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The Tzipi Livni Factor Print E-mail

By Jay Bushinsky
October 27, 2008

JERUSALEM -- If Foreign Minister Zippy Livni wins big in Israel's mid-term national election, her decision not to form a coalition government with a slim Parliamentary now will prove to have been a master stroke.

If she does not, the svelte 50-year old attorney-turned-politician may be pitied for having committed political suicide and will become an overnight has-been. The first two public opinion polls conducted after her highly-publicized confession to President Shimon Peres that she failed to achieve her objective because of the excessive demands of the prospective partners found that her centrist Qadima party will defeat the longtime frontrunner, Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party. 

They give her 32 to his 29 Knesset seats. But Israel's headcounts can be notoriously wrong.  Suffice it to recall the big victory they predicted she would enjoy in the Qadima primary.  She came out with barely 431votes more than her main rival, Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz. 

He immediately challenged the arithmetical outcome. American sociologists discovered more than 50 years ago that polls influence the electorate because they generate a herd effect instead
of merely updating the status quo.

Livni's first task will to restore order in her own party, Qadima, which she clamis to have built.  Qadima, which is composed of self-serving defectors from the Likud with a sprinkling of ex-Laborite opportunists, is deeply divided and demoralized.  The four candidates for its leadership who competed with one another in its recent primary have left it with four factions. 

All of them are unhappy to a greater or lesser extemt about the fact that she indeed did have a governing coalition within her grasp and that she could have used it as a magnet to attract the recalcitrants or latecomers possibly including the religious Shas party.

Her second task will be to clarify her own objectives in the future capacity she boldly predicts she will fill -- that of Israel's next prime minister.  It is not enough to carp on the theme that everything she has done to date has been "for the good of the State of Israel" and that it will be so in the time to come.  All it takes is the discordant slogan, "Livni will divide Jerusalem" to deny her the support of Jews who traditionally regard the city hailed in the Hebrew scriptures as never to be forgotten and adulated by the medieval poet, Yehuda Halevi, as the essence of their dreams for the past 2,000 years.

Livni's technique in talking peace with representatives of the Palestinian (National) Authority is to work on a closed covenant covertly arrived at -- to paraphrase President Woodrow Wilson's dictum in negative language -- and to present the Israeli electorate with a  fait accompli.  In other words, to arrive at the stage when she can tell the uninformed public, ‘take it or leave it,' and 'this is the best we can get' and 'if you want peace, this is your chance.'

There can be little doubt that Livni is the preferred candidate insofar as the U.S. State Department and the administrations it serves, including the incumbent one, are concerned.

American policy is based on the dubious concept of 'land for peace.'  Besides, the U.S. never
has accepted Israel's unilateral annexation of the pre-1967 Jordanian sector of Jerusalem.

Therefore, if it will be reconverted into a divided city and that it also can serve as the capital of the projected Palestinian state,that will be good for American interests throughout the Middle East.
 
The unanswerable question is whether the U.S. will work behind the political scenes to strengthen the Livni candidacy and undermine that of Netanyahu, whose position on Jerusalem is defiantly opposed to territorial or political compromise insofar as Jerusalem is concerned.  It is impossible to ascertain whether American influence is brought to bear on the Israeli mass media's opinion makers or political factions. 

Suffice it to say that the U.S.  has one of its biggest embassies in the world here, that its personnel includes a sizable CIA component and that the forest of antennae on its roof attest to its communications prowess.

At the personal level, Livni will have to go on with her remarkable effort to change her political face and body language.  The glum expression and crooked posture that characterized her appearances prior to inheriting Qadima from her discredited predecessor, Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert, make for a bad image. 

Instead, she has to improve her now-perpetual, though seemingly painful smile and keep buttering up to party cohorts with kisses, slaps on the back and quasi-private asides.  This combination may work if only because a sizable portion if not the majority of Israelis may prefer a prime minister whose legal background enables her to work out agreements whose terms are ambiguous and whose implementation is inherently controversial (like UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the Second Lebanon War just over two years ago and which she helped phrase) to one who stands for clear cut policies that rub American officials, Palestinian negotiators and much of the international community the wrong way, i.e. Benjamin Netanyahu. 

    

 

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