Analysis: Netanyahu-Livni pairing plays well abroad

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.

livni and PM370 (photo credit: screenshot)
livni and PM370
(photo credit: screenshot)
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 have.
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 considerations.
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.
And Livni needed to enter the coalition to save her political future.
After 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.
If she 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.
While the 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 months.
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 talk.
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 abroad.
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 Washington.
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 you need.”