The items that appear regularly on the menu of Israel’s confidence building
measures to the Palestinians are pretty standard fare. And this menu is always
presented before talks with the Palestinians, or pre-talks, or preliminary talks
to the pre-talks.
Releasing an unspecified number of Palestinian
prisoners is always on the menu, as is extending Palestinian Authority control
to certain areas of Area C, and limiting IDF entrance into parts of PA-controlled
Area A. Removing some roadblocks often appears, as do economic steps, such as
issuing more work permits for Palestinian laborers.
The inclusion of
Tzipi Livni in the government has never appeared on such a menu. Maybe it should
Make no mistake, Netanyahu and Livni’s announcement Tuesday about
unclenching their fists and joining hands in the next coalition was not made
because of the Palestinians.
Netanyahu did not link his first
coalition agreement with Livni’s party because he wanted to give PA President
Mahmoud Abbas something.
Rather, Netanyahu brought Livni into his next
government – and Livni jumped at the offer – because of domestic political
With the clock ticking on the time allotted for forming
the coalition, and not one party yet signed on, Netanyahu needed Livni because
of political expediency.
Only by bringing her in – for the time being
making her party the left bookend of his future coalition – could he hope to
break the alliance between Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali
Bennett that is making the coalition negotiations so dicey for him.
Livni needed to enter the coalition to save her political future.
winning just six seats in the election it was clear to all that Livni, if she
wanted to remain a political player, needed to join the coalition.
was irrelevant over the past four years in the opposition as the head of a party
with 28 Knesset members – and she was – imagine how besides-the-point she would
be in the opposition as leader of a party with only six seats.
move was surprising considering what the two leaders said about each other just
four short weeks ago – Livni slamming Netanyahu mercilessly from every podium,
and Netanyahu promising that Livni would not get near negotiations with the
Palestinians – it was not unexpected in the aftermath of the election that left
the Knesset so fragmented.
Even if this alliance was forged because of
political usefulness and not because of the Palestinians, it won’t hurt
Netanyahu in his dealings with them, and, perhaps more important, it will boost
him in the eyes of the Americans and the Europeans.
The Palestinians know
Livni. Former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei negotiated with her for
Before the last election the PA let it be known in not so subtle
ways that they would prefer her as prime minister.
And now that she has
been named as Israel’s chief negotiator – even though the final say will remain
in Netanyahu’s hands – it will be more difficult – though not impossible – for
them to refuse yet another offer to negotiate. It will also be more difficult
for the US and the Europeans to accept continued Palestinian refusal to
As the region continues to roil, few actually believe there is any
chance for a dramatic Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough. To a large extent the
game being played out right now is only about avoiding being the party pinned
with the blame.
With the international community squarely blaming Israel
for being the obstacle to movement, even though Abbas is the one who has
consistently refused to join the talks, Netanyahu over the past several years
has lost that blame game big time. But by naming Livni head of a team for still
nonexistent negotiations, he may be changing the momentum in the game, if only
just a bit. The world never gives Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt, but it
does give it to Livni.
That this is all happening on the eve of US
President Barack Obama’s visit next month is just an added bonus. It was taken
as axiomatic that Netanyahu would have been much happier had Republican
challenger Mitt Romney won the recent US elections. It is equally axiomatic that
had one woken Obama up in the middle of the night just prior to our January
elections and asked him whom he preferred as Israel’s prime minister, he would
have said Livni (or anybody but Netanyahu).
Washington and most European
capitals like Livni.
They trust her, they appreciate her mantra about
needing to find peace with the Palestinians not out of any favor to the
Palestinians, but rather because it is an Israeli interest and the only way to
retain the country as a Jewish, democratic state. Simply put, she plays well
Livni in her new role will play the part that Defense Minister
Ehud Barak played during Netanyahu’s recent tenure: the “reasonable adult” with
a record of making concessions, and someone who can be called upon to smooth
things over when the going gets rough between Jerusalem and
Again, it is doubtful that this was Netanyahu’s plan, or that
this is how he wanted things to turn out. Had he signed early coalition
agreements with Bennett and Lapid – and had Livni been brought in only at a
later stage – it is unlikely she would have been given the not insignificant
authority she has been given now.
But for Washington and Europe the
reasons why Livni landed where she did are far less important than that she did
land where she did. Somewhere in Washington, Berlin, Paris or London, someone
meditating on these developments from a US administration or EU perspective
must, when thinking of Israel from their point of view, be singing with fervor
those classic lines from that well-known Rolling Stones song: “You can’t always
get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what