For Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, it was a moment of truth: would she call for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s resignation following the devastating Winograd report on the 2006 war in Lebanon? If he refused, would she herself resign?
From the public’s point of view, her duty seemed clear. Even before the report’s release, Olmert’s approval ratings had hit rock bottom. And the report more than confirmed the conventional wisdom: his government had launched a war without having any idea how to fight it or how to end it.
The public expected Livni to start the political process that would bring down the government. Instead, she chose a half-measure: calling on Olmert to resign while staying in his government in order to help him implement the report’s recommendations. Though polls today indicate that the Israeli public is split down the middle on whether she should have resigned, her fence-straddling position is ultimately untenable. If Olmert should resign, as Livni’s statement suggests, how can he be fit to implement the changes outlined in the report?
Livni herself comes out relatively clean in the report: she was one of two ministers who voted against escalating the conflict and who pressed for taking advantage of early international support. There was nothing in the report, aside from collective responsibility, suggesting that she should resign. But her actions speak far more loudly than her words, and have undermined her reputation for being a notch above the political fray—even though she is arguably behaving much better than her Kadima colleagues, who are completely backing Olmert. Doing the right thing halfway is better than nothing, even though her straddling will prove, I think, to have been a big political mistake.
In Livni’s defense, the choice to resign would not have been an easy one to make. Her goal, after all, is to lead Kadima into the next elections—and all of the party’s other ministers are backing Olmert. But if this concern animated her decision, it was extremely shortsighted. Olmert and Livni herself, to the extent she is standing by his side, are bringing the entire Kadima party down with them. By leading a rebellion against Olmert, Livni just might have saved Kadima—and possibly her own political career.