(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The grand mistake, declaring victory on election night, was not Tzipi Livni's first, or even second, since Kadima's leadership became vacant last fall. Then again, her latest mistake, shunning Benjamin Netanyahu's extended hand, may well prove one of her last.
Prior to her grotesque speech on election night, when she sounded like a surreal imitation of the already surreal Muhammad Ali, Livni had made the fatal mistake of refraining from challenging her rival for Kadima's leadership to debate the issues. That rival, Shaul Mofaz, a career general with hardly a clue about most domestic issues, and a populist whose understanding of the economy is minimal at best, would have been beaten hands down, even by the lackluster Livni, who could have shown that Mofaz has no idea about things like education reform, the electoral system or the health-care industry.
Instead, Livni followed her spin doctors' advice to refrain from taking any stand on any issue at any cost. Their rationale was simple: It had previously worked for them with Ariel Sharon, when they fielded him against Ehud Barak in 2001. Back then, they took credit for Sharon's landslide victory in a strange campaign where he really said nothing at all.
However, those advisers, Eyal Arad and Reuven Adler, conveniently forgot that Sharon needed no introduction, as the man, his record and his views were more famous than anyone else's in the entire world. Moreover, his rival in that election was a political cadaver, having led Israel to the failed Camp David talks and proceeded from there to a catastrophic encounter with Arafat's terror. Even George McGovern might have defeated Ehud Barak by winter '01, with all due respect to Sharon, Arad and Adler.
Still, the tactic was repeated with Livni, and the result was that Livni nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, beating Mofaz by less than one percentage point in a contest that should have been a cakewalk.
Even so, when the general election approached the tactic was repeated, until the spin doctors realized that the voters expected some sort of a say about the issues. Not that Netanyahu was saying much - he made the same mistake - but he, like Sharon, had well-known views about almost any issue, from economics to foreign affairs. That is when Livni's advisers made a move, and told her to start talking peace. Livni concurred, declaring that the election was about peace, and that the contest presented only one choice: Tzipi or Bibi.
This, too, was a mistake.
As it were, both these statements put off centrists, not to mention right-wingers, for the prosaic reason that they don't believe peace is around the corner, and that its elusiveness is Israel's fault, no matter who leads it. These slogans did, however, appeal to left-wingers, as did Livni's cheap shots against ultra-Orthodoxy, which her advisers figured are always fair game. And so Livni fashioned herself as a darling of the Left, and her statements got her more votes, but from the wrong reservoir. Had she ignored her advisers and focused on less controversial and more urgent issues like job creation, school management and electoral reform, she would have won some votes from Netanyahu and Lieberman. Instead, she put that electorate off, and merely redistributed the votes within a sharply shrunken Left.
Still, she thought she won, and in her hallucinations she also thought she had convinced Avigdor Lieberman to betray his voters and prefer her as prime minister to Bibi. Lieberman, it turned out, went his own way, and left us wondering about Livni's ability to measure people and outsmart them, even in situations much less demanding and fateful than the ones she would have faced had she become prime minister of Israel.
Now, after having emerged with egg all over her face Livni made her super-error, when she refused to enter into coalition negotiations with Netanyahu. This mistake is both national and personal.
NATIONALLY, to say at this moment that she can't join Bibi because he "couldn't even utter the term two-state solution" is absurd. There are three burning issues now that have nothing to do with the two-state solution, issues on which there is no disagreement between Tzipi and Bibi: the economy, political reform and Iran. To let all this now boil over while Tzipi deludes herself that the real issue is the unfruitful talks she held with Abu Mazen is about as logical as seeking shelter from a noisy neighbor in a tiger's cage.
Never mind right now that even moderate Israelis, who accept the two-state principle, increasingly doubt they will live to see it happen; even Lefties today think the most urgent things to address are the economy and Iran. Yet Tzipi doesn't like the sound of Bibi's disenchantment with the idea she herself has only adopted half a decade ago, so she will now abandon the country to the devices of the populist axis - Shas, UTJ and their allies within Likud - so they will obstruct Bibi's declared intention to cut taxes, which is also what Livni wants.
Moreover, during her decade as a lawmaker Livni never crusaded for anything, certainly not governmental reform, which she now hails. Ironically, she didn't even join the effort to automatically crown as prime minister the leader of the largest party. Now she suddenly has principles, and Bibi, too, should publicly adopt them by declaring his faith in the two-state solution; unless of course he adopts her even higher principle, which is rotation.
Unless she climbs down the tree atop which she is currently nesting, Livni loses either way: if Bibi manages to stabilize the economy despite her absence, the credit will be all his, and rightly so; and if the economy tanks, he will be able to blame Livni for having condemned him to a spendthrift coalition, and for immaterial reasons.
ON THE PERSONAL level, if Livni really keeps Kadima out of the emerging coalition, she will eventually see her colleagues challenging her leadership. At the right moment, for the right price, people like Mofaz, Tzahi Hanegbi and Ze'ev Boim will find their way back to the Likud, where they came from, and where they still belong much more naturally than the life Livni is preparing for them alongside Meretz.
Tzipi may have genuinely driven as far Left as she now talks, but these guys haven't. Actually, even the Center is not their natural place in life, unless of course it comes coupled with power. But to be both on the Left and in the opposition? That may be the place of the electorate that Livni's spin-doctors delivered Kadima, and it may also be good for Meretz, maybe even Labor. But Kadima? Livni - her colleagues now quietly murmur - will sooner or later have to understand that she may be in this game for the power of ideas, but we are here for the idea of power. And she had better deliver it, or we will deliver her.