Politics: Livni's luck

Politics Livnis luck

livni fashionable in paris 248.88 (photo credit: )
livni fashionable in paris 248.88
(photo credit: )
Kadima MKs snickered in the Knesset corridors this week about whether their party should send flowers to the Palestinian sympathizers in Britain who asked for an arrest warrant against their party leader, Tzipi Livni. Before this week's scandal, all the polls were showing that Livni was losing her luster. She was suffering from overexposure, and her speeches had become stale. Her No. 2, Shaul Mofaz, had started overshadowing her, and even the most sympathetic columnists mocked her inability to unite her party against the Golan referendum bill. Then came the reports that an arrest warrant had been issued against Livni by a judge in Westminster, and the centrist leader suddenly became the center of attention. Lead headlines were devoted to her, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu defended her, Vice Premier Silvan Shalom said "we are all Livni" and even Mofaz praised her. All this for a visit to London that had been canceled two weeks ago because British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wasn't available to see her. On Wednesday, Brown called Livni to tell her she was welcome in Britain at any time. What Brown didn't say, but he undoubtedly thought, was that he wished he had her political good fortune. The beleaguered, probably soon-to-be ex-prime minister could only pray for an incident that could unite his country behind him. "There is no doubt that it didn't hurt her, but it's not like we did it on purpose," a Kadima MK loyal to Livni said. "Of course it made her more popular in the country, but that certainly wasn't her strategy. It's nice to have the public's sympathy though." Livni's luck was underscored by the praise she received from Mofaz at Tuesday's Institute for National Security Studies conference in Tel Aviv. "We all faced difficult decisions and took part in authorizing Israel's wars," Mofaz said. "Tzipi Livni was part of the government during Cast Lead, and everyone who took part in the operation requires support." Huh? Is this the same Mofaz who built an entire campaign for the Kadima leadership on the premise that Livni had no real decision-making experience or ability? What happened to the Mofaz who said on every campaign stop that Israel could not afford to be run by a "trainee"? When asked if her hand shook when she sent out the message praising Livni, Mofaz's spokeswoman said, "Hey, we're all in this together." She noted that Mofaz was also threatened with arrest in the past, and that praising her was the right thing to do. But Mofaz's associates said they expected Livni's arrest warrant to be forgotten in a few days, and that he was not about to go get arrested in a game of one-upmanship. One Hebrew paper's cartoonist depicted Livni returning to her office at Kadima's headquarters to find Mofaz sitting in her chair asking her how she got back so fast. Mofaz's associates laughed at the notion that he was the one who requested the arrest, noting that it wouldn't have been smart if it were true. "She didn't ask for [the scandal], but I'm sure she was happy," a Mofaz associate said. THE ONLY senior Israeli leader who noticeably did not issue a statement defending Livni was Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whose Labor Party competes with Kadima for votes. Barak would have looked hypocritical had he praised Livni a year after mocking her and calling her "Tzipora." "The foreign minister, with her background as it is, is not built to make decisions, not at three in the morning and not at three in the afternoon," Barak said in a memorable interview with Army Radio in August 2008. "Being in the room when decisions are made does not make you fit and ready to make them." True, Barak himself also almost faced arrest in Britain a few months ago, as did Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon. But while such reports are embarrassing for former generals, they are helpful for a woman like Livni, who is constantly trying to prove that she belongs in the old-boy network. The British judge single-handedly elevated her to the rank of a chief of General Staff. The arrest warrant also allowed Livni to speak in the name of all democracies. "It's not against me personally, but against the free world and its war against terrorism," she said at the start of a meeting with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas at the Knesset on Wednesday. "It's a challenge for the free world to meet." The warrant also overshadowed last week's report that Livni agreed to cede to the Palestinians some 92.7 percent of the West Bank during negotiations she held as foreign minister with Palestinian Authority negotiator Ahmed Qurei in 2008. That report could have harmed Livni had it had some staying-power in the press. It could not compare with the peace-pursuing Livni getting arrested as a warmonger, which is as man-bites dog as it gets. So now Livni can only hope that when the next election comes around, a conveniently timed trip abroad could give her another political shot in the arm.