Last week opposition leader and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni published a very odd op-ed in The New York Times. She regurgitated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s position that there is a difference between democratic processes – like elections – and democratic forces, which are dedicated to liberty and freedom. The latter need democratic processes to rise to power and secure their freedom. But both democrats and tyrants can and do make good use of democratic processes, like elections, to gain power.
Livni’s article was strange for two reasons. First, throughout her tenure as a senior minister in both the Sharon and Olmert governments, she never distinguished herself as a champion of democratic forces, either in Israel or in the Arab world. As justice minister under Ariel Sharon in the lead up to the mass expulsions of the Jews from their homes and communities in Gaza and Samaria in August 2005, Livni oversaw the enactment of draconian, patently unconstitutional restrictions on the rights of her political opponents to demonstrate their opposition to the government’s policies. She approved moves that prohibited lawful protests, arrested without charge and held without bail thousands of lawful citizens simply on the basis of their political convictions and curtailed the freedom of movement and property rights of tens of thousands on the basis of their political views by interdicting private buses and cars on highways and expropriating property.
As for the Arabs, in 2005, Livni had nothing to say in favor of the Lebanese March 14 movement which successfully forced the Syrian military to withdraw from Lebanon. Far from supporting these champions of democracy and freedom, Livni held her tongue and was identified with the Israeli view that we were better off with Syria in charge than with the instability wrought by freedom. By the same token, she also had nothing to say about Syrian dissidents rotting in Syrian prisons for advocating freedom.
Throughout her tenure as foreign minister, Livni never had a word to say about the democratization of Iraq. She never took the time to defend Mithal Alousi, the Iraqi liberal democrat whose sons were assassinated in retribution for his visit to Israel and his outspoken championing of peace between Iraq and Israel.
She never said a word to encourage Egypt’s democracy forces or to distinguish between Egyptian liberal opponents of President-for-life Hosni Mubarak’s regime and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Finally, and most importantly, Livni never discussed or evinced the slightest interest in democracy among the Palestinians. She did not oppose the Bush administration’s decision to permit Hamas to participate in the 2006 Palestinian elections. She never seriously objected to Fatah repression of liberal forces in Palestinian society. She never even credibly objected to the rampant anti-Jewish propaganda put out by Fatah-controlled media, mosques, schools or universities.
LIVNI’S DECISION to pen an article for a major American newspaper about an issue she has never championed was all the more bizarre given the current focus of US-Israel relations. As her article was hitting the presses, the Obama administration had already begun openly denying the existence of one of her self-proclaimed great achievements in office. In recent years, Livni has repeatedly claimed that as justice minister in Sharon’s government, she played a central role in convincing the Bush administration to agree to support the permanent retention of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria as part of an eventual peace deal with the Palestinians.
The agreement with the administration was publicly announced in May 2004 by then president George W. Bush at the White House following his meeting with Sharon and published in a public letter from Bush to Sharon. Bush’s letter recognized that Israel would not return to the 1949 armistice lines and that major communities and blocs of settlements in areas within its domestic consensus like the Adumim bloc, the Ariel bloc and the Etzion bloc would remain under Israeli control in perpetuity. The same is true for areas like the Jordan Valley which are essential for ensuring that our borders are defensible.
Sharon upheld the Bush letter as an “unprecedented achievement” in a speech before the Knesset. And he, his chief of staff Dov Weisglass, Livni, and Ehud Olmert all presented it as the payoff for leaving Gaza.
IN RECENT MONTHS, Elliot Abrams, Bush’s deputy national security adviser has published several articles making public the fact that Bush’s letter formed the basis of a detailed agreement between the administration and Israel relating to construction within the settlement blocs. None of Abrams’ colleagues have gone on record to dispute his disclosures.
It was on the basis of both Bush’s letter and this more detailed agreement that both the Sharon and Olmert governments agreed to permit the US to act as an arbiter of Israel’s implementation the so-called road map peace plan. Based on these side agreements, which were undertaken as formal US commitments, both the Sharon and Olmert governments believed they had secured US backing for further building in Judea and Samaria and the permanent presence of Israeli communities there, even in the event that a Palestinian state is established.
At the time, commentators like myself, and Likud leaders like Netanyahu criticized Sharon, Livni and Olmert as naïve for believing Israel could trust a foreign government – no matter how friendly – to act as a guarantor for its national security. While the Bush administration may have been a trustworthy ally, given the fact that the US is a democracy, there was no way to know that obligations undertaken by the Bush White House would survive Bush’s tenure in office. Livni’s blindness at the time to the nature of shifting national interests and to the perils of placing our national security in the hands of others bespoke her foolishness.
BUT FAR WORSE than her earlier naïve bravado about her supposed diplomatic acumen is her current silence in the face of the Obama administration’s dishonest denials of the existence of the agreements she and her colleagues concluded. Today, in the face of repeated and patently false statements by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserting that no agreements on this issue were ever reached, Livni has opted to say nothing. And here she is not being foolish. She is demonstrating a pernicious opportunism that is frankly dangerous for the well-being of the country.
By refusing to insist on the existence of agreements that just months ago she trumpeted as her great claim to fame, Livni is lining up behind the Obama administration as it seeks to blame the absence of peace in the region on the Netanyahu government’s refusal to accept obligations that she herself never accepted. In her bid to destabilize the Netanyahu government in the hopes that by doing so she will advance her own fortunes, Livni is collaborating with an American assault on the democratically elected government of her country in spite of the fact that this assault is predicated on false allegations against her own policies in office.
No less significant than what Livni’s perfidious collaboration with the administration against her own government tells us about her character is what the nature of the Obama administration’s assault on the Netanyahu government tells us about Livni’s central strategic platform.
Both today and during her tenure in power, she has advocated a national security strategy based on subcontracting vital national security interests to outside forces. Just as the US was supposed to act as a guarantor for the settlement blocs, so, from Livni’s perspective, Fatah forces and an international force comprised of European and perhaps US military units were supposed to protect Israel from Gaza in the aftermath of withdrawal from the area. This was also her vision for a post-withdrawal Judea and Samaria.It was also her position on how the c
ountry should secure its interests regarding Lebanon and Hizbullah. And it is also her position that we should trust the international community to protect us from the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran. As far as Livni is concerned, there is no vital interest that Israel cannot trust outside forces to secure for it.
Both today and during the time she was in office, we have been witness to instance after instance where Livni’s strategic rationale was proven wrong. From Hizbullah’s postwar emergence not as an international pariah but as a legitimate force in Lebanese politics, recognized by the likes of Britain even as it works to transform Lebanon into an Iranian colony and overthrow the regimes in Egypt and Morocco, to the Obama administration’s decision not to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, her view is exposed as folly.
From the administration’s acceptance of the Hamas regime in Gaza as manifested by its $900 million pledge of humanitarian assistance to Gaza and Obama’s demand that Israel open its borders with the Iranian proxy terror enclave, Livni’s position has been a demonstrated failure.
From the US’s commitment to building a Palestinian army to its patently mendacious denial of the Bush administration’s formal commitments to Israel’s rights in Judea and Samaria, Livni’s strategic framework has been shown to be not simply foolish, but dangerous to the country.
All of this is important for both the public and the Netanyahu government to bear in mind in the coming days, weeks and months. Today the local print and broadcast media are putting massive, unrelenting pressure on the government to bow to US pressure and come to some sort of an agreement with the Obama White House. Yet what the administration’s denial of previous US commitments and the crisis these denials have provoked show is that such deals and accommodations are completely worthless.
Then too, Livni’s own behavior towards both the government and the Obama administration tells both the public and the government something very important about her willingness to behave as the loyal opposition. Very bluntly, Livni’s silence in the face of the administration’s lies about her own record shows that she is more loyal to her parochial political interests than to national interests.
During his visit to Dresden, Obama remarked that with Jerusalem’s current governing coalition, it will be difficult for Netanyahu to bow to his will and stop allowing Jewish building beyond the indefensible 1949 armistice lines.
In making this point, Obama was clearly signaling that the White House would be happy to see Kadima join the government and compel Netanyahu to adopt its strategic view that Israel is better off empowering outsiders to secure its national interests. But what Livni has shown – both through her political behavior and her strategic outlook – is that the country and the Netanyahu government are better off without an agreement with the Americans and without Kadima and its leader in the government.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.