Home Page

Tzipi Livni's turn to try

 International Herald Tribune, Editorial, 26.09.08

It has been the mantra of Israeli-Palestinian politics for too long that nothing can move forward so long as the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the United States are lame ducks or weak. If so, the election of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to lead the Kadima party - and thus potentially to take over the reins of government from Ehud Olmert - would seem to improve the prospects of a negotiated peace. Alas, the odds remain low.
The problem is not Livni, who now stands to become the second woman prime minister in Israeli history after the formidable Golda Meir. Livni has been a competent foreign minister; she is free of the taint of corruption, and she has the sort of conservative curriculum vitae - militantly Zionist parents, service in the Mossad, membership in the right-wing Likud - that gives added credibility to her arguments on the urgent need for a two-state deal with the Palestinians.
The problem, as so often before, is Israel's chronically tumultuous politics. Livni won the leadership of Kadima, the centrist party founded by Ariel Sharon before a stroke put him in a coma, by a scant 431 votes over a militant hawk, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. And there is no guarantee that she can sustain the fragile coalition of left-wing, religious and special-interest parties that kept Olmert afloat.
Both the Labor Party and the ultra-religious Shas party have set stringent conditions on joining with Livni, signaling that even if she does form a government, it would - once again - be brittle. If she fails and has to call new elections, the entire process would be up in the air.
Sadly, weak governments have become a fixture of Israeli life. No Parliament has served out its term since 1992, and governments have often been too shaky to seriously advance negotiations with the Palestinians.
And while the peace process has been stagnant, Israel has steadily continued to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank, rendering the prospect of a deal ever more difficult.
Certainly the Palestinians, with their loyalties split between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank and their inability to control terrorism, carry a sizeable portion of responsibility for the sad state of affairs. So does the Bush administration, which has done nothing to advance the "road map" to peace it unveiled six years ago. But so long as Israel lacks a leader with a clear mandate and a firm resolve, nothing can move forward.
If Livni does succeed in forming a new government, and we wish her the best of luck, she would do well to proclaim from day one that she is serious about making peace. Freezing the settlements and easing the lives of the Palestinians would be a good start.