Livni's European success

Livni is not perfect, but given the alternatives, I certainly would not rule her out.

Livni cool 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Livni cool 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
'You get what you see, and what you get and what you see are both definitely positive," a very good friend of mine who is high up on the ladder of power in the European Union remarked irreverently to me of our foreign minister recently. "She speaks her mind clearly and forcefully, doesn't beat about the bush. It is very refreshing," he added. I had asked for his opinion after hearing the wolves howling for her blood as the Kadima primary begins to warm up. Foreign ministers have to be judged first and foremost on the mark they leave on the foreign policy objectives of their country. We have had foreign ministers in the past who did virtually nothing but tend to their own image and their own ranking within their parties. We have had others - Yitzhak Shamir comes to mind - who worked tirelessly to advance subjects of great importance for the country. Tzipi Livni belongs in this second category. The need to maintain good relations with the US is, of course, of primary importance for Israel. After the US, Europe comes a close second. For years our love affair with Europe has been lukewarm at best. We have viewed the Europeans as favoring the Palestinians and the Arab world at our expense, heaping criticism on us without attempting to understand the problems we face. And the Europeans have, indeed, been harsh in their criticism of us. We have seen countries in Europe that have kept their relations with Israel to a minimum, that have been scathing in their accusations against us and open in their dislike for us. Livni and the Foreign Ministry have for many months been working assiduously to change this situation. Time and again Livni and the ministry's top officials made their way to Brussels - and to other European capitals - for yet more dreary talks. These visits are no picnic. Now, at last, their efforts have been capped with success. In the midst of one of the worst crises the European Union has had to face - in the wake of the negation of the all-important Lisbon Treaty by the Irish and the threat of the Poles to follow suit - the foreign ministers of Europe voted unanimously to upgrade relations with Israel, despite the hesitations of some countries, notably Sweden, Ireland, and, to a lesser extent, Belgium. A solid bloc of the most important countries - Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands plus virtually all the countries from the East, the newer additions to the Union - voiced their full support for Israel's improved relationship with the European Union. There were no conditions, no ifs and buts. Were there big headlines in Israel's media to herald this triumph? No, of course not. We prefer the bad to the good; we trumpet the failures and gloss over the successes. And success it has been, in a big way. THERE ARE three aspects to this upgrading of relations. The first is political. It will ease the way for Israel to make a stronger mark on Europe. To give just one example: No Israeli prime minister has ever been invited for an official visit to the EU headquarters in Brussels; compare that to the number of official visits Israeli prime ministers have made to Washington. The second aspect is that Israel will for the first time have access to the dozens of agencies and programs which form the backbone of the Union and which deal with every possible subject - education, youth, environment, transport, media, police, insurance etc. The fact that Israel will be able to integrate its activities with the EU in these manifold subjects will have an enormous impact on our economy and on our relationship with Europe. The third aspect is connected to what the Europeans call a Single Market. Here, too, the implications are manifold. How was this success achieved? It would have been considered impossible not so long ago. Full marks must be given to the hard work and the perseverance of our foreign minister and the ministry's officials dealing with Europe. "Our minister is very popular with her European counterparts," a Foreign Ministry official told me. "They all call her by her first name, and like her very much." A possible indication of that is the spate of visits from Europe. During the month of July - generally considered to be a quiet month for visits - we shall be seeing in Israel the foreign ministers of Cyprus, Italy and Ireland, as well as the prime minister of a prominent European nation. THAT BRINGS us back to the wolves who would figuratively tear her to pieces to prevent Livni from winning the Kadima primary and becoming a contender for the post of prime minister in the next election. Her only realistic rival in the Kadima primary is Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz. The kindest remark about him made by his critics is that when intelligence was distributed to all and sundry he was nowhere to be seen. His detractors consider him to have been chiefly responsible for the lackluster performance of the army in the Second Lebanon War; as former minister of defense and former chief of the General Staff, it was under his watch that the lack of preparation occurred. Mofaz was, understandably, the most knowledgeable minister in military matters, yet he failed to warn the cabinet that the army was not ready at the crucial meeting of the government prior to the war. The critics point to the dismal showing of the Transportation Ministry under Mofaz: Public transport is at an all-time low, as was dramatically indicated in the popular Politica TV show this week. A "disaster waiting to happen," was how Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Lapidot, the former head of the air force who chaired the investigation committee into the problems of our air transport described the situation, before resigning in disgust from the committee. He accused the ministry under Mofaz of criminal negligence. So who would be more suited to lead Kadima into the next election, Shaul Mofaz or Tzipi Livni? Mofaz certainly has more experience in military matters than Livni, but we have seen the poor results of that experience. Moreover, we have had civilians with no military background who made excellent premiers or ministers of defense; Moshe Arens, for example, was one of the best defense ministers we have had. Livni has proved herself in the Foreign Ministry. She made correct assessments during the Lebanon War and provided the government with a way out after it became clear that the war must end. In Europe she showed us what she can do. If the next US administration is headed by Barack Obama, she will be the most suitable leader we can have to find a common language with the new president. Livni is not perfect. None of the candidates to lead the country after the next election is perfect. But given the alternatives, I certainly would not rule her out. The writer, a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, is president of the Israel Council for Foreign Relations and publisher of the Council's Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs.