What else was she supposed to do? During the election campaign, Tzipi Livni spoke repeatedly about the need for the three main parties of the centre-left – Labor, Yesh Atid, and Hatnua – to get it together and form an opposition bloc that would do all it could to prevent Benjamin Netanyahu’s third term. Alas, not twenty-four hours after the polling stations closed, there was Yair Lapid declaring to the world and his sister that he wouldn’t form an “obstructionist bloc with Haneen Zoabi.” So much for solidarity, then.
Without the largest party, the left opposition was dead, and so in effect was Livni’s time on the other side of the aisle. As a centrist party of only six seats that underachieved on election day comparative to where the polls projected she might go, Hatnua out of government would have been wholly ineffectual. Livni could not model her party on Meretz, who also have six seats but whose raison d’être is a social democratic, ecologist, and egalitarian platform that is anathema to Likudniks. Zahava Gal-On’s principal mandate, therefore, is to oppose Netanyahu. This is not the case for Livni’s centrist movement – opposition would have been death to her party, and her political career (once more).
Thus it is to her credit that, even though she possessed few cards with which to deal, she returned from meetings with Netanyahu with much to show. Tzipi Livni will be the Justice Minister in the next government – responsible for the appointment of judges and drafting legislative texts – while one of either her number two, Amram Mitzna, or Amir Peretz will take up another ministerial post, most likely Minister for Environmental Protection. The deputy who does not receive said post will be chair of the Knesset House Committee which manages the day-to-day affairs of the chamber – Peretz and Mitzna have reportedly already fallen out over this.
More importantly, Livni will lead the Israeli government’s negotiating team responsible for peace talks with the Palestinians. She will be able to appoint the members of that team, save for Netanyahu’s point-man, Isaac Molho, and will be subordinate only to the Prime Minister. This in itself is more than just a detail, since such an arrangement ought to minimize (but certainly not eradicate) friction between her and the Foreign Ministry, which will likely be kept under Likud Beteinu control. Livni will also be a member of a special council of ministers set up by Netanyahu to oversee the diplomatic issue, containing Livni as well as the future Foreign and Defense Ministers.
Livni will not be a fig leaf. Having taken Kadima into opposition once before over the Palestinian question, notwithstanding the foregoing about her political future, she wouldn’t have joined with Netanyahu if she did not believe he was serious about making some progress on peace. “We are joining the government first because Iran, Syria, and the Palestinians are no less urgent that sharing the burden and the high cost of living,” she stated, a sentiment echoed by Netanyahu. There is, Livni said, a “strategic and moral imperative to leave no stone unturned, to exhaust any possibility and become a part of any government that commits to bringing peace.”
Indeed, it is essential to consider the statement Netanyahu is making by appointing Livni as chief negotiator. During an election campaign where Likud Beteinu, Jewish Home, Yesh Atid, and Labor – in other words, the four largest parties – were either ignoring the Palestinian question or, in the case of Bennett, promoting a dangerous and non-implementable Stability Plan that would nullify their claims of statehood, Livni was the only centrist candidate actively campaigning on the two-state solution. In fact, it was all she spoke about – her bid for power centered solely on the need to end the occupation with a view to securing a Jewish and democratic Israel for future generations. No-one in the political center, therefore, is so identifiable with this cause than her.
As the first party to join the government, Livni’s Hatnua wholly alters the dynamic of coalition negotiations. With Shas set to join with Netanyahu and Livni next, followed by Kadima and one would assume United Torah Judaism before too long, the Lapid-Bennett axis that has so far hindered progress on government formation has been made redundant. With 57 seats, Netanyahu would only require one of the two to push him over the 61 mandates required to hold a majority – and if that party was Yesh Atid and not Jewish Home, all the better for peace.
But more than that, Livni’s position in government, and the commitment to negotiations and two states that brings, opens up an avenue for Shelly Yachimovich to lead Labor into the ruling coalition without losing face. This is something that Livni would favor, having said she wanted “every party that wants to promote the peace process to join the coalition.” Shas too would like Labor to enter the tent, with Aryeh Deri stating that, “Am Yisrael needs Shelly Yachimovich as finance minister. It is an interest we share as a party dedicated to those in need.” A 72-seat majority with Likud and Labor in government would fashion a consensus that could push for a settlement with the Palestinians, focus on economic inequality during a period of budgetary restrictions, and make some (if limited) gains on the sharing of the burden.
The former – a government with Lapid and/or Bennett – is more likely than the latter. But whatever machinations play out over the coming days it can be asserted that at the very least, this next government will be one that, unlike the last, recognizes the absolute necessity of a re-commitment to negotiations with the Palestinians in good faith, led by someone who is respected internationally and is very much motivated and dedicated to seeing the occupation concluded and a Jewish, democratic state secured. None of this would been achieved had Livni decided to spurn Netanyahu’s advances, and lead Hatnua off into the shadows.