Livni’s Big Test

Posted: February 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: elections, In the News | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off

livnee_zipiOn Thursday morning, president Shimon Peres is expected to start consultations with party leaders, in order to decide who should be given the task of forming a new government. This is the deadline for Benjamin Netanyahu to secure his Right wing block of 65 MKs.

Once he gets the nomination, the real game will begin. Netanyahu wants to form a broad coalition, with Kadima as a senior partner, balanced by some right wing or religious parties. He believes that a big coalition, with one or more partners from the left, is the key for his political survival. Netanyahu will have to overcome some opposition from within his party, because a big coalition also means less cabinet positions for Likud members, but he will probably be able to pull it off.

That leaves everything in the hands of Tzipi Livni.

Up until the elections, the common wisdom was that Kadima would find its way into the government. After losing the elections, it was believed, Livni would be forced into the coalition by the party leaders, especially her number 2, Shaul Mofaz. It’s no secret that Mofaz wants to return to the defense minister’s office – a high profile position which will help him launch a new campaign for the party’s leadership. Had Livni refused, Mofaz could even quit Kadima along with some of his supporters and form a new party, or even re-unite with the Likud.

But Livni did two things which changed the game entirely: first, she crashed Labor, and that means Ehud Barak will be too busy with his own survival to be able to drag his party into the coalition; second, she pulled Kadima ahead in the polls, practically on her own, proving that this new party – only three years old – has conquered the Israeli center and is here to stay.

Livni is now in control over her own party. Mofaz and his supporters can’t act on their own – not after what Livni managed to do. She knows that forming a “national unity” government with the Likud will only help Netanyahu. All she needs to do for the time being is to sit in the opposition and wait for Netanyahu to fall. Most chances he will, sooner than later.

Netanyahu will try to spin the public opinion against Livni. He will say that she puts her own political interests before the country’s. He will offer her cabinet posts and try to find support for his position within her party – all fair game, and probably what Livni would have done, had the shoe been on the other foot. The question is how much pressure she can take. Before the election, there was much talk over Livni’s character, and her difficulty in taking though decisions when she is on her own. This is her moment. Since Barak is out of the game, if Livni will be able to hold on to her party in the battle against the Likud and avoid entering Netanyahu’s government, she might emerge as the new leader of the Israeli Center-Left coalition for years to come. And though her positions are not my cup of tea, it’s an interesting and unexpected development nonetheless.

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