Tzipi Livni Faces Uncertain Future as Peace Negotiator in Government of Hardliners

Most of Israel Coalition Is Wary of Two-State Solution

Lonely Voice: Tzipi Livni is a respected moderate in the Israeli coalition government and is supposed to be spearheading peace talks. What future does she have when most of her coalition partners oppose a settlement with the Palestinians?
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Lonely Voice: Tzipi Livni is a respected moderate in the Israeli coalition government and is supposed to be spearheading peace talks. What future does she have when most of her coalition partners oppose a settlement with the Palestinians?

By Nathan Jeffay

Published April 23, 2013, issue of April 26, 2013.
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But lately, Netanyahu’s 2009 speech notwithstanding, the prospects for achieving a two-state solution look bleaker than ever. On April 14, Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, whose policies are credited by many Western governments as having laid a practical groundwork for Palestinian statehood, resigned. Many blamed intransigence by the Netanyahu government for having discredited Fayyad and the moderate, pro-diplomacy path he upheld. Livni, however, refused to comment on-the-record about his departure.

The development only underlined the challenge Livni faces. Formally, Livni would seem well placed to advance her cause. She is responsible for the government’s negotiations with the Palestinians, as well as holding the justice minister portfolio.

But it seems doubtful that she has the political clout. Her party is by far the smallest in a government. And her coalition partners include the 12-seat Jewish Home, which opposes a Palestinian state and wants to annex much of the West Bank, and the 31-seat Likud-Beiteinu, in which lawmakers’ attitudes range from skeptical to antagonistic. The 19-seat Yesh Atid party supports a two-state solution but gives it little play. Its priority is domestic issues.

“I don’t think there is any room for optimism with Tzipi Livni,” said Shaul Arieli, a former member of Israeli negotiating teams. Today he is a leader of the Geneva Initiative peace proposal. In his view, Livni simply “doesn’t have the power to push this government.”

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem political scientist Shlomo Avineri noted that from 2006 to 2009, Livni and Ehud Olmert, as foreign minister and prime minister, respectively, were unable to make a peace deal, though both professed a strong commitment to the peace process. “Even if she would be prime minister today, I cannot see how she would be more successful,” he told the Forward, adding, “She isn’t going to do something that is mission impossible.”

Livni ducked when asked if she herself was optimistic about her chances. “This is the only alternative that can preserve the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish democratic state,” she said, “so it’s not whether I’m optimistic or pessimistic. It is more about what needs to be done. What are the interests of the State of Israel? … We believe that maybe there is an opportunity there.”

One limited area where Livni may advance a dovish agenda is on the issue of unauthorized Jewish settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank. “Part of being the justice minister is to enforce law and order,” she said when asked how she would approach them. “This is part of my job.”

In June 2004, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised President George W. Bush to start removing unauthorized outposts — wildcat settlements built without state approval — within 60 days. But only a handful of them have been demolished. Netanyahu’s last government tried hard to avoid action against them. In fact, his right-leaning justice minister, Yaakov Neeman, actually began the process of retroactively legalizing 11 outposts.


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