While it is certainly time for Israel to once again have a woman prime minister – if only to make life uncomfortable for Shas and the other chauvinists around the cabinet table – this does not mean that Tzipi Livni’s hour has come. And if the main fact in her favor is that she has never smoked an expensive cigar, flown first-class at somebody else’s expense or accepted large amounts of unreported cash from an American friend, we have to accept that we’re setting the bar unbelievably low for would-be prime ministers.
As befits someone whose first serious job was in the Mossad, there is an air of mystery around Livni. What does she really stand for? What has she actually achieved in her political career? The portrayal of Livni as the moral conscience of Kadima, the person best placed to restore honesty and integrity to the Israeli political system, does not stand up to close examination. Anyone who joined Kadima and rallied around Ariel Sharon’s flag, as did Livni, cannot claim to be among the purest of the pure.
AT THE time of Kadima’s founding, Sharon had starred in the police investigation into the Greek island affair and the large loan from Cyril Kern and his son Omri was about to quit politics because of the criminal charges he was facing over the funding of his father’s previous Likud leadership campaigns (and for which he is now sitting in jail, waiting for his release later this month). As justice minister under Sharon, Livni must have been aware of the unpleasant odors surrounding her leader and yet she never then felt the need to speak out. Ehud Barak, who was out of politics at that time, was not so reticent. He told a television interviewer back in 2005 that the “Sharon family is corrupt to the core” but this, it seems, never bothered the freshly minted justice minister who, as a lawyer by training, surely should have had some questions to ask her boss if she was so concerned about issues of integrity and correct behavior.
And as justice minister, what were her accomplishments in office? No, I can’t remember either. It’s certainly not the Livni legal legacy that Daniel Friedmann, the present justice minister, is waging his fierce war against.
In all her political posts, and she has been a cabinet minister for the past seven, consecutive years, Livni has failed to make a deep impression.
As foreign minister, her one true contribution is to have scrapped the phenomenon of appointing lackluster politicians or political cronies as Israeli ambassadors. This is hardly the stuff of would-be Nobel Peace Prize-winners.
IDEOLOGICALLY, IT’S hard to pin Livni down. She made a radical break with her right-wing family history, leaving the Likud for Kadima, and coming out in favor of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip as the best option for Israel’s future. In an important speech to the Knesset last November, before the Annapolis summit, she made a number of statements, some contradictory. “I still think that the decision to get out of Gaza and the decision on disengagement was right, and it’s a good thing we got out of there,” she told the plenum and then, in the same breath added: “But as I said even then, and today I say it again, part of what we need to do is to try and reach an agreement, and not just to throw the key to the other side.”
Well, which is it? Unilateral disengagement or negotiated agreements? She then went on to say: “If anyone thinks that inaction represents Israel’s best interests, he is wrong on every count.” That speech was over half a year ago. Exactly what action has she taken since?
BUT LIKE the prime minister she wants to replace, it is her performance during the Second Lebanon War that raises the most serious questions as to her suitability for the premiership. While she cannot to be blamed for failing to stop what she later told the Winograd Commission she thought was a mistake, she did fail to make her presence felt at the cabinet table during this crisis. In perhaps the most damning indictment of her performance during the war, she herself told the commission that it took her a week – a whole week – to manage to persuade the prime minister to discuss the need for an alternative, diplomatic solution to the fighting.
Frighteningly, she even told the commission that she never thought about sending the prime minister a letter outlining her thoughts during this period. This failure to even manage to state her case at a time of such urgency casts serious doubts on Livni’s abilities.
And as for the farce after the war, when she called for Ehud Olmert’s resignation only to continue to serve as his foreign minister, this only further goes to show just how far away she is from leadership stature.
There are times in a politician’s career when an honorable resignation is the right option. Had Livni stuck to her guns and resigned in protest at Olmert’s refusal to stand down, she would have landed the killer blow that most likely would have ended his premiership and given her the job, not only saving the country the embarrassment of this latest round of scandal but deservingly bringing down a person who irresponsibly led an ill-prepared IDF on a military misadventure.
Her failure of nerve then marks Livni out as a person unsuited to the premiership. The next prime minister of Israel, one hopes, will be seeking to negotiate a final-status agreement with the Palestinians and a peace agreement with Syria. The outlines of both deals are clear to all: a withdrawal, more or less, to the 1967 borders alongside an Arab recognition of the right of Israel to exist peacefully within those borders. Negotiating these agreements in a way that best preserves Israel’s vital interests but also guarantees peace will not be an easy task, nor will selling them to an Israeli public.
Livni has not shown that she has the ability to do either. ==================
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post
THE JERUSALEM POST June 9, 2008