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The Livni illusion
09-26-2008, 10:15 PM,
The Livni illusion
Khalid Amayreh from East Jerusalem

Israeli President Peres assigns Livni to form a new government
[Image: Peres_Livni.jpg]
<span style="color:darkblue"><span style="font-family:Cataneo BT">click on picture for Link<!--fontc--></span><!--/fontc-->

The friendly smile hides a sinister agenda.

With Tzipi Livni succeeding Ehud Olmert as Israel’s next prime minister following her slim victory over former defense minister Shaul Mofaz on 18 September, most Palestinians are pinning few hopes on the “new” Israeli government’s ability to make a real difference in relations.

Initially, Livni’s victory generated a modicum of euphoria, especially among observers not well-versed in Israeli politics. However, a more sobre analysis of the political realities in Israel suggests that Livni won’t be able to do much in terms of reaching a final status agreement with the Palestinian Authority without having the backing of a solid majority in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.

One Israeli writer remarked following Livni’s victory that “the heart wants to hope, but the brain cannot.” Some observers on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides are already predicting that the government Livni is going to form will not last long and that early general elections will have to be held in Israel sooner rather than later.

Likud opposition leader Benyamin Netanyahu is already wasting no time lambasting Livni on the ground that she was only elected as prime minister by less than half a per cent of eligible Israeli voters.

Livni herself has recognised the “immense difficulties” facing her task of forming the next government, saying that she won’t call for early general elections unless her efforts to form a stable and strong government reach a dead end.

Livni has been wooing Knesset members from other parties, especially the Haredi Shas, which represents Jews of Middle Eastern origin. However, as of now, she is facing an uphill struggle forming the government given the lack of unity within her own party and the widespread calls for early elections.

Mofaz, who received the backing of nearly half of Kadima members, decided to take a time out, with some unconfirmed reports that he might be contemplating returning to the Likud. This means that the next Israeli prime minister will not have her own party solidly behind her, which may very well shorten the duration of her government.

Kadima, the party formed by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, has never been ideologically and politically homogenous. Moreover, last week’s internal party elections which Livni won by a majority of no more than 400 voters illustrated the sharp divisions between the right-wing extremists within the party who voted for Mofaz and the pragmatic Jabotinskyites who voted for Livni.

Publicly, the Palestinian Authority welcomed the election of Livni as the lesser of two evils, given the hawkish character of Mofaz.

Saeb Ureikat, a PA negotiator, said he hoped Livni would engage more deeply in the peace process, leading to a final-status agreement that would put an end to 41 years of Israeli military occupation and Palestinian statehood.

However, given Livni’s profile, Ureikat’s remarks were more about diplomatic pleasantries and less about a genuine Palestinian conviction that Livni is the right person for advancing peace.

A known Sharonite, Livni stands firmly against the dismantlement of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and opposes a return to the 1967 borders. She is also vehemently against the repatriation of Palestinian refugees who were uprooted and expelled from their homes when Israel was created more than 60 years ago.

Mahmoud Muhareb, a professor of Israeli Studies at Al-Quds University, says it is foolhardy to pin real hopes on Livni for advancing the peace process. “In essence, Livni belongs to the Sharon school. Her overall strategy is to annex the largest possible part of the West Bank, especially in Jerusalem, and impose the fait accompli on the Palestinians.”

Muhareb said Livni would keep up Judaising the occupied territories, especially East Jerusalem, and at the same time keep a superficial peace process alive in order to impede the restoration of Palestinian unity. “Her pronouncements and positions as foreign minister show that she is a real extremist.” She insists that the Palestinians “must recognise Israel as a state for the Jews”.

Muhareb argued that Israel’s engagement in peace-making is not attributed to a genuine desire for peace and justice. “The driving factor behind the peace process as far as Israel is concerned is the demographic problem. Israel wants as much as possible of Palestinian geography and as little as possible of Palestinian demography.”

Another Palestinian intellectual, Hani Al-Masri, reflected the prevailing feeling among most Palestinians by arguing that there are no fundamental differences between Israeli leaders. “They all agree that Israel must not return to the 1967 borders, that the refugees must never be allowed to return home, that Israel must retain control over Palestinian borders and border-crossings and that any Palestinian entity would have to be subservient to Israel in one way or the other.”

Al-Masri pointed out that the lingering negotiations between PA negotiator Ahmed Qurei and Livni, which have been going on for over a year, have achieved virtually nothing. “These fruitless talks give the impression that there is a peace process going on, where there is really none. This is why the world is making no genuine efforts to force Israel to end the occupation.”

Al-Masri argued that any government formed by Livni would have to appease the Jewish extremists, otherwise she would lose parliamentary confidence. “In order for Livni to be able to form a durable government, she will have to keep Jerusalem as a part of Israel. Hence, we must not pin hopes on Livni and other Israeli leaders. We must rely on ourselves by restoring our national unity and build our own strength.”

Nonetheless, Livni is likely to continue the peace talks with the PA. According to observers, the new Israeli premier-designate is likely to press the Palestinian leadership to show a willingness to compromise and not to “waste this opportunity”.

According to Israeli writer Uri Avnery, Livni is convinced that the only way to maintain Israel as a Jewish state is the creation of a Palestinian state. However, it is also true that Livni believes that the creation of a Palestinian state would also provide a solution for Israeli citizens who are non-Jews.

In other words, the two-state solution as envisaged by Livni would entail the ultimate expulsion of Israel’s Palestinian minority at some point in the future, which really places her in the extreme right-wing camp. <!--fontc-->


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