<a href="http://www.mepc.org/articles-commentary/middle-east-focus">Middle East In Focus</a>
News of the appointment of former Kadima leader and current Hatnuah chairwoman Tzipi Livni as Justice Minister in the next Netanyahu government has provoked immediate reaction from within Israel and the greater Middle East region, especially Palestine. In addition to taking charge of the Justice ministry, Ms. Livni will also be the lead negotiator with the Palestinians. Her appointment has drawn rebuke from more extreme right-wingers in Israel, as well as from other factions competing for a seat in the Netanyahu government. Despite being left of Netanyahu politically, Ms. Livni’s appointment has caused some Palestinians to express dismay at the prospect of negotiating with someone they believe represents a “step back” for the peace process.
Opposed to any possible concessions that could be offered to Palestinians in future peace negotiations, the leader of the right wing Bayit Yehudi, Naftali Bennett, has criticized Livni’s appointment: “Speaking before Habayit Hayehudi members, the party chairman censured Livni's positions, saying: ‘Are we going to make a stronger Israel or hand the negotiations to the person who suggested that we divide Jerusalem?’....Bennett disclosed his own approach to potential negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: ‘I don’t care about Abu Mazen; I'm not interested in making him stronger.’”
But Bennett received little sympathy from figures within Netanyahu’s Likud party. According to Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov: “Nothing is stopping the Bayit Yehudi from entering the coalition but themselves, and the offer for them to join the government still stands….The senior Likud source said the Bayit Yehudi shouldn't see Livni as a reason not to enter the government, pointing out that the party is aligning itself in coalition talks with Yesh Atid, whose leader Yair Lapid also supported pulling out from Gaza in 2005, when he was a columnist and talk-show host.”
Similar concerns were expressed this week by the leader of the pro-settlement Samaria Residents Committee, Benny Katzover, who, according to a report by Arutz Sheva’s Elad Benari, “predicted on Wednesday that the partnership between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Hatnua chairwoman Tzipi Livni will cause many problems for the Jewish settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria....He said that he believes that, like Ehud Barak in the previous government, Livni will play the role of the ‘bad cop’ who places obstacles in the way of the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria....He said that, in light of the present circumstances, the Bayit Yehudi party has no choice other than to strengthen its alliance with Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party.”
Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid (a centrist, secular political party), and a former news personality, seems to be more concerned about the implication of a Livni appointment for their electoral fortunes and getting a seat in a Netanyahu government. Even though initially opposed to a Netanyahu government, Lapid, according to several news reports, “sent a message to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday, reassuring him that he could be trusted if he includes Yesh Atid in the coalition....Earlier, Lapid complained to his faction that no negotiations were taking place with his party. He expressed frustration that Likud Beytenu wanted to talk about ministerial appointments rather than the government’s principles....Bayit Yehudi party leader Naftali Bennett, who also faced Netanyahu’s wrath in his talk with Likud ministers, joined Lapid’s complaint about the lack of negotiations.”
Palestinians, for their part, have expressed their displeasure at Livni’s appointment, especially as it regards the peace negotiations. In an interview with the Palestinian Maan News, “Abbas Zaki, central committee member, said that Livni was experienced in ‘cheating and disinformation’ and taking this position again would be considered against the Palestinian position. ‘Palestinians will be the only losers and they will start from zero,’ said Zaki. ‘Our message is clear regarding negotiations and we are committed to freezing settlements and and resolving the detainees issue.’...Kinesset member Ahmad Tibi meanwhile called Livni’s return to the government ‘an attempt to beautify the face of Netanyahu’s government. It is only an election step.’”
UAE’s daily The National also considers Netnayahu’s new governing coalition, and especially Ms. Livni’s appointment, “a missed opportunity…. Leave aside that Ms Livni previously refused to enter a coalition with Mr Netanyahu because of his hawkish views on peace. Ms Livni’s about face is a blow not only to her reputation, but to any possibility of a genuine peace process....This shuffling of the deck has implications for both Israel and the Palestinians. Faced with a faltering economy and knack for making enemies with its neighbors, Israel could have used a coalition to help forge closer ties with the region. Instead, it is likely to do the opposite, with Ms Livni used merely as the fig-leaf for Mr Netanyahu’s expansionist tendencies.”
Ultimately, it might make little difference what Ms. Livni is capable of achieving in negotiations with the Palestinians. Moran Azulay reports in an article for the Yedioth Ahronoth that even before Ms. Livni is sworn into office, members of PM Benyamin Netanyahu’s coalition Likud-Beiteinu “are already planning ways to limit her ability to do so. Ynet learned Wednesday that a new bill is in the works, by which any deal with the Palestinian Authority would require a referendum....The referendum bill was brought before the House by MK Ofir Akunis (Likud). ‘This is the most democratic thing that can be done… it will enable the Israeli public to have a direct say on the pivotal question that has been heading the public agenda for 45 years,’ he said.”
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