September 21, 2008

Arabic Editorial Says Livni Facing “Difficult Issues” If Elected Israeli PM

Text of report by London-based independent newspaper Al-Quds al- Arabi website on 19 September

[Editorial: "Livni is not Thatcher"]

The victory of Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in the contest for the leadership of the ruling Kadima Party the day before yesterday [17 September] came as no surprise. Opinion polls have been forecasting it ever since Ehud Olmert resigned from the leadership of the party because of financial scandals in which he is implicated. What came as a surprise was her victory by a margin of less than 1 per cent or a majority of only 451 votes, although opinion polls put her 20 percentage points ahead of Sha'ul Mofaz.

The Kadima Party elections raise many questions regarding Livni's capabilities, with her little experience, at this difficult and perhaps decisive time through which Israel is passing. If she succeeds in forming a new government, she will find herself confronting difficult issues, such as the growing power of Lebanon's Hezbollah, the Iranian nuclear file which is becoming hotter by the day, and the stumbling peace process with the Palestinians.

The Israeli electorate has revealed a new electoral approach; it was habitually inclined to elect powerful military generals whenever it felt the country was at a difficult crossroad such as the one it faces at present. It did so when it elected Yitzhaq Rabin, Ehud Baraq and Ari'el Sharon. But its preference for the politician Tzipi Livni, who has no military experience, to Sha'ul Mofaz, the extremist army general and a former defence minister, is puzzling and calls for an explanation.

True, Kadima Party membership does not exceed 74,000 and it is difficult to claim that they represent the Israeli electorate and reflect its mood; but it is also true that they represent a large important sample that includes the various Israeli political and religious spectrums, with a predominantly right-wing element, as the party grew and was born out of the Likud womb and most of its leaders were Likud members who left the party to join Ari'el Sharon's political project.

Tzipi Livni will have to face three main challenges. The first and most prominent is the unification of the party; the narrowing of its internal divisions, which were clearly evident during the last elections; and, persuading Sha'ul Mofaz to reverse his decision to quit political life. Failure to do so could mean the virtual dissolution of the party, or that half the party members who voted for Mofaz have remained unconvinced by Livni's leadership.

The second challenge is the formation of a new Israeli government and maintaining the present coalition in government. Failure to do so means a call for early national elections, to which Benyamin Netanyahu is looking forward and actively working for, as he is the more likely to succeed, according to opinion polls.

The third challenge is how to deal with the current peace negotiations with the Palestinian 'partner'. Negotiations on the two- state solutions have failed to make any progress, and reached a deadlock, and have resulted in increasing support among the Palestinians and in the world for the one-state solution.

Sources close to the Palestinian negotiating team are not building high hopes on Livni and are expecting more setbacks in the negotiating process if Livni succeeds in becoming prime minister after Olmert. She refuses to make concessions on the final status issues, she strongly supports settlements in and around Jerusalem, and she might submit to the demands of the extremist religious Shas Party and sign a pledge to keep Jerusalem as the united and eternal capital of Israel, as a condition for the party remaining in the present ruling coalition.

Livni wants to introduce herself to Israeli public opinion as an "iron lady" like Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir, and at the same time deceive the world by continuing the negotiating process but without making any concessions. That is to say, negotiations only for the sake of negotiations.

Livni will not become a Margaret Thatcher or even an Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. That is because Israel is not the United Kingdom or Germany, and Israel of today is not the Israel of Golda Meir.

Golda Meir's Israel was emerging from the June 1967 war victory over three Arab states, while the Israel of Livni is disunited, has just emerged from a humiliating defeat in Lebanon, and has been forced to sign a truce with Hamas to avoid the resistance rockets launched from the Gaza Strip.

Originally published by Al-Quds al-Arabi website, London, in Arabic 19 Sep 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Middle East. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.