When I voted for Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party in the last general elections and saw it win more Knesset seats than any other party, I of course expected her to form the next government. But as subsequent events proved, Israel’s perverse political system presented Livni with the choice of either getting into bed with those whose opinions and behavior she had campaigned against, or taking a principled stand and refusing to sell out her beliefs in order to form a governing coalition and gain the premiership.
Her refusal to bow to the blackmail of religious parties, which were only prepared to join her coalition if there was plenty in it for them — to the detriment of the secular majority, of course — opened the door for Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who would surely have made a fine weather vane had he not chosen to go into politics, as he appears able to miraculously change his affiliations according to the direction of the prevailing winds. “Principle” is a word that has doubtless been whited out from the dictionary on Netanyahu’s library shelf.
And so, Livni left other political opportunists such as Ehud Barak to assemble a rag-tag alliance of parties willing to sit alongside Netanyahu — as long as there was plenty in it for them — and to hell with the good of the country and the electorate that had put them there. What did Livni’s stand say about her as a politician, though? Well, many believe that, in hindsight, she made a mistake, and that Israel would be a better place now had she taken over the reins of power and found a way to bring in line over a period of time those that would have been partners in her coalition. They suggest that her lack of killer instinct is the main reason that her own party has turned its back on her in favor of the more right-wing Shaul Mofaz, a former chief of General Staff who had originally been groomed to go far in Likud.
Whether or not Mofaz will turn around the fortunes of Kadima remains to be seen, but Livni is now considering her future and some reports suggest she may well step down from public life and resume her former career as a lawyer. However, I sincerely hope she decides to stick around to find a worthy alternative to those who deserted her principled stand in order to gain access to the prime ministerial limousine. More dovish than Mofaz, more opposed to the creeping rise of the religious parties than her successor, and more acceptable to the international community as a genuine negotiator for peace in the region, losing Livni would be a major blow to Israeli politics.
There is no doubt that Israeli public opinion is inexorably moving to the right, and that the only hope — for those of us who want to see a more centrist government — is to see Labor, Yair Lapid’s new political movement, like-minded sections of Kadima and others, unite under one flag. Whether or not you support their opinions is one thing, but there needs to be a solid opposition for the good of Israeli democracy and in order for the political process to remain even half-effective.
Principles, as Tzipi Livni found out last night, are all well and good, and worthy of great respect, but in Israeli politics they can prove incredibly costly when the majority of those that follow you would be hard pressed to comprehend the meaning of the word.