Pursuing Peace From the Opposition

In democracies, situations arise in which a real leader serves the nation's interests from the opposition. This is one of those times.

If Tzipi Livni insists, she can extract an explicit commitment from Benjamin Netanyahu that a unity government between their parties will strive for peace with the Palestinians. A bit more pressure, and the prime minister-designate could declare he supports the principle of two states for two peoples. There are even rumors the Likud leader is ripe to conform his coalition guidelines to the road map, that dusty document calling for "Israeli-Palestinian negotiations aimed at a final-status agreement in 2005."

Foggy interpretations of this clause even enabled the partnership, in the shape of Kadima, of Shimon Peres, the midwife of the Oslo Accords, to the policy's gravedigger, Ariel Sharon.

Let's say attorneys Haim Ramon and Ram Caspi draft a similarly vague document, which puts the son of Revisionist Benzion Netanyahu and the daughter of Irgun commander Eitan Livni on the altar of peace. The day after the consecration ceremony, Livni would telephone former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia to set a date for renewing negotiations. Those talks will be held on the basis of a public commitment from outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the 2007 Annapolis Conference that negotiations would deal with all issues that have been avoided until now. "We won't shrink from any subject, we will deal with every core issue," he said then, presumably meaning borders, settlers, refugees and, of course, Jerusalem.

Livni must ask Netanyahu, whether he is ready to begin negotiations on core issues from the starting point she and Olmert reached after dozens of talks with Qureia and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. By extension, does he agree to the creation of a Palestinian state on 94 percent of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley? Will he even conceive of negotiating the fate of Jerusalem, and relinquishing sovereignty over a sizable portion of the eastern part of the city? And what about the Arab Peace Initiative, which Livni described as a "historic opportunity that must not be missed?"

On the eve of elections Netanyahu promised he would not be satisfied with "economic peace," as he has often described his vision of relations with the Palestinians, and that he would open diplomatic relations with Ramallah. Nonetheless, he emphasized that a Likud-led government would not be bound by any agreement reached during the previous administration's term. This means Livni will need to tell her Palestinian friends to forget about the understandings reached between them over the course of more than a year. Netanyahu will then convene his panel of experts and recommend they trash any existing peace proposals and fold the road map into a paper plane.

The Palestinians, after all, are used to starting over from scratch. The Wye River Accords of 1998, understandings reached at Camp David in 2000 and at Taba the following year have all been dispatched to the archives.

Livni's followers on the right deny there is any dispute over talks with the Palestinians. They claim, correctly, that the issue is an egg that has yet to hatch, the proof of which, they believe, is that Livni herself reached a dead end in negotiations. If she ends up joining Benny Begin or Moshe Ya'alon, however, we can expect no dove of peace to emerge from that egg, which will not leave even a shell of hope for those who believe in the two-state solution. Who will continue to pursue it? Ehud Barak? The three Meretz MKs to survive the election?

Whether Livni and her fellow Kadima members like it or not, struggling as they are to set aside the reins of government, she is a leader of the peace camp. Elections for the 18th Knesset returned the right to power and sent that camp into the opposition. From there Livni can continue talks with Palestinian representatives, even about Jerusalem, without fear of Eli Yishai's taking apart the government as a result.

If it is indeed in her power to build a bridge between the two sides, she should seek to draft a final-status agreement. That is the only way to rescue hopes of peace and turn the next elections into a referendum on Israel's future as a Jewish democratic state. Who knows, maybe that's also the way to energize Netanyahu. Ariel Sharon said the Gaza disengagement was a response to Yossi Beilin's Geneva Initiative.

In democracies, situations arise in which a real leader serves the nation's interests from the opposition. This is one of those times.