Analysis: Livni's so high above the fray, she's out of the game

She is honest, straight and intelligent - just what the country wants. But is she capable?

By
October 27, 2008 00:25
3 minute read.
Analysis: Livni's so high above the fray, she's out of the game

Livni UN 224.88. (photo credit: AP)

For a corruption-weary Israeli public careening from Omri Sharon to Moshe Katsav to Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni - for many - seemed a comfortable place to land. She is honest, she is straight, she is intelligent, she has integrity - just what the country wants. But is she capable? Capable, it seems, is very much in the eye of the beholder. Livni's critics say that in her charmed, nine-year political career she has held seven different ministries, including the high-profile justice and foreign portfolios, but failed to leave a significant impact on any of them. Livni always seemed a bit of a paradox. She rose very high very swiftly, without leaving much of a mark. Indeed, to a certain extent, the country was taken by her, partly because it knew so little about her. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said as much during his primary campaign against Livni, but that was said in the heat of the campaign and, as a result, largely dismissed. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has also said as much, but that has been chalked up to sour - even chauvinistic or sexist - grapes. And then, after the Kadima primary, Livni got her first big test - setting up a coalition. No matter how anyone spins it, she failed. She wanted to form a government, not go to elections, and she was unable to do it. What does this failure tell us about Livni that we might not have known before? First of all, if the negotiations are any example, it shows she is person without a lot of close, trusted political friends. While coalition negotiations past have been conducted by seasoned, heavyweight politicians, Livni opted to have a couple of very good lawyers do her heavy lifting. The end result: They dropped the furniture. Did Livni intentionally keep some of her big-name political supporters in the background - people like Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On - or was their support just on the surface to start with? Does she have a cadre of political friends she can count on? Politicians are not lone wolves; they need each other. In these negotiations, it did not look as if Livni had other A-league politicians to rely on. Where were her allies? Indeed, it is in the realm of interpersonal relations that Livni is considered weak. Which is a shame, because in politics it is precisely in the realm of interpersonal relations that politicians need to excel, since politics is the art of managing people. One of the skills both Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert had in abundance was how to deal with people - how to make them feel good, important, and give them a sense that they matter. No one has ever accused Livni of being blessed with those attributes. Although there will be those who say Livni's lack of the bar-mitzva-going, baby-kissing, back-slapping, small-talk-making political gene is refreshing, they should remember that if you want to change the kitchen, you have to get in the door to rearrange the appliances. In politics, being able to deal with people - not being seen as aloof or arrogant - is necessary to get through the door. For example, after barely beating Mofaz in the Kadima primary, Livni needed to hug him tightly. She needed to promise him the No. 2 spot, to flatter him, praise and sweet-talk him. She needed to send Mofaz to speak to Shas because he has a good relationship with that party; she needed him to persuade them to join the coalition, but - for whatever reason - she didn't go in that direction. Livni and her handlers are already busy spinning what a breath of fresh air it was that she did not pay a visit to Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef to try to convince him to support her government, or pay Shas the price it wanted. To some, it is a breath of fresh air, but to others - like the party itself that she needed to bring into her government - it smacked of arrogance. A visit to see Yosef during coalition-forming season is part of this country's political landscape. Every prime minister has done it: Yitzhak Shamir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Binyamin Netanyahu, Barak, Sharon, Olmert. Only Livni seemed to feel this was beneath her. And as far as paying Shas's price, that's called coalition politics. To get a lower price from Shas, she needed to run the negotiations more adroitly. That she was unable to says something about her negotiation skills. Maybe the pilgrimages and the coalition price are all beneath Livni, but it is all very necessary if she wants the job. Livni spared her dignity, and now may never be prime minister. If she still desires a political future, Livni - even Livni - will sooner or later have to learn that to be a politician, you have to be a politician.


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