The height of political cynicism: Tzippi Livni joins Bibi’s coalition

Netanyahu and Livni

Tzippi Livni has taken her party (alternatively called Hatnuah – which sounds like a bowel movement or a traffic jam – or the Tzippi Livni party – which sounds like the height of arrogance) into Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, becoming the first party to join in the as-yet unformed coalition. She is to be appointed not only Justice Minister, but will have responsibility, Heaven help us, for negotiations with the Palestinians.

As Arutz Sheva reports:

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made headway in his attempts to form a coalition, having apparently convinced Hatnua head Tzipi Livni – his former political rival as head of the Opposition – to join the government.

[...]

According to initial reports, Livni will be made Justice Minister in the next government. In addition, she will play a major role in diplomatic talks with the Palestinian Authority.

Livni will reportedly be the only minister authorized to negotiate with the PA, and will report directly to Netanyahu.

The six-seat Hatnua party is expected to get two other positions as well: MK Amir Peretz will be made the Minister for Environmental Protection, and MK Amram Mitzna will head the Knesset’s House Committee.

Sources on the political right expressed surprise and upset at the deal. “Netanyahu lied to his voters when he said that Livni would not be responsible for diplomatic negotiations,” they said. “Netanyahu is taking us back by four years.”

And there you have the first example of utter cynicism and disregard of the voters on the part of Netanyahu.

The surprise announcement regarding the agreement with Hatnua comes one day after Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) head Naftali Bennett reported that there have been no serious coalition talks between Likud and Bayit Yehudi for a week.

The Jerusalem Post expands further:

“The State of Israel needs a broad unity government,” Netanyahu said in a joint press conference with Livni Tuesday night announcing the agreement. “We face unprecedented challenges from Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah that do not stop for one minute. In addition to our commitment to security, we must make every effort to promote a responsible peace with the Palestinians. We need a stable government uniting the nation to respond.”

[...]

In an apparent reference to Yesh Atid’s unwillingness to sit in a coalition with haredi parties, the prime minister said now is not the time to get tougher in negotiations, and that parties should not reject entire populations.

Livni addressed the fact that she spoke out harshly against Netanyahu in the election campaign and as opposition leader, saying she “took a political risk and will face criticism, and that’s fine.”

“This partnership came about after talks, and after I was given the right and authority to negotiate for Israel to end the conflict with the Palestinians,” she said.

“This reality is bringing the US president to visit next month. The conflict continues, with Hamas ruling Gaza and hopefully not Judea and Samaria.”

[...]

According to the agreement, Livni will be the chief negotiator with the Palestinians, but will coordinate with Netanyahu, who is to lead a ministerial committee on the peace process that will include Livni and the defense and foreign ministers.

In addition, Livni will be able to choose her own staff for peace talks, except for one representative appointed by Netanyahu. The representative is expected to be the prime minister’s lawyer Yitzhak Molcho, who has been involved in negotiations with the Palestinians in the past.

Any agreement reached with the Palestinian Authority will have to be brought to both a ministerial and a Knesset vote, and even a possible referendum, a condition that may be an opening for the Bayit Yehudi to be able to enter the coalition.

Still, Bayit Yehudi responded to the announcement of Livni joining the coalition by saying it alienated the party from the government.

“A government with one of the major supporters of the Gaza disengagement, who is in favor of dividing Jerusalem, is not a right-wing government,” the party stated.

As justice minister, Livni will be chairwoman of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, whose approval determines whether bills live or die, and she will also be a member of the Security Cabinet.

Another member of the Livni Party, most likely Amir Peretz, who is third on the list, will become environmental protection minister and a member of the Socioeconomic Cabinet.

For another classic example of political cynicism, just read these next words from the above article:

Ahead of the election, Peretz switched from Labor to the Livni Party, because at the time, Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich was not committed to staying out of the coalition.

Cynicism is too mild a word for this behaviour. Hypocrisy? Two-faced? Bitterly hilarious? I leave it to you to decide.

Here’s an example of Livni’s hypocrisy:  An article from the haredi VosIzNeias website before the elections noted that Livni slammed Netanyahu for not forcing the military draft on all haredim. Yet here she is joining a coalition which will in all probability include the haredi Shas party.

As for Netanyahu, despite the fact that I feel his policies in principle are close to my own, I have never felt that he is trustworthy. He is too much a reed in the wind, bowing to public opinion and kowtowing too easily to foreign pressure. And here he is declaring that Livni will never lead the peace negotiations. Well, of course that was before the elections. Cynicism and political opportunism knows no bounds.

From the article:

During the election campaign, Netanyahu had reportedly made clear to several of his senior staff that no talks were taking place with Livni or other members of her party, and that the chances of her joining the next government with him as Prime Minister were nil.

Livni managed the negotiations with the Palestinians poorly,” Netanyahu was quoted in December as having told ministers. “Her entire stance is wrong and unacceptable to me.”

Environment Minister Gilad Erdan later appeared to confirm the report, when he said during a television interview that in any case, even if Livni’s party joins the coalition, she will not be involved in peace negotiations between Israel and the PA.

Erdan made it clear that he was speaking on behalf of Netanyahu, saying that Netanyahu had personally assured him that Livni “will not take part in any negotiations with the Palestinians.

Livni’s rushing to join Netanyahu’s coalition appears odd, since she claimed, when she formed her party, that she had returned to politics to replace Netanyahu. She has always tried to project the image of standing by her principles, one of which was not to do what she has just done.

She also criticized Netanyahu over everything during the campaign. In one instance, she slammed Netanyahu after he criticized PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas for meeting Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal.

Now come the political self-justifications on the part of both players. Tzippi Livni says that joining the coalition is not a betrayal of Hatnua voters. Riight.

A day after she shook up the political system by becoming the first party leader to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergent government, Tzipi Livni on Wednesday said that her decision to sign on to a Likud-Yisrael Beytenu-led coalition was an expression of the two parties’ “common goal” and did not constitue a betrayal of her voters.

The Hatnua party’s about-face — Livni had asserted that she’d never serve as a “fig-leaf” in a right-wing Netanyahu government, a sentiment expressed in even stronger terms by her party’s number three, Amir Peretz — will land her in the position of justice minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians. Peretz will serve as environmental protection minister.

“We understand there was nothing personal,” Livni said, downplaying past disagreements between Netanyahu and herself. The “common goal” she shared with the prime minister was not a “sudden” revelation, Livni told Israel Radio, but rather the result of many hours of talks since the January 22 elections.

[...]

Livni stressed that her move wasn’t a “betrayal” of her voters, and did not contradict her “deep criticism” of the previous administration; nor, she averred, had that criticism diminished. “The question is whether or not we can still implement those policies that we discussed, both in negotiations [with the Palestinians] and with the Justice portfolio,” she said.

And from the Likud we hear a reminder, sounding like a plea, that Livni has joined Netanyahu’s coalition and not the other way round:

Hatnua chairwoman Tzipi Livni should remember that, despite the fact that she will lead the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, she’s still entering a nationalist government, MK Danny Danon (Likud) said Thursday.

“On the one hand we are not happy to see Tzipi Livni negotiating on behalf of the Israeli government, but let’s take things in perspective,” Danon told Arutz Sheva. “Tzipi Livni is joining Netanyahu’s government and it’s not the Likud joining Livni’s government. Hatnua is a small faction with six seats.”

He continued, “I should also add that I’m going to be there and fight for our values, strengthen the settlement enterprise and it is important that the representatives of Hatnua know this as well. They are entering a nationalist government headed by the Likud and not a left-center government.”

His words are all very well, but judging by the sweeteners granted to Livni, it looks as if Likud is the more eager side.

For some analysis on the implications of this coalition deal, here are some interesting links:

Israel Hayom says we get the politics we deserve.

How can we square the fact that Livni served as foreign minister under Ehud Olmert, who offered to divide Jerusalem, with the positions of Netanyahu who has declared over and over that dividing Jerusalem is out of the question? Has Livni changed her views? Is it possible that Netanyahu intends to change his own views on this issue?

Before the elections, Netanyahu announced that in the course of his next term, no settlements would be evacuated. Tzipi Livni, on the other hand, along with her dovish colleagues (MKs Amir Peretz, Amram Mitzna, Meir Sheetrit) is an outspoken proponent of evacuating settlements as part of a peace deal.

Now that she has been put in charge of conducting negotiations (even though the coalition agreement explicitly stipulates that she will be guided by the prime minister and overseen by a committee of ministers and a representative of the prime minister), will she fight on behalf of settlements in her negotiations with the Palestinians? Perhaps it is Netanyahu who will change his mind, just as he did when he agreed to two states for two peoples? It’s unlikely that’s what his voters had in mind.

For those who seek to guarantee the future of the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria, there are now new reasons for worry.

[...]

One way or another, signing Tzipi Livni to the coalition is a new height of political cynicism, even in an election season that has seen many parties outdo each other in cynicism. Politics here is no longer the “art of the possible,” but the art of the impossible.

Bringing Livni into the government is a distortion of the will of voters from the nationalist camp. Why is it that we are not even surprised by it?

We have become used to a political culture where promises are negotiable, and political positions can be switched as easily as socks. And if we’ve become used to this culture, then maybe it’s the one we deserve.

The Times of Israel slams Livni for never missing an opportunity to make the wrong decision:

the woman who went on TV to implore the heads of the two leading center-left parties to join her and build an alliance to thwart the unsuitable Netanyahu’s return to the prime ministership is now the first to join the coalition, all but ensuring that Netanyahu will retain the post.

This is the same Livni who passed up the opportunity to lead the nation after her Kadima party leader Ehud Olmert resigned as prime minister more than four years ago because she wouldn’t cut a deal with Shas. Now she’ll be a junior player in a coalition led by her bitter rival, almost certainly with Shas, which is applauding her trailblazing move and preparing to follow suit.

[...]

It was Livni who called the loudest for the three major center-left parties to work together to prevent Netanyahu from retaining the premiership. “There is a battle to be fought. The fight isn’t over yet. We mustn’t surrender,” Livni said on January 4, on live TV, begging Lapid and Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich to enter some sort of alliance against Netanyahu’s Likud-Beytenu. The goal, she asserted, was to “work together to bring down Netanyahu.”

[...]

But why did Livni break her pre-election promises, referring to them as “something being said during election campaigns” in her joint press conference with Netanyahu on Tuesday?

[...]

She’s certainly making a difference; the question is for how long.

The Jerusalem Post explains the political machination behind Netanyahu’s deal:

With the clock ticking on the time allotted for forming the coalition, and not one party yet signed on, Netanyahu needed Livni because of political expediency.

Only by bringing her in – for the time being making her party the left bookend of his future coalition – could he hope to break the alliance between Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett that is making the coalition negotiations so dicey for him.

And Livni needed to enter the coalition to save her political future.

After winning just six seats in the election it was clear to all that Livni, if she wanted to remain a political player, needed to join the coalition.

[...]

Washington and most European capitals like Livni.

They trust her, they appreciate her mantra about needing to find peace with the Palestinians not out of any favor to the Palestinians, but rather because it is an Israeli interest and the only way to retain the country as a Jewish, democratic state. Simply put, she plays well abroad.

[...]

Again, it is doubtful that this was Netanyahu’s plan, or that this is how he wanted things to turn out. Had he signed early coalition agreements with Bennett and Lapid – and had Livni been brought in only at a later stage – it is unlikely she would have been given the not insignificant authority she has been given now.

Arlene Kushner (h/t Daled Amos) comes to the same conclusion about the political thinking behind this cynical deal:

Lastly, we can see here internal political machinations.

[...]

The simplistic overview:  Bennett and Lapid, separately and together, have been demanding that Netanyahu negotiate seriously with regard to issues; they want to know where he stands before joining the government. A prime concern of theirs is the drafting of haredim. They complain that Netanyahu only wants to talk about who gets which job, and that there is a lack of serious negotiations.  Certainly, Netanyahu dragged his feet in meeting with Bennett, in a manner that might be said to be rude. But once they met, the scuttlebutt was that tensions between them — which had a long history — had been mitigated. Who knows. Certainly it is the case that Lapid allowed his electoral victory go to his head, so that he made inappropriate statements, which undoubtedly irked Netanyahu (with reason).
Whatever the case here, a lot of tension and no coalition.
The rumors have it that Bennett and Lapid have forged an agreement that either they both go into the coalition or neither does.  Don’t know if this is literally true, or if there is a more general “simpatico” feeling between them.  But if there is such an agreement, the intent is to squeeze Netanyahu and to refuse to allow him to take either party for granted.
~~~~~~~~~~
And so, some analysts see the way Netanyahu has brought in Livni as being a retort to Bennett and Lapid: You don’t want to play?  I’ll move left and make you less important.
Or, conversely, he might be trying to make them feel that they’d better join before they become irrelevant.

He’s playing a game, not with Obama, but within Israeli political circles.

Read Arlene Kushner’s entire article. It really is worth it for her political analysis and insight.

My own conclusion? I’m just praying that since Purim is on our doorstep we will wake up to the words from the Megillah, “Ve’nahafoch hu” – “and it was overturned”.

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2 Responses to The height of political cynicism: Tzippi Livni joins Bibi’s coalition

  1. Andrea says:

    The knight move: in this way Bibi break the siege surronding him made by Lapid and Bennett .
    Both combined they thought to put former PM with his back against wall .
    Netanyahu acted like ” à la guerre comme à la guerre” – Does Obama and EU want a good business card and pretty face for “peace” talking with Abbas ? here we have Livni who has no other choice than embrace the former enemy ( Netanyahu I mean since, Abbas for Livni is the old soundly beaten spare partner ).
    On the other hand “our” Abbas is well troubled since another spring is coming and this time in Palestine or whatever we call it . Reluctantly he will receive Livni in Ramallah and peace talking will come back on this time friendly again New York Times first page. Only talking of course and height of cinism as you said.
    Tomorrow is election day in my country and same cinism as well.
    C’est la vie, mes amis

    • anneinpt says:

      Yes, you have a point that Bibi is trying to break out of the “siege” surrounding him. But it is a siege of his own making. Immediately after the elections he could easily have created a strong stable coalition with Bennett and Lapid, which together would have given him 70+ seats. But Bibi is paranoid that Lapid will try to overthrow him somehow (because he admitted in a TV interview that he “might” want to become PM some day) and he’s terrified that Bennett might walk out on him if he tries to give in on territorial concessions. Plus his wife terrifies him and she hates Bennett for some reason which we have never been told about.

      So Bibi does the only other thing available to him and approaches the opposition. This may be kosher but it stinks, to use an old Jewish joke. In other words it’s legal but it’s unethical.

      The Jerusalem Post had a very good editorial about this unethical behaviour and betraying the voters’ trust: “Listen to the People”.

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