We could do a lot worse than Livni

There exists a widespread fallacy in Israel that every person who believes in the need for peace with our neighbors should be branded as left wing.

livni big head 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
livni big head 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
For the time being, in the wake of the Winograd Report, it looks as though Ehud Olmert is going to survive as prime minister. The likelihood of Tzipi Livni taking over from him has receded. When it had seemed as though Livni's hour was drawing near, our extreme right wing was up in arms - because she is as determined as Olmert to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. The campaign against her was already in full swing. What is needed, according to our right-wing friends, is not merely Olmert's departure and a switch of prime ministers within the Kadima party, but immediate elections. They want to see Bibi Netanyahu at the helm. As a distant fallback they would accept Shaul Mofaz, despite his flawed policies, which contributed so much to the mistakes of the Second Lebanon War. But whether Livni's moment comes sooner, later or not at all, the denigration of her flies in the face of her popularity with the public. She is not the usual run of the mill Israeli politician. Even her worst detractors have to admit she is honest. There are no skeletons in the cupboard in her house. Her parents dedicated their lives to the good of the state; Livni imbibed nationalism and patriotism together with her mother's milk. In a recent television interview she recounted how, as a young girl, her father used to take her on weekends to visit Acre prison, where the British had imprisoned pre-state IZL (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Group) underground fighters, while her friends from school would go on picnics on the banks of the Yarkon. Both her mother and her father, who was commander of operations of the IZL, served time in that prison. Moreover, she does not brag. Her reports are factual, and if anything she goes for understatement. Anglo-Saxon understatement can be so much more effective than the bragging "Look how great I am. I am brilliant" style adopted by so many of our politicians. Many Israelis, however, do not appreciate understatement. It is seen as a sign of weakness. Macho bravado is much more popular. A typical case in point was the uncoordinated, unwarranted boasting of some of our leaders at the commencement of the Second Lebanon War. Writing in The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Zev Furst, a world expert on crisis management and the strategic use of communications and information, had this to say: "Officials and cabinet ministers were constantly being quoted in the press explaining that Israel's goals included destroying Hizbullah completely; killing Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah; securing a two-kilometer security zone; securing a six-kilometer security zone; creating a buffer zone all the way up to the river Litani." The fact that these goals were not achieved "confirmed perceptions of [Israel's] inability to achieve its stated military goals," to quote Furst, and that failure played "a crucial strategic role in positioning Israel in the minds of its neighbors." In contrast to her colleagues in the cabinet, Livni kept a low profile during the war. She did not join the bragging fest; hers was a lone, unheeded voice calling for a speedy end to the fighting. Her efforts to achieve a favorable political outcome to the war were much more successful than the concomitant military efforts. HOW DID the daughter of a dedicated IZL warrior and long-time Herut MK become a "peacenik," determined to make every effort to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians by 2009? There exists a widespread fallacy in Israel that every person who believes in the need for peace with our neighbors should be branded as left wing. Betar alumnus Livni, I am certain, does not consider herself to be left wing. Rather, she is convinced, like so many others in Israel, that for purely Zionist reasons a two-state solution is essential for our continued existence as a Jewish, democratic state. In the television interview mentioned previously, Livni was asked how she thought her father would have reacted had he known that his daughter was negotiating with the Palestinians for a peace agreement. She replied that he would have understood, for he had taught her to believe in values, especially those serving the Zionist ideal, and not in slogans; she was negotiating for a value that benefited her country, the two-state solution. There are still some Israelis - and Diaspora Jews - who believe that the only way we should be dealing with the Palestinians, and with the Arabs in general, is through the barrel of a gun. For them the negotiations that Livni is leading are anathema, the very antithesis of what we should be doing. They believe that the status quo can be continued indefinitely, and that the army will achieve the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not the diplomats and politicians. Our foreign minister thinks otherwise. Some time ago, she gave a lecture to the Israel Council for Foreign Relations entitled "Israel and the Middle East at a Crossroad" in which she spelt out her credo. The lecture was printed in the most recent issue of The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs and should be read by everyone who wants to know where she is heading. Here are some of the salient points: She is unequivocal in her view that Iran is the country "that most threatens world peace" and that its embrace of Hamas is compounding the danger to us. She argues that the moderate countries of our region understand the threat that Iran poses to them. Livni believes that it is "necessary to try to translate the understanding of the common threat into a common objective" among those countries that have realized that "the problems in this region are not of Israel's making and that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict obviously requires a solution." Livni is clear in her belief that any relations we have in the region, and indeed, in our negotiations with the Palestinians, must derive from Israel's basic objectives, which she defines as "simply Israel's existence as a state that is a national home for the Jewish people, and a democratic state, with these values intertwined - in other words, a secure country that lives, to the extent possible, in peace with its neighbors, and exists on the Land of Israel." To achieve that objective "we must promote a process culminating in two nation-states, each providing a national solution for its people in a different place." Two nation-states "living in peace side-by-side" must mean, according to Livni, that "the process of the establishment of a Palestinian state must include a declaration of war on terror." As for the refugees, "A Palestinian state will provide a full and comprehensive solution to the refugee problem," at least in principle, just as Israel "gave a home to refugees forced to leave Arab countries and to those who were forced to leave Europe." AMID THE ongoing fallout from the Winograd Report, Olmert may yet succeed in retaining his post. But if he were to be replaced by another Kadima politician, we could do a lot worse than to have Livni as his successor.