Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tzipi Livni: The Latest Great Western Hope

Tzipi Livni was best friends forever with Secretary of State Condi Rice during the second Bush term and appeared on many lists of influential women. Tzipi Livni, the former leader of Kadima, was the latest but not the last of a string of Great Western Hopes in Israel who are more loved in America and Europe than in their own country. They are polyglot and erudite men and woman known for their reasonableness and learning. They explain Israel to the world and attempt to explain the world to Israel. All have been foreign ministers at one time or another and two have been prime ministers and a third--Livni--nearly became prime minister.

The first Great Western Hope was Moshe Sharett (ne Shertok) who served as foreign minister under David Ben-Gurion and was himself prime minister for about eighteen months while Ben-Gurion was recharging his batteries at Kibbutz Sde Boker.  Ben-Gurion returned to become Sharett's defense minister in 1955 and soon had outmaneuvered him to become prime minister again so that he could go to war against Egypt.  Sharett was the dovish alternative to Ben-Gurion, but he was a false alternative. This is because he was much more comfortable as an apologist for policies formulated by others than as a decision maker making tough decisions. He was unwilling to fight Ben-Gurion over his activist policies in the conflict. He was foreign minister at a time when the West was not yet enough engaged in the Arab-Israeli conflict--or at least not in a diplomatic mediatory mode--to need a Great Western Hope.

The next was Abba Eban, who like Sharett was a professional diplomat. Eban was fluent in about seven languages. He majored in Oriental (Middle Eastern) languages at Cambridge. After serving as ambassador to the United Nations he became the foreign minister under Golda Meir. He talked about the 1967 borders as Auschwitz borders but secretly was willing to return to them in exchange for peace. He like Sharett was more loved in the United States than in Israel, where he was considered to be too much of a compromiser. In 1971 Sadat offered an interim agreement to Golda Meir but against Eban's advice she turned down even exploratory negotiations. In December 1973 he represented Israel at the peace conference in Geneva that served as a cover for Henry Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy. In early 1974 he represented Israel in the early Kissinger shuttle diplomacy where Kissinger negotiated a separation-of-forces agreement along the canal after Israel had suffered nearly 3,000 dead in the Yom Kippur War. But in June 1974 he lost his position after seven years to Yigal Allon and retired to a life of writing his memoirs, histories of Israel and the Jews and making TV programs.

The next Great Western Hope was Shimon Peres, but only after he ceased to be a hawk and became a dove as opposition leader. He converted as a result of Sadat's journey to Jerusalem and the influence of his younger advisors like Yossi Beilin who later became leader of Meretz. Peres was ambitious but politically inept and lost more elections for prime minister than any other leader in Israeli politics. He was the Henry Clay--Lincoln's model as statesman--of Israeli politics. He was a bitter rival of Yitzhak Rabin for two decades until the two declared an uneasy truce in order to make peace together with the Palestinians. He served as prime minister from mid-1984 to October 1986 and again from November 1995 to June 1996 following Rabin's murder. He lost the election to Netanyahu but twice returned to serve temporarily as head of the Labor Party before he finally bolted to join Sharon in Kadima. Active in Israeli politics for sixty years he began his career as the protege of Ben-Gurion at the defense ministry. His peak was from 1984 to 1996 when he twice served as prime minister, then as foreign minister and then finance minister under Shamir before serving as Rabin's foreign minister. Neither Rabin nor Shamir completely trusted him. He was defeated for president in July 2000 but was elected as a replacement for a disgraced Likud president in 2006.

Peres earned his reputation as the Great Western Hope by several moves. In the summer of 1978 he met Anwar Sadat in Vienna in support of a peace agreement when the peace process seemed to be lagging. In March 1979 he and the Labor Party voted in favor of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty when several influential Likud hawks like future Foreign and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir  and future Foreign and Defense Minister Moshe Arens abstained in the vote. Then as prime minister in 1984 he withdrew Israeli troops from central and most of southern Lebanon. He also put hyper-inflation under control. In 1986 after becoming foreign minister he negotiated a secret deal with King Hussein of Jordan to convene an international peace conference. But because Shamir opposed the conference Secretary of State George Schultz refused to back up the idea and it was stillborn. In 1994 he and his aide Yossi Beilin were the architects of the Oslo Process. In 1995 he negotiated most of the details of the Oslo II agreement that had the IDF pull out of the towns of the West Bank. And in the winter of 1996 he negotiated with President Hafiz al-Assad about a return of the Golan to Syria.

Livni became the latest Great Western Hope in 2006 when she became Ehud Olmert's foreign minister. The daughter of a former Etzel (Irgun) leader in Jerusalem, she served in the Mossad as an attorney after graduating from law school. The least prominent of the group of Likud "princes"--the children of prominent figures from Herut and the Likud that included Benny Begin, Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, Dan Meridor, Ehud Olmert, and Tzahi Hanegbi--she only attained prominence under Sharon. With Ehud Olmert weakened in the Second Lebanon War Livni emerged as the leading figure in the party. But when Olmert resigned as party leader in late 2008 over legal problems stemming from corruption charges, Livni was unable to form a coalition government because she refused to give in to Shas's blackmail. She was too principled for Israeli politics. In December 2008 she defended Israel's invasion of Gaza. Livni then refused to join Netanyahu's coalition  after  she emerged as the leader of the largest party (by a single seat) but was again unable to form a coalition. Not very dynamic as a leader of a deeply-divided party she managed to hold Kadima together longer than any Center party in Israeli history. She will probably now retire from politics.

What these four politicians have in common is that they are considered at home to be squishy visionaries who are soft on the Arab question. They are more at home in international gatherings than in the rough and tumble world of Israeli politics. They to a large extent were responsible for Israel's good reputation in the West.

So far the Likud has failed to produce its Great Western Hope. The closest to that function was Moshe Dayan who served as Begin's foreign minister in his first government from 1977 to 1980. But Dayan never joined the Likud. Weizman also served in that function but he left the Likud in 1981 after resigning as defense minister. The closest thing among the current generation in the Likud is Dan Meridor, who has never served as foreign minister. Barak is serving as Netanyahu's Dayan equivalent, but he too has yet to join the party.

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