What is one to make of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni? Is she the next Golda Meir? Is she a woman of steel who can stand before world leaders and demand that they treat Israel with respect? Can she win a war? Can she – as Golda did in the Yom Kippur War – keep her head when all about her are losing theirs and blaming it on her?
On Sunday, Livni dutifully followed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in voting to approve the terrorists-for-dead-hostages deal with Hizbullah. Despite the government's best efforts to put a brave face on the decision, the deal with Hizbullah is arguably the most humiliating step ever taken by a government of Israel.
In exchange for the bodies of two dead soldiers – Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser – Israel has succumbed to all of Hizbullah's demands. It will release six murderers from prison and send them to Lebanon for a hero's welcome. It will give Hizbullah the bodies of 200 terrorists and so empty Israel's Potters Field for terrorists. Moreover, it has pledged to close Israel's graveyard for terrorists and so has committed future governments to never keeping terrorists' bodies as bargaining cards for future swaps of Israeli hostages. Israel has agreed to provide Hizbullah with information on four missing Iranian "diplomats." And it has agreed to release an unknown number of Palestinian terrorists from prison.
This deal will cement Iran's control of Lebanon through Hizbullah. It also all but guarantees that any future Israeli soldiers taken hostage by Hizbullah will be killed on the spot. Why care for hostages when you can murder them and expect to receive the same payoff you would get if you kept them alive?
Livni voted for this deal along with 21 of her fellow ministers. Unlike her colleagues, who hide behind their surrogates and spokesmen, Livni is out in front – lying to the public about the nature of her action.
Obviously cognizant of just how humiliating and strategically disastrous this deal is for Israel, Livni is spinning her move in a naked attempt to shirk her responsibility for having voted as she did.
After the government's vote, Livni told reporters that she will not support implementing her own decision if the Palestinians Israel releases are "central terrorist operatives." She will only agree to release terrorists who are small-time operators. And if she is called upon to release senior terrorists, she will not support moving ahead.
LIVNI'S STATEMENT is disturbing on many levels. First, it raises the disconcerting prospect that the government never discussed the identity – or number – of Palestinian terrorists it just agreed to release. Are we to believe that Livni sat through a five-hour cabinet meeting and never once asked who she was voting to release? Is it possible that Israel's Foreign Minister never took it upon herself to be informed of the substance of her decisions? Beyond that, how could she have voted to approve a deal that she doesn't understand?
More than anything, Livni's statement is depressing for what it says about her character – or lack thereof. By making this statement, Livni was attempting to evade responsibility for her own actions. And these actions go beyond her vote in favor of this execrable, morally atrocious and strategically disastrous deal with Hizbullah. They consist of all her moves as foreign minister since Regev and Goldwasser were abducted from their position at the border with Lebanon on July 12, 2006.
From the earliest stages of Israel's war with Hizbullah two years ago, Livni preached defeatism. Livni began calling for a negotiated cease-fire that would leave Hizbullah in charge of South Lebanon just hours after Hizbullah attacked Goldwasser's and Regev's unit and began bombing northern Israel with rockets. She exhorted her colleagues that Israel had no prospects for military victory. Livni did this even as it was clear that the only good option Israel had was to fight for a military victory.
Had Israel defeated Iran's foreign legion in Lebanon on the battlefield, it would have secured northern Israel and enabled the March 14 democracy movement to fulfill its promise of transforming Lebanon into a multi-ethnic democracy. Already on July 12, 2006, it was clear that an Israeli defeat would pave the way for Hizbullah's takeover of the country.
Yet in the face of this known reality, Livni called for Israel to capitulate. The policy she advocated involved Israel throwing itself at the mercy of the UN and begging the Security Council to deploy forces to the border to protect Israel. And in the end, Livni's defeatism was embraced by Olmert and her fellow ministers and so Israel lost its first war.
On the ground, the international forces whose deployment along the border was the centerpiece of Livni's policy are a joke. As was foreseen by her critics both within the government and in the public discourse at the time, UNIFIL is wholly ineffective because it has absolutely no interest in fighting Hizbullah. As expected, it has done nothing to prevent Hizbullah's rearmament. It has done nothing to protect the pro-democratic forces in Lebanon from Hizbullah. Indeed, in Hizbullah's putsch last month, UNIFIL forces behaved as if nothing was going on. Far from protecting Israel's border, UNIFIL forces have acted as a buffer to enable Hizbullah to reassert its control over the border unchallenged.
LIVNI OF course, has never acknowledged her own mistakes or share of responsibility for this dismal state of affairs. And now, after voting to cement Hizbullah's victory over Israel, far from accepting responsibility for the situation she has been instrumental in fomenting, Livni makes self-serving and patently false statements to reporters in an obvious attempt to hide her own basic defeatism.
Livni's character and behavior are worth considering because the media has all but anointed her Israel's next prime minister. Every article about businessmen making cash payments to Olmert is accompanied by a fawning profile of Livni. She is down to earth. She looks good in tailored pants suits. She is hard working. She isn't a thief. And she plays the drums.
The media would have us believe that the mere fact that Livni is not under police investigation renders her competent to lead the country. Obviously this is ridiculous. The real question is not whether Livni is a crook, but whether she is a leader. Is she?
OVER THE past three years, Livni has introduced and implemented a new doctrine for Israeli foreign policy. Its central theme is Jewish powerlessness. Livni has expressed this basic guiding notion in every major foreign policy address she has given since late 2005. Most recently, she repeated her view at a speech at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies on June 22.
There Livni explained that Israel's legitimacy as the Jewish state is conditional. The Jewish people's right to sovereignty is completely dependent on Israel's acceptance by the international community. And in her mind, that acceptance is completely contingent on the push to establish a Palestinian state.
As she put it, "Today, the existence of Israel is being delegitimized, not just its physical survival, but also its existence as the national home for the Jewish people… Only the fact that a profound international argument is being waged because of the Palestinians' demand for their own national state leads the world to perceive Israel's demand to be recognized as a national home for the Jewish people as legitimate… That means that [the Palestinians‚] demand solidifies and reinforces the perception of the existence of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people."
In other words, as Livni sees things, if Israel is not perceived as wholly committed to Palestinian statehood – by the Arabs and the
West alike – then the world will never accept Israel and therefore, in her view, Israel's right to exist will disintegrate.
Livni's doctrine is unacceptable for two basic reasons. First, it is inherently bigoted against Jews. Livni's world view is built on the assertion that unlike every other nation on earth, the Jewish nation has no inherent, natural right to self-determination.
Moreover, from her perspective, Israel itself is completely powerless to change the situation. It cannot defend itself in international arenas. It can only bow to the prevailing winds and hope for the best. So in Livni's view, the fact that Israel has already existed as the sovereign Jewish state for 60 years has in no way changed the Jewish people's status. We are just as vulnerable to the political machinations of others today as we were for 2000 years of stateless exile, and we are fated to always be powerless. By her lights, our hard-won sovereignty is an empty shell that can never be filled.
LIVNI'S DOCTRINE does not merely make clear that she is a deeply limited thinker. It also exposes her as a follower. British Field Marshal Bernhard Montgomery once said, "My definition of leadership is this: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence." The essence of leadership is the ability to present people a vision of a goal and then rally them to work with you towards achieving it.
Livni's world view is completely antithetical to this basic central notion of leadership. Far from rallying the people to a common purpose, she tells us that there is no goal we can achieve. As far as she's concerned, our state is nothing at all. Our power is nothing. Our collective will to persevere is counter-productive. Our heritage has value only if outsiders recognize it. Our rights are only as great as others' willingness to accept them.
Livni is not the first empty shell to be proclaimed by Israel's media as the next great white hope. Others, such as former IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. (ret.) Amnon Lipkin-Shahak and former Labor party leader Amram Mitzna, have also enjoyed that distinction. After years of media build-up, both men were quickly exposed as followers once they were actually challenged to lead.
It can only be hoped that Livni will be similarly challenged and so exposed before she is propelled to Israel's top spot. The nation can scarcely afford to be led by another weak-kneed sheep.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.