Kudos to acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on his first political appointment - Tzipi Livni is to become foreign minister, replacing the Likud's Silvan Shalom.
With an excellent record in every ministerial position she has thus far held, Livni would be a welcome arrival at the intrigued-filled Foreign Ministry. It has lacked the luster, sophistication and professionalism badly needed in presenting Israel's face to the world.
Livni is now the highest-ranking woman in Israeli politics. She is the first woman foreign minister since Golda Meir. Now two of the three top policy-makers in Israel do not come out of the military. Although she had a short stint in the Mossad, where her colleagues praised her analytical abilities and intelligence, she approaches life and politics through the eyes of a civilian. Livni brings to the position a firm stand as an Israeli nationalist with a human face.
She was brought up in the ideological camp of Jabotinsky who, along with his "Iron Wall" policy, was articulate on the issue of human rights. In 1937 Jabotinsky wrote: "I belong to the group that once drew up the Helsingfors Program... the program of national rights for all nationalities living in the same State. In drawing up that program we had in mind not only the Jews, but all nations everywhere, and its basis is equality of rights."
JABOTINSKY recognized that the things we demand for ourselves - sovereignty, security, freedom, justice - are claimed equally by our neighbors and enemies. Livni was brought up believing in the "The Land of Israel for the people of Israel" ideology, but was intelligent and practical enough to recognize that translating that dream into practice would now mean the end of Zionist aspirations for a Jewish and democratic state.
For several years Livni has proactively held meetings with significant Palestinian figures. She has listened to them earnestly and expressed moderate and positive positions to them. She has consistently recognized that the only option for Israel is a two-state solution, and that in the end we will have to negotiate a fair deal with the Palestinians through their chosen leaders.
Livni's appointment could last beyond the coming elections, making her foreign minister for the years to come. And what of the tradition that foreign policy dealing with the United States, the Palestinians, Egypt and Jordan is conducted out of the Prime Minister's Office while the Foreign Ministry is left to handle Europe, Asia, Africa and South America?
It is time for foreign policy to become a more shared responsibility. All important strategic issues deserve the foreign minister's input. Livni and Ehud Olmert make a team that can take Israel forward toward renewed negotiations.
UP TILL now the government has held firm to the position that the Palestinian Authority is not a partner we can rely on. This policy has served only to weaken Mahmoud Abbas. Ariel Sharon was not viewed by the Palestinian leadership or people as a partner. Sharon's history was too problematic for the Palestinians to view him positively, and even though they accepted the disengagement from Gaza on a silver platter, they completely rejected the notion that this was an effort toward advancing a political process.
Israeli unilateralism was not part of any peace process and, in fact, emerged on the basis of there being no chance in the immediate future of any kind of fruitful negotiations. From Israel's point of view the disengagement was a sign of strength; from the point of view of the Palestinians it was a victory for Hamas and proof that Israel only understands the language of violence.
Livni now has a chance to prove that face-to-face dialogue and negotiations are preferable to unilateralism.
Perhaps it is still not too late to strengthen the moderate Abbas prior to the Palestinian elections at the end of the month. It's worth a try. Livni should encourage Olmert to invite Abbas to Jerusalem immediately, without prior conditions.
Abbas is not going to suddenly fight terrorism and dismantle Hamas, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades and Islamic Jihad before the elections. But Olmert and Livni can convey to him that once the elections are behind him, the Palestinian leader has a lot to gain by implementing his part of the road map obligations.
Olmert has taken a firm step in implementing Israel's obligations by restarting the dismantling of the unauthorized outposts, including downtown Hebron. Olmert and Livni must assure Abbas that there are "new guys in town" who want to get back to the negotiating table, and that in order for that to happen Abbas must turn his declarations of intent into policies.
Let Olmert and Livni arm Abbas with the ammunition of hope in a renewed peace process.
Assuming Olmert becomes prime minister, I hope Livni stays on as foreign minister. Let the Olmert-Livni team demonstrate the leadership that could bring us to a peace process and renewed hope for Israelis and Palestinian alike.
The writer is the Israeli CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information