Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is an interesting case study in how a public image can trump professional competence in Israeli politics.
Livni was brought into politics by then prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in 1999. The back-bencher became prominent in 2003 after undergoing two major transformations. First, she exchanged her frizzy light brown curls and dowdy dresses for straight blond hair and couture. Next she followed former premier Ariel Sharon from the nationalist camp to the post-Zionist camp.
In the aftermath of these stunning changes, the leftist media crowned this woman with pidgin English and no understanding of international diplomacy the queen of Israeli politics. While bereft of actual accomplishments, with the media's bottomless indulgence, Livni enjoys a reputation as a savvy, competent, and scrupulously clean politician.
All this no doubt explains a poll published Sunday by Ma'ariv which claims that if Livni were to replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as head of Kadima, she could lead the embattled candidates' list to victory in the next general elections.
One of Livni's chief advantages over Olmert is that she is less identified than her boss with Israel's defeat in Lebanon. There are two main reasons that this is the case. First, unlike Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Livni maintained a low profile throughout the war. Second, Livni was kept out of the loop of the war's military management.
More than anything else, Ma'ariv's poll exposes the public's ignorance of Livni's positions on issues of national concern. This is so because in repeated polls since the war came to its sudden cessation, the public has expressed views diametrically opposed to those that Livni seeks to advance.
On Friday, Livni clarified her positions in an interview with Yediot Aharonot. Her views were also given expression in an article in Haaretz on Sunday regarding the government's diplomatic handling of the war. During the war, the principal difference between Livni and Olmert was that Livni gave up on the idea of Israel winning the war on July 12 – that is, on the day that Hizbullah attacked an IDF patrol along the northern border, kidnapped IDF reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser and began pummeling northern Israel with rockets and missiles. It took Olmert another 10 days to be convinced that Israel ought to lose the war.
Both in her interview with Yediot and in her statements to Haaretz, Livni makes clear that unlike the public, she doesn't see why the war in Lebanon proves that the policy of surrendering land to terrorists is misguided.
Ignoring the fact that Israel's withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza enabled the empowerment of jihadist terror groups and paved the way for the war that ensued, Livni sees the terror wars as an opportunity to bring foreign troops into Lebanon. Indeed, on the first day of the war, Livni instructed her advisers to begin drawing up plans for foreign forces to come to Lebanon to protect Israel.
Although UNIFIL commanders have made clear that they will not disarm Hizbullah, enforce an arms embargo, or remove Hizbullah forces from the border, Livni views the UNIFIL deployment in Lebanon as a model for both Gaza and Judea and Samaria.
Livni's aversion – already on the first day of the war – to any attempt on Israel's part to secure a military victory in Lebanon on the one hand, and her enthusiastic advocacy of the international force model in Lebanon and in Gaza and Judea and Samaria on the other stems from her basic misconception of both Israel's regional security environment and its international position. This misconception makes her behave more as the EU and UN's ambassador to Israel rather than as Israel's chief diplomat.
As she put it to Yediot, Israel has to stop seeing the US as its only ally, and reach out to the UN, the Europeans, the Sunni Arab states in the region – Jordan, Egypt, Mahmoud Abbas in the Palestinian Authority, the Persian Gulf emirates and Saudi Arabia – and to the Saniora government in Lebanon. Livni believes that all these players will cooperate with Israel because they share some of Israel's interests.
While it is true that these international players share interests with Israel, Livni ignores the fact that they have other interests diametrically opposed to Israel's national interests. Those divergent interests have always trumped the shared interests and nothing that Israel has done in the past or could do in the future will change this basic calculus.
Livni began her interview with Yediot by attacking the religious Zionist public. "In the Israeli political system there are no real gaps concerning the [vision of a] comprehensive settlement of the conflict with the Palestinians," she said. "The dispute is between the religious public and the rest of the Israelis."
She argues her case by asserting that aside from the religious Zionists, all Israelis agree that we have to expel the Israelis who live in communities in Judea and Samaria and transfer their land and communities to the Palestinians. Livni's assertion is extraordinary given that in a recent Maagar Mohot poll, 73 percent of Israeli Jews stated that they object to territorial withdrawals from Judea and Samaria.
Livni continued her analysis arguing that Israel must immediately move to destroy the so-called outpost communities in Judea and Samaria. She justified this view by claiming that these communities were built without government permission and that anyway, Israel intends to give the Palestinians the lands the communities are located on. There are three basic flaws in her reasoning.
First, her claim that the communities must be destroyed because they were built without government approval is ridiculous on its face.
The government decided in 2005 that it wanted to destroy them. Tomorrow it could just as easily decide that it wants to expand them. What Livni is effectively saying is, "I don't like them and therefore I want to destroy them."
Second, assuming that she is right that Israel would want to give the lands on which those communities have been built to the Palestinians in the framework of a peace agreement, it is far from clear what Israeli interest would be served by conceding them today, when the Palestinians are governed by their popularly elected jihadist government. Why would Israel want to give up its bargaining chips before it has a Palestinian government willing to accept its existence?
Finally, while Livni mindlessly insists that "everyone knows" the contours of the peace settlement, Israel's experience since the onset of the peace process with the PLO in 1993 has proven incontrovertibly that those contours are wrong.
The Palestinians have repeatedly rejected the vision of two states west of the Jordan River and have repeatedly made clear through their actions and words that they are not interested in having a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and portions of Jerusalem. As they have clarified repeatedly, they want to destroy the Jewish state. So claiming that the solution is known is to simply deny reality.
Livni forcefully argued that Israel cannot rest on its laurels but must move forward immediately to restart negotiations with the Palestinians. In this vein she supports a massive release of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli jails. In her words, "The world doesn't suffer a vacuum in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When we don't initiate solutions, the world comes with its own solutions."
What she fails to recognize is that the world did not rest on its laurels after Israel made massive concessions on its own initiative to the Palestinians in the past. Rather each Israeli concession
was seen as but a starting point for further concessions. Indeed the statement makes one wonder where she has been for the past 13 years.
Livni's argumentation stems from her central misconception that Israel's national security is secured not by the IDF but by opinion polls in Paris and Brussels. She fails to understand not only that this is false, but that Israel's popularity ratings in Europe have little to nothing to do with Israel's actual policies or actions.
Finally, Livni told Yediot that her great plan now is to get the Arab states to work with Israel on solving the Palestinian refugee problem. Now that Israel supports Palestinian statehood, she said, the Arabs will want to help solve the problem by settling the refugees in the Palestinian state and by normalizing the status of the Palestinians who have been living in refugee camps in the Arab world since 1948.
Here too, Livni fails to understand reality. The Palestinian refugee problem is not a problem that the Arab world wishes to solve. The Arab world invented the problem because the Arab League wishes to destroy Israel. The refugee problem does not stand on its own. It is a consequence of the Arab world's continued refusal to accept Israel's right to exist. Were this not the case, the refugees would have been resettled 50 years ago.
There is a question of how long the leftist media will be able to maintain Livni's image as a responsible, competent leader. They managed to prolong a similar fiction of Olmert as a national leader until he led us to disaster in Lebanon this summer. We must hope that Livni is exposed as an incompetent, opportunistic phony before she can do us similar, if not greater damage in the future.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.