political positions and a liberal worldview. Nonetheless, she has not made a significant input in navigating the country since July 12, when Hezbollah carried out the cross-border attack that led to the war. The decisions that have been made about the war appear to be purely military, and their results have dragged the government into additional moves in the same direction, and are now bringing it closer to a decision about a comprehensive expansion of the battlefield.

The impression that Livni is not among the decision-makers could be the result of an optical illusion. She was reported to have opposed, along with Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, the entry of ground forces into the war, which suggests that she thinks the aerial operation of the war's initial days was sufficient. She may also not be promoting herself these days, and that may be the reason she is not leaving her mark on the public discourse.

Foreign Ministry professionals have pointed to the components of international debates that they contributed, through the minister, and which are meant to lead to a diplomatic solution. These issues, which include stationing a multinational force and imposing an embargo on arms imports to Lebanon, have been included in the resolution being discussed by the UN Security Council. In addition, Livni is said to have played a large role in the government's initial decision to focus the war on Hezbollah, rather than the Lebanese government.

Nonetheless, after a month of fighting, Israel has not managed to achieve its primary goal: a complete change in Hezbollah's status in Lebanon in such a way that it will not be able to attack Israel. The government is headed, on the 29th day of war, for the same path on which it has already traveled - military escalation. The political alternative - the possibility of increasing international pressure on the Lebanese government, or in other words, neutralizing Hezbollah by enforcing the authority of the central government in Beirut over south Lebanon rather than destroying Hezbollah's military capabilities - is not being seriously discussed. This possibility is considered illusory at the moment, but the expectation of a crushing military defeat of Hezbollah is also not firmly grounded in reality.