Finally, Livni finds Bibi's Achilles' heel

Livni's message will be an even bigger challenge to Netanyahu than Iran.

Livni speaks at Herzliya Conference 390 (photo credit: Courtesy of Kadima)
Livni speaks at Herzliya Conference 390
(photo credit: Courtesy of Kadima)
"When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight," so wrote Samuel Johnson, "it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
For 3 years, Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni has labored in vain to puncture Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's standing in the public. And for 3 years, her attacks have fallen flat. Time after time, her criticisms of his policies and his government have failed to undermine his support. But now, with countless rivals breathing down her neck, Livni has finally cracked the code and figured out Bibi's weak spot.
Even if occasional polls have suggested that a majority are dissatisfied with Netanyahu's functioning as prime minister, Likud's number of expected Knesset seats in the next election—the only count that matters—has remained rock solid. Kadima, on the other hand, has slumped in the polls, which suggest that if elections were to be held now, the party would lose nearly a third of the seats it now holds.
Netanyahu's success in this regard is a historical rarity, as incumbent prime ministers (especially in Israel) almost always lose their support over time. In fact, since Golda Meir was re-elected in 1973, only two prime ministers—Menahem Begin and Ariel Sharon—have been able to win re-election. Even then, Begin’s 1981 re-election victory was by a hair, beating Labor's Shimon Peres by a mere 0.5 percent, and due in large part to the electoral bump gained by bombing Iraq's nuclear facility at Osiraq three weeks earlier.
Most impressively, Netanyahu's standing in the polls has remained intact despite several major challenges, notably the country's worst wildfire and the largest protest movement in our history. Although Netanyahu himself deserves little of the direct blame for these things, the same is not true regarding our foreign relations. Here Netanyahu's actions have directly led to major diplomatic rifts with our strongest allies—and not just with Obama, but Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy as well, all of whom came into office as big supporters of Israel. Yet through all this and more, Tzipi Livni couldn't capitalize.
Until now. Suddenly, with Shaul Mofaz breathing down her neck in Kadima's quickly approaching primaries, not to mention Yair Lapid and Shelly Yachimovich cutting badly into her party's standing in the polls, Livni has finally figured out Netanyahu's Achilles' heel.
In her speech at the Herzliya Conference last week, Livni tapped into what really gets under the skin of the moderate, average Israeli. It's not about concessions made in negotiations with the Palestinians or even the lack of a peace agreement. It's not Yair Lapid's initial slogan, "Where's the money?" nor Shelly Yachimovich's calls for a social-democratic state. 
No, the sentiment Livni successfully tapped into was that we, the sane, centrist part of the country, do not call the shots on a laundry list of crucial issues. Worse yet, those who do determine the status quo (read: extremists elements among settlers and haredim) are leading us headlong to a future of which we want no part. Most troubling of all—and here's what is new for our discourse—given the fast changing demographics, we are quickly approaching our electoral "point of no return." One day in the not-too-distant future, we will be unable to take back the reins of government, and thus lose the ability to form a coalition of the "sane center" which could fix those facets of our society that are utterly broken and will eventually lead us to catastrophe.
Or as Roni Daniel, the longtime military affairs commentator for Channel 2 recently lamented, "This country is becoming a place that less and less feels like it belongs to me. To me and to those like me…. By that I mean those who go to the army at 18… do reserve duty, go to work, and pay taxes. We are excluded from this state, and each and every day that exclusion becomes more severe."
Livni's move here is brilliant. The picture she paints is one where she and Bibi (and by implication, most of Likud's voters) should—in theory—be on the same side of the fence. He should also tremble in fear for our future when a majority of Israeli 2nd graders are not from Zionist homes (meaning either Arab or haredi).
Yet Netanyahu has proven singularly unwilling to take the decisive steps that history demands, a hostage to his extremist coalition partners. His unwillingness to reign in those building illegal settlements on far-flung hilltops in the West Bank undermines our relationships with our closest allies, as seen by Germany's decision to hold up the supply of additional Dolphin-class submarines. His unwillingness to ensure that haredi schools teach math and science with the same rigor they teach the Talmud sentences them to a lifetime of poverty, and will one day condemn our economy as a whole to death. 
Until now, Netanyahu has appeared unassailable, and the victory of the present coalition in the next election all but assured. History, however, would suggest that such a conclusion is premature: a candidate with a powerful message can reshape the electoral landscape. For such a campaign to succeed, the candidate must clearly point to a fundamental challenge our country faces, paint a picture of how bleak our future will be should we not change course now, and then give us the answer for we can solve the issue and overcome the challenge.
Livni's new message does this. As this message is repeated in the months to come it will present an even bigger challenge to Netanyahu than whether or not to bomb Iran. I might end with paraphrasing the classic author, Victor Hugo: One can withstand the invasion of an army but not the invasion of an idea whose time has come.
The writer is the former Deputy Director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center (GLORIA) in Herzliya.