Jerusalem — Tzipi Livni’s coalition pact with right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu speaks volumes about the obstacles ahead for the moderate former Israeli foreign minister in her new task of pursuing peace with the Palestinians.
Expectations of a new peacemaking initiative have been raised by a planned visit to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan next month by U.S. President Barack Obama, who has clashed with Netanyahu over the prime minister’s policy of expanding settlements on occupied land Palestinians want for a state.
But the coalition deal attested to wariness between Livni and Netanyahu and seemed couched to reassure hardliners in his Likud party that the prime minister, who is deeply mistrusted by Palestinians, will ultimately call the shots.
Taking his first step in forming a new government after a Jan. 22 election, Netanyahu announced on Tuesday that Livni would serve as his justice minister and handle efforts to renew peace talks with the Palestinians, frozen since 2010.
Palestinian reaction was reserved, with some officials saying they first wanted to see the final shape of the government Netanyahu is trying to put together.
The addition of the six parliamentary seats won by Livni’s centrist Hatnuah party to the 31 captured by Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu faction falls short of a majority in the 120-member Knesset, and he must still recruit other partners to govern.
And while her appointment as negotiator seemed to signal a new peace drive, it raised questions whether Livni would be just a fig leaf for Netanyahu, whose pursuit of settlement expansion in the West Bank has been a critical factor in the impasse.
“He will use her as a whitewash, as a PR (public relations) person overseas,” Yossi Verter, a political commentator for the left-wing daily Haaretz, wrote on Wednesday.