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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Livni is Olmert without the corruption

Shavua tov, a good week to everyone.

Some of you may have noticed that I am not particularly excited by the possibility of Foreign Minister Tzipi Feigele Livni becoming Prime Minister. But with Olmert ally Tzachi Hanegbi - the chairman of Kadima Achora's steering committee saying that it's 'impossible' to hold this 'crumbling coalition' together and calling for a 'national emergency' government immediately after Kadima's primaries (whenever those are to take place - as of now they're taking their time and scheduling them for September), it's time to expose the enigma of who Tzipi Livni is. None of this will surprise those of you who are regular readers of this blog, because you know I have been warning about her for months. Basically, she is Olmert without the corruption.
The paradox that is Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was on abundant display late Wednesday afternoon at the Mt. Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem. There, standing around the pine-tree shaded grave of David Raziel, the former IZL commander whose 67th yartzeit was being marked, Livni - along with some 25 IZL old timers - sang the Betar anthem, "Tagar" (defiance: "On all obstacles and hindrances/ Whether you succeed or fail/ In the flames of the revolt/ Carry the flame to kindle/ For silence is mire/ Sacrifice blood and soul/ For the sake of the hidden glory."

"To die or to conquer the mountain," the song concluded, and Livni chimed in. "Yodefat, Massada, Betar."

The paradox here is a double one. First the ideological paradox: Livni, chief negotiator of the Israeli delegation reportedly willing to cede 91 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, singing the famous words of Ze'ev ("both-banks-of-the-Jordan") Jabotinsky.

And then there was the more practical, political, paradox. Indeed, one couldn't help but wonder what was going through Livni's mind as she sang the words, "for silence is mire," and "to die or to conquer the mountain."


What they do know they often hear in long, painfully convoluted sentences at press conferences that sound good at first blush, but then on second take don't really mean that much. As a result, if the public backlash against having leaders who could feature in that 1980s television show, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" sweeps Livni into office, the open question is where will she lead the country?

And this is where she falls short. One associate, who said he would vote for Livni, added - in the same breath - that she lacked the "vision thing," is not a particularly good manger and is indecisive.

Colleagues who have worked with her describe a micro-manager who has trust in very few people, and does not give those who work under her a sense that she has faith in their judgment. They describe a person who changes her mind a great deal, and who can take an inordinately long time making a mundane decision, such as filling a personnel vacancy. She has also been described as awkward in personal relations, but not arrogant as it sometimes appears; impatient and somewhat "testy."

An indication of a rather mercurial managerial style is the fact that over the last year eight of her top staffers - people filling positions such as chief of staff, chief political adviser and media adviser - have stepped down. On the up-side, however, she is described as someone who listens and thinks things through.

Regarding diplomatic policy, those on the Right who harbor hopes about the woman who can sing the Betar anthem by heart and has an impeccable Revisionist pedigree (her father and mother were both IZL fighters), will be sorely disappointed if they think her policies toward the Palestinians would be fundamentally different from Olmert's.

The Annapolis process, or better yet the idea of a shelf-agreement with the Palestinians, is an idea she hatched at the tail end of 2006, and then sold in 2007 to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has since taken the ball and run with it.

Unlike Olmert, who diplomatic officials say is skeptical that the agreement can be worked out, Livni - who is heading the negotiations - actually believes it can. There are no major divisions between her and Olmert regarding borders, security and Jerusalem, with the only glaring exception being that she is much more adamant than Olmert that Israel must insist, before an agreement is signed, that the Palestinians completely reject any claim to a "right of return" for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

One diplomatic source said, however, that another difference between her and Olmert is that Livni - ever the lawyer - sees the drawing up of a peace agreement itself as an achievement, that the agreement, the piece of paper, is what is important. Olmert, the official said, places less importance on the document.


As foreign minister, Livni has spent untold hours in conversation with the Europeans, and has grown to appreciate their importance. Livni would certainly not ignore the US, the officials said, but would likely spend more time than Olmert paying attention to the EU and dialoguing with it.

According to one diplomatic official, in this regard, Livni would likely be more like Shimon Peres than Yitzhak Rabin.

"Rabin was 100 percent oriented toward America," the official said. "Peres understood America, but his heart was in Europe. Livni would likely be more like him."

Regarding how to deal with the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, one official said that as a result of her lack of security experience, Livni would probably have more of an inclination to follow the IDF, which itself is currently split on the wisdom of a large-scale military incursion. But if she decided to go in, the official added, knowing her style, she would want to have an exit strategy clearly and carefully mapped out beforehand.
While the polls here are notoriously unreliable (they had Peres winning the election in 1996 against Netanyahu until the actual results came out), every poll taken shows that Kadima headed by Livni would run in a dead heat with the Likud, if not win. In this country, after an election, the President 'invites' the head of the party he deems most capable of forming a coalition to form a coalition. No one who has been invited has ever failed. Shimon Peres is the President. If Kadima (Livni) and Likud (Netanyahu) are close in the election results, does anyone doubt Livni will be 'invited?'

Her parents - the underground Irgun fighters - must be rolling over in their graves.


At 10:53 PM, Blogger Lydia McGrew said...

Could you explain the significance of "Feigele" that you keep writing instead of one part of her name? I realize this is some inside Israeli joke that I'm just not qualified to get, and it's making me curious.

At 2:03 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


Tzipi is short for Tzipora, which is a bird in Hebrew. The word Feigele is the Yiddish word for a small bird (the name Feige is the Yiddish equivalent of Tzipora).

Feigele is also sometimes used pejoratively to refer to gay people (no, she's not) by people who are fluent in both languages.

At 10:46 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Livni wants to be Prime Minister but she must not look like she wants it too badly. Since Olmert is not going to run in the Kadima primaries, whoever wins will become the party leader and Israel's next Prime Minister, if elections haven't been called by then. The next couple of months are going to be interesting. She's not the only one in Kadima who's eyed Olmert's job for a long time now.


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