A real alternative? Tzipi Livni is far worse than Netanyahu

Despite her direct responsibility for two wars which took the lives of 2,000 civilians, and her uncompromising, hawkish positions during negotiations with the Palestinians, Tzipi Livni is still considered an acceptable choice for the Israeli ‘peace camp.’ It is time for the public to stop believing the lies. 

By Idan Landau

Amir Peretz, Tzipi Livni and Amram Mitzna – the faces of Hatnua (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)
Amir Peretz, Tzipi Livni and Amram Mitzna – the faces of Hatnua (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

On November 27, 2012, Tzipi Livni announced that she will be running for the upcoming elections as part of the newly-foundd Hatnua party, which presents itself as a diplomatic alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The party seeks to promote the peace processs wth Palestinian Authority and supports two states for two people. Two former Labor Party chairmen, Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz, have left their old party and joined forces with Livni.

The following post was written by Israeli blogger Idan Landau, and was first published on his blog [Hebrew]: 

I had no intention to write about the elections. I think no differently of them now than I did three years ago: I still look in astonishment at the finest analytical minds in Israel splitting hairs over the black hole which swallowed Israeli politics, popularly known as “the center.” I was certainly not going to write about Hatnua (“The Movement”), which is to say, the standstill between Tzipi Livni and Amir Peretz. Honest to God. I don’t care for politicians, and even less so during election season.

But then Hatnua’s billboard campaign came along: “Bibi and Lieberman – mess, Tzipi Livni – Peace. Food for thought from Hatnua.” The buck stops here. How much abuse can we take? Six words per poster? Appalling colors, junior high graphics, and last but not least: “Tzipi Livni – Peace.” They didn’t even bother to put a verb in there. Will bring peace? Doesn’t like peace? Peace out?

In short, after brushing my clothes off from some of the trash poured over me by Hatnua, I took some time to do what their posters tell me to do: Think. I sat and I thought and this is what I’ve come up with.

Here are some facts you may have forgotten about Livni (and Peretz):

1. The last time Livni and Peretz were in power wasn’t that long ago. Livni was foreign minister from May 2006 to March 2009, Peretz was defense minister between May 2006 and June 2007. In this short period of time Livni and Peretz, along with Olmert, managed to bring about the death of over 2,000 innocent civilians in two military operations which Israel initiated and which ended in crushing political defeats. During the Second Lebanon War, Israel killed some 1,200 civilians in Lebanon, and in Cast Lead Israel killed nearly 800 civilians. No “self defense” justified these crimes, and even when viewed through the narrowest of strategic prisms, both operations only emboldened Hezbollah and Hamas, respectively, and strengthened them militarily. The Olmert government was the most murderous government in Israeli history, much more so than the current Netanyahu government – Livni and Peretz were directly involved in authorizing its brutal military campaigns.

2. This has already resulted in arrest warrants in the United Kingdom against both Peretz and Livni on suspicion of war crimes (the one against Livni was withdrawn under diplomatic pressure.) Only in Israel can two politicians haunted by such grave suspicions set up a party and run for parliament under the slogan of advancing peace.

3. Peretz’s lamentable acceptance of the defense portfolio in Olmert’s government amounted to his squandering of the vast political credit handed to him by a broad section of the Israeli public. If you didn’t see the heartbroken social activists who brought Peretz to the helm of the Labor party (which got 19 seats in the 2006 elections), you haven’t seen political betrayal in your life. The freshly-made defense minister pursued his peaceful vision with enviable zeal: in his year in power,  Peretz authorized the expansion of four settlements and signed off the establishment of the new and highly notorious settlement of Maskiot – the first new standalone settlement in a decade.

4. Tzipi Livni’s vision for peace is just as tantalizing. It’s based on two manifestly peacenik principles: complete and utter refusal of any kind of contacts with Hamas, and the maintenance of endless negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, with the sole purpose of – maintaining negotiations.

5. Sober stateswoman Livni is yet to internalize the fact Hamas were elected in Gaza. Just before Operation Cast Lead the-then foreign minister announced that the Hamas regime in the Strip needs to be toppled. This came to define the character of the operation, with its massive bombardment of government offices and civilian infrastructure, and this also guaranteed its failure. Livni is so repulsed by the very idea of having to have a direct exchange of words with any member of Hamas that she opposed the prisoner exchange deal that got Gilad Shalit home. At the end of Operation Pillar of Cloud Livni swung to Netanyahu’s right and attacked him for reaching indirect understandings with Hamas; as far as she is concerned, talking to Hamas is sheer heresy.

Up until a few years ago mainstream Israeli politician used to swear by never talking with Hamas. It was a mantra, an entry ticket into the consensus, not unlike the one that held that “Jerusalem must not be divided!” But since that time, certain developments took place and mantras began breaking down –  and  I’m not talking about the Left. People like Shaul Mofaz, Yehiel Zohar (a Likud man and the mayor of rocket-stricken town of Netivot), Brig.Gen. (res.) Shlomo Gazit and even, dig this, dyed-in-the-wool right winger and Nobel Laureate Prof. Yisrael Oman – all of them have been talking, directly or indirectly, about the need to start direct negotiations with Hamas. No one is deluding himself that a comprehensive peace agreement can be signed with Hamas in the near future (or ever), but the pragmatic realization has already arrived: ceasefire agreements, border crossings and any other conflict should be resolved vis-a-vis the elected government that can execute and enforce its policies – the Hamas government.

This rather elementary understanding has escaped Tzipi Livni, as it did Khaled Meshal. It did not escape Ahmad Jabari, a potential partner for pragmatic arrangements, and this is precisely why Israel took him out. Livni is an old-school hawk donning the feathers of a diplomatic dove. Just like the Israeli leaders of the 1980’s, who utterly rejected negotiations with the PLO (while still chattering about “our outstretched hand”), Livni is fighting the diplomatic wars of yesteryear – at the expense of the victims of political violence on both sides of the fence. And she still has the nerve to talk about “a diplomatic accord.”

6. Livni’s naysaying is manifest not only in what she says, but also in what she does – not only vis-a-vis Hamas, but also vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority, that same supposed partner she’ll never cease to praise. The manner of her engagement with the PA is left virtually undiscussed, despite everything it reveals about the true essence of the Israeli peace camp’s princess.

Livni’s vision for peace is based on two manifestly peacenik principles: complete and utter refusal of any kind of contacts with Hamas, and the maintenance of endless negotiations with the Palestinian Authority(photo: flickr / Tzipi Livni – ציפי לבני CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Livni’s vision for peace is based on two manifestly peacenik principles: complete and utter refusal of any kind of contacts with Hamas, and the maintenance of endless negotiations with the Palestinian Authority(photo: flickr / Tzipi Livni – ציפי לבני CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Last month, Livni got a rather awkward compliment: the head of the National Security Council and former national security adviser Uzi Arad described her involvement in the Annapolis process thus: “Tzipi Livni was steadfast in the most impressive way to insist upon key interests and national principles.” This compliment is intended for the ears of those in the know, and still, to each and every leftist, a compliment from a man like Arad should have sounded an alarm bell. So here’s a very condensed version of the story.

Do you remember the Palestine Papers? For a brief moment, in January 2011, the world reeled at the exposure of documents from the talks held between the PA and Ehud Olmert’s government in 2008. The Israeli team at the talks was led by Tzipi Livni, who negotiated with the head of the Palestinian team, Abu Alaa. The embarrassing documents were immediately denied by both parties; after all, they presented the Israeli side as obstinately rejectionist and the Palestinians as sycophantic collaborators.

Livni played a central part in this historical fiasco: it was she who rejected, with unconcealed contempt, Abu Alaa’s meek attempt to discuss the partition of Jerusalem (“Huston, we have a problem,” Livni sneered, apparently unaware she was presenting Israel, not the PA, as afloat in outer space.)

Here is how I summed up the revelations of the Palestine Papers at the time:

The leader of the “sane majority” in the Israeli parliament is revealed here as an utra-rightist hawk. Livni rejects out of hand any compromise in the vast expanse fictitiously known as “East Jerusalem.” She rejects a proposal that leaves Israel with all the neighborhoods of “East Jerusalem” except Har Homa; a proposal that forecloses the eviction of 413,000 settlers; a proposal that partitions the Old City according to the Clinton Parameters; a proposal for joint administration of Temple Mount; and, finally, a proposal that contains an unprecedented withdrawal from the physical exercise of the right of return, and makes do with the return of 100,000 refugees over ten years, which will even be off-set by the 300,000 Palestinians that will be excised from Israel’s own territory. All these were turned down by the same Tzipi Livni who still sees herself as having done more than any of her predecessors for peace with the Palestinians. She pushes the blame for the failure of the talks on just about everyone else – Netanyahu, Abu Alaa, the elections – everyone but herself. And to cement her position as a bona fide dove, she goes so far as to offer to transfer several Arab villages from Israel into Palestine.

By hardening the Israeli stance multiple degrees beyond the Taba Accords and rejecting the most far-reaching Palestinian proposal ever to be placed upon the negotiation table, Livni betrayed the mandate awarded by her constituents, especially the thousands of left-wing voters who defected to Kadima from Labor and from Meretz: the mandate to make peace. It is true that the proposition would not necessarily have passed the test of the Palestinian street; but this is not why Livni buried it (and if she was a real leader, she would have strived for an agreement that would have passed that test in both communities.)

And yet, if I were to put on the cynical (and most common) pundit hat, I would say this: Livni made a brilliant political move. If I were Erekat, I would check whether it was her people who leaked the documents. Their publication positions Livni as a “considerate, responsible leader” who doesn’t compromise one iota on security issues. The Israelis love her now, and will reward her in the next election. Israelis like rewarding those who put their very lives at risk.

The last few lines were a kind of a bitter prophecy, currently being made true before our very eyes. In two weeks, Livni is going to reap the crop of her intransigence (a persistent and strong insistence upon national principles, as Arad had put it), all under the the slogan of “striving for a peace accord.” There will not be another proposition as far-reaching as the one the Palestinians made in the 2008 talks. The Palestinian Authority was then at its weakest, still dazed by the Hamas victory in Gaza, and desperately needed a diplomatic breakthrough to justify its existence. Livni is yet to be held to account for this historical oversight – worthy to stand alongside Golda Meir’s rejection of Sadat and Sharon’s pointed disregard for the Arab Peace Initiative. Quite the contrary: the Left is lavishing her with every possible honour. Maybe that’s where the expression “loony left” comes from.

And one more note: Another leaked diplomatic document, dating back to January 2007, reveals Livni does not believe it’s possible to reach a peace agreement with Mahmoud Abbas. Livni denied it, of course, but everything she did since indicates the estimate had been accurate. She was not guided by a sincere attempt to achieve diplomatic breakthrough, but by an attempt to create the image of one who strives toward diplomatic breakthrough. This particular pursuit is well known ever since the dark days Mapai –  from Abba Even to Shimon Peres, the idea was always to prolong and protract the negotiations infinitely but always pull the breaks early enough in the process, before any actual compromise is signed over. This is yet another reason why Livni is adulated by the old Left: it sees her as the spiritual heiress of Labor diplomats.

7. If Livni’s not on the diplomatic Left, perhaps she’s on the social Left? Not really. Tzipi LIvni does not enjoy talking about social and economic issues (does anyone recall her saying anything at all during the 2011 protest?) but when she does speak out, she reveals an archetypical neoliberal character. Not as radical as Netanyahu’s and Lieberman’s, perhaps, but certainly a faithful reflection of the Israeli capitalist elite, or, in short: a part of the problem, not part of the solution. Livni supports the bare minimum of state intervention with the market, tax cuts and cuts to government spending. For the benefit of Amir Peretz, we’d also like to note that Livni was the chair of the Government Companies Authority in the first Netanyahu government, presiding over a swathe of mass privatization moves. She’s the one who actually coined the “privatize anything that moves” phrase. Among other assets, Livni carried out the privatization of Israel Chemicals, the company mining the Dead Sea. The company was bought by the Ofer family in what turned out to be a colossally shambolic deal that cost the Israeli public hundreds of millions of dollars.

In sum, any resemblance between what Livni says and what she actually does should be seen as coincidental.

So why does such a large chunk of the left sees Livni as its leader?

The short answer is: The public is stupid, and the public will pay. People are impressed by words, not actions. Livni built an entire political career on relentless bickering with Netanyahu: jabs, reprimands and accusation resting entirely upon thin air. As soon as she was in power, she did exactly what Netanyahu would have done in her place.

The rest of it is psychology and sociology. Contrary to what it tells itself, the Left in Israel also votes from the gut, not from the brain, and again its own interest – just like the way it likes to imagine right-wing slum-dwellers. This camp perceives Livni as one of its kind: Jewish, Ashkenazi, secular, native-born, socialist, nationalist, and, in short, “Ahusel” – the Hebrew acronym of these traits, coined by the late sociologist Baruch Kimmerling to describe the old Israeli elites. Livni might be far from socialist, but as we said, gut, not brain. It’s not for nothing Livni’s been dubbed “the great white hope” – a monicker as distasteful as it is true.

The Ahusel public has been locked, for years, in a doomed and desperate rearguard battle for primacy in Israeli society; it’s rallying to Livni so that she restores its feeling of ownership over the state. This chimes in perfectly with Livni’s perception of herself and her conduct in politics; under her leadership, the idea of “opposition” was rendered void of any substance, because someone so convinced that they were born to rule cannot really mount a proper opposition to a government. And, finally, Livni benefits from gender support as a “strong woman” and her alliance with Amir Peretz may well allow her voters to portray themselves devoid of anti-Mizrachi racism. A bit of everything, in short. This tightly woven tapestry of images, cravings and wistfulness is fact-proof. The “Tzipi Livni brand” has long since overshadowed “the politician” – a rejectionist of peace, an enthusiastic advocate of bombing civilian populations, a serial privatizer. This is the only explanation for why Hatnua enjoys the support of some 300,000 Israelis, most of whom probably see themselves as left wing. This is the only explanation for a veteran leftist activist, a supporter of negotiating with Hamas, who, in fact, launched a public petition for other leftists to support Livni. Loony left.

“Netanyahu’s record is better than Livni’s: the quantity of innocent blood on his hands is about 20 times as small, and there is no missed historical opportunity in negotiations with the Palestinians written under his name.” (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)
“Netanyahu’s record is better than Livni’s: the quantity of innocent blood on his hands is about 20 times as small, and there is no missed historical opportunity in negotiations with the Palestinians written under his name.” (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

Kadima has been a tactical strike against Israeli democracy. This party, which has stolen half the votes of the Left and essentially demolished it, which has served as a Trojan horse that brought into the Knesset a horde of racist nationalists and legislative subcontractors for capitalists, which has broken all records of zig-zagging between coalition and opposition, which has torn open a black hole in the heart of Israeli politics otherwise known as “the center,” which continues to swallow anything that comes near – this party has its copyright and trademark signed for by the great, clean-handed white hope – Tzipi Livni. Livni didn’t leave Kadima with disgust, she retired reluctantly after being forced out of leadership. The same is true for Amir Peretz, who sold Labor to Olmert on the very cheap and now tells us he joined Livni for the sake of her diplomatic vision (and since he is no idiot, he must be a liar.) If the Israelis judged their representatives based on actions rather than their words, people like Livni and Peretz would be ashamed to show their face in public.

The most infuriating false argument often made at this point is: “Who shall we vote for then? Livni is the lesser evil.” No, Livni is an evil with one hell of a record. Netanyahu’s record is, in fact, better than Livni’s: the quantity of innocent blood on his hands is about 20 times as small, and there is no missed historical opportunity in negotiations with the Palestinians written under his name. Yair Lapid’s record is empty, and therefore, also better; and there are still a few more genuienly leftist parties around. I don’t think these elections are particularly important; the distance between the Knesset and the actual urgent political issues of the day is still enormous, and it won’t be bridged on January 22nd. But in politics, failures are expected to remove themselves, not to go on spilling old lies in strong pastel colors all over the public. And the public should finally stop gulping it all up.

Read more: 
The boycott campaign enters the Israeli election
Finally, Israel has an opposition: Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua Party