Analysis: Why Tzipi keeps running

It would be foolish for her to fold up her tent and concede that she can't put together a coalition.

livni V sign 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
livni V sign 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
In what could very well turn out to be Israel's version of the famous 1948 "Dewey defeats Truman" Chicago Tribune headline, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni addressed her supporters early Wednesday morning in Tel Aviv and claimed premature victory. "The people of Israel have chosen Kadima, and we will complete this task by forming a unity government headed by us," she said in a speech to supporters. After flashing a two-handed "V" for victory sign, Livni declared, "Today, the people chose Kadima. All that is left to do is respect the desire of the citizens of Israel and join a coalition government led by us." Or not. Now that all the votes have been counted and the dust has cleared, it seems almost impossible for Livni to put together a coalition government. She simply does not have the numbers. Nevertheless, she continues to fight on against very bad odds, leading to a simple question, "Why?" Why even go through the motions when mathematically it's clear that the center-left block she heads doesn't have the votes? And, indeed, why should she be wasting her time and energy - to say nothing of the country's time and energy - on coalition permutations that most probably won't materialize, when she should be grappling with a question that is even more relevant: should she lead Kadima into the opposition, or into a Netanyahu-led government. That Livni continues to soldier on with her coalition hopes, however, proves her belief in the dictum, "It ain't over 'til it's over." In this country, where so much is possible, it would be foolish for her to fold up her tent and concede that she can't put together a coalition. What if Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu party really can't sit with Shas and United Torah Judaism in the same government because of the former's support for civil marriage and changing the system of government? If that happens, then Netanyahu might not be able to form a narrow right-wing government. And what if the country - fearful that any coalition with the small parties might lead to a government that simply can't govern - begins clamoring for a unity government made up of Kadima, Likud and Labor? What if the editorial writers editorialize, and people take to the streets demanding that the three parties work together, and the leaders of those parties feel they have no choice but to bend to the will of the people? Then who is to say that it would be Netanyahu, and not Livni, who would lead such a government? Sure, the chances of any of that happening are about as slim as Livni's Tuesday night margin of victory over Netanyahu, but the scenario is not completely beyond the realm of the possible. And there is also another reason: staying in the ring now will allow Livni to extract a greater price from Netanyahu for joining his coalition than if she were to announce immediately that she has no chance of forming a government and was bowing out of the fight. And this underscores one of the most important rules in coalition negotiations: Never give up something for free now that you may later give up for a price.