She'll only make things worse

If Livni's handling of Syria is problematic, her proposals on the Palestinian front are downright disastrous.

According to the polls, Tzipi Livni might well be Israel's next prime minister. Public disgust with the government in which she serves as foreign minister has somehow bypassed her; with an approval rating of over 50 percent, she is Israel's most popular politician. Yet this popularity is mystifying - because Livni's record gives every reason to believe that she would be as dismal a premier as her current boss. As The Jerusalem Post correctly noted in a recent editorial, the very fact that she is conducting an independent foreign policy, diametrically opposed to that of the government in which she serves, is problematic: Israel cannot effectively make its case to the world when senior ministers publicly espouse contradictory positions. But the content of her policies, as outlined in recent speeches and interviews, is even more problematic. On Syria, for instance, Livni told the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee last month that Israel must conduct a "sustained evaluation" of Syria's intentions, and until then, "there is no point in making any declarations for or against" negotiating with Damascus. She thereby publicly undercut the prime minister, who opposes talks with Syria on the grounds that it has demonstrated no real readiness for peace. What was truly astonishing, however, was that her ministry's political research center had already prepared just such an evaluation, which she herself submitted to the committee - and its conclusions were identical to Ehud Olmert's. According to the ministry study, Damascus has shown no signs of willingness to comply with two key Israeli goals in any deal: ending Syrian support for Iran and for Hizbullah in Lebanon. In other words, even Livni's normally pro-negotiations ministry believes that talks with Syria, based on the available evidence, would relieve international pressure on Damascus without achieving Israel's strategic goals. Israel therefore has a clear interest in demanding, as Olmert has, that Syria provide evidence to the contrary before negotiations start. Yet Livni is publicly undermining this position. BUT IF her handling of Syria is problematic, Livni's proposals on the Palestinian front are downright disastrous. According to a report in Haaretz, which Livni has not denied, her plan is as follows: Israel should reach an agreement with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas under which Israel would withdraw from the entire West Bank east of the fence (about 90 percent of the territory), allowing a Palestinian state with temporary borders to be established there and in Gaza. Abbas would then run for election on this plan; should he win, Israel would gradually implement the withdrawal in exchange for Palestinian action on terrorism. Unfortunately, this proposal has two glaring flaws. One is Livni's na ve belief that withdrawal, once promised, can be conditioned on Palestinian counterterrorism efforts. The reality, as the Oslo process proved, is that Israel will face overwhelming international pressure to keep its promise even if Abbas does nothing on terrorism. In the two and a half years following the 1993 Oslo Accord, Palestinian terrorists killed more Israelis than during the entire preceding decade. Yet international pressure nevertheless forced Israel to execute four withdrawals over the next six years - each in exchange for the same pledge to fight terror that the Palestinians had so blatantly violated after previous withdrawals. Given that Abbas has so far demonstrated zero willingness to fight terror, Livni's proposal would thus almost certainly result in Israel being forced to withdraw to the fence without any abatement in Palestinian terrorism. That, inter alia, would expose Israel's largest cities to the same rocket bombardments now afflicting Sderot. Equally disturbing, however, is Livni's evident failure to consider the next step. Clearly, after withdrawing to the fence, Israel will face enormous pressure to proceed to final-status talks. Equally clearly, it will have to make further concessions during those talks. But under Livni's plan, Israel would already have conceded everything east of the fence. It would therefore have nothing left to concede but what it currently defines as core interests: the settlement blocs and Jerusalem - i.e. the territory west of the fence - or the "right of return." In short, Livni's proposal violates the most basic rule of negotiations: Always keep something in reserve for the next stage. But Livni's problem is not merely poor negotiating skills. Rather, she has adopted an ideology that ensures that even if she scrapped this plan, any subsequent proposals would be equally inane - namely, the myth of Palestinian centrality. As she explained in a Haaretz interview, Livni considers all other issues, such as the double whammy of Iran's quest for nuclear weapons and its threats to eradicate Israel, strictly secondary. In her words, "the Iranian issue is, of course, a problem. But my main commitment is to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I think that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a keg of gunpowder on which we're sitting and for which we have to find a solution." The solution, she added, is a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli one, and "I feel that I have an obligation to make that happen." In other words, all the issues that have actually prevented the establishment of such a state - Palestinian terror, the Palestinians' refusal to abandon their dream of eradicating Israel demographically via the "right of return," the broader Arab world's refusal to abandon that same dream - are irrelevant. What matters is the lack of such a state. Moreover, the Palestinians bear no responsibility for this lack: It is Israel, in the person of its foreign minister, which has the "obligation to make that happen." The implications of this worldview are obvious: First, details such as the security threat posed by Palestinian suicide bombers and rocket launchers must give way before the overriding strategic goal of creating a Palestinian state. And second, if such a state fails to arise, it is entirely Israel's fault - since it is Israel, after all, that has the "obligation to make that happen." Thus both the growing international antipathy toward Israel and the growing pressure to forfeit its security concerns for the sake of "progress" are entirely justified. Israel's worst enemy could not have put it better.