Unity, now

We don't have luxury of wasting precious time on coalition bargaining.

livni netanyahu both in sign gr8 248.88  (photo credit: AP)
livni netanyahu both in sign gr8 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The rocket Hamas fired into the western Negev on Wednesday morning was an explosive reminder that while Israel is bogged down in post-election befuddlement, its foreign and security agenda can't be put on hold. The issue of a tolerable Gaza cease-fire deal that would not leave Israel worse off than it is today, but would free Gilad Schalit, remains unresolved. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is reportedly trying to make a surrender to Hamas's long-standing demand - 1,000 prisoners as ransom for our soldier - less repulsive by excluding four uniquely monstrous terrorists from the arrangement. Egypt is mobilizing to reconcile Hamas with Fatah and help them establish a united front. Jerusalem will need a coherent policy toward a Palestinian unity government. Mahmoud Abbas has been diligently working to have the International Court of Justice in The Hague indict Israel for war crimes over Operation Cast Lead. In the topsy-turvy world of what nowadays passes for international law, such PLO lobbying is a real threat. We need a government that can credibly warn Abbas that his continued demonization of Israel will have consequences. Over at the UN, where, to paraphrase George Orwell, the clock is always striking thirteen, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has established a committee to "investigate" Israel's culpability in defending itself against Hamas violence emanating from the Strip. Israel needs an assertive, eloquent UN ambassador who can speak truth to inanity. Israel also needs a no-nonsense defense minister to keep an eye on Hizbullah-dominated Lebanon - where there are now more missiles aimed at our North than before the Second Lebanon War - and on Hassan Nasrallah who, still in his bunker, threatens a mega-terrorist attack to "avenge" the slaying of arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh. Israel's biggest challenge is in Teheran, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told an enormous crowd celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Shah's overthrow that he was open to overtures from the new US administration so long as President Barack Obama had no ulterior motives. Ahmadinejad's party was spoiled by reports suggesting that Iran was short of "yellow cake" - raw uranium for its nuclear weapons program. The American Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, George Mitchell, has taken the "pulse" of the relevant parties. Back in 2000, Mitchell wrote that he does "not in any way equate Palestinian terrorism with Israeli settlement activity." Now Israel needs a strong government that can relate effectively, and respond constructively, to the administration's efforts to broker a deal with the Palestinian Arabs. ISRAEL does not have the luxury of squandering precious time on coalition bargaining. The existential threat posed by Iran, as well as lesser - by comparison - security and foreign policy challenges, combined with the need to competently address the local impact of the global economic crisis, demands leadership of the highest caliber. Tuesday's elections gave Kadima 28 mandates and Likud 27 (the balance of power can still shift once all the ballots are counted). It is clear that the two winners need to join forces in a national unity government. Together with Israel Beiteinu's 15 mandates - provided that party would accept a platform that ensures civil rights and equality for all Israelis, including Israeli Arabs - they can effortlessly and expeditiously form a ruling coalition and get down to the business of governing. Given that the "moderate" Mahmoud Abbas could not, or would not, cut a deal with Ehud Olmert, notwithstanding the latter's generosity of spirit (and desperation to end his tenure on a high note), it is self-evident that, for now, Jerusalem has no partner for peace. A unity government, however, would indicate Israeli readiness to encourage any genuine shift toward Palestinian moderation and viable accommodation. Netanyahu could form a short-lived, narrow right-wing government, while Livni does not appear to have an option of heading a government without the Likud - a reality that means Netanyahu holds the upper hand in coalition building, and would require Livni accepting the deputy leader's position in a unity alliance. Avigdor Lieberman could play a constructive role as minister of the interior and member of the security cabinet. Admittedly, such a scenario requires Livni and Lieberman to put country first. Given the Jewish state's need for four years of stable government under capable stewardship, this is not too much to ask.