Call it a hunch. Tzipi Livni, former Foreign Minister and leader of the Kadima party, is on the ropes. Her days heading Israel’s opposition may be numbered.
First, there was the election, where she managed to pull off the remarkable feat of gaining the largest number of seats in the Knesset, while at the same time failing not only to put together a governing coalition, but even to join the government at all. She blew it because her narrative of “we got the most seats, so we won,” didn’t hold a candle to Netanyahu’s narrative of “the right wing got way more seats than the left wing, so we won.”
But then Netanyahu’s narrative shifted, and Livni lost again. Ehud Barak’s Labor party, which should have been devastated by its historic electoral implosion, instead retook command of the Left, joining a “National Unity” government with Likud et al. Bibi became the great Unifier, and Livni was left without anything of substance to distance her party from the government.
The new government’s political pincer-move, led by two former members of the IDF’s most elite special forces unit, was bad enough. Then there came Bibi’s big speech, where he historically allowed for the possibility of a Palestinian State — removing Livni’s only remaining substantive policy disagreement with the Prime Minister — in exchange for the whole world’s agreeing to hear his eloquent discourse about the prophets and Jewish history. (A veteran TV commentator called his speech “a tiny ‘Yes’ and a huge ‘But.’”) Suddenly, Israelis love Bibi again, despise Obama, and Livni is simply left with nothing to say. The one issue that the Americans disagree with Israel on — the idea of zero-growth settlement policy — is something that neither Livni nor her party could agree to. So what is left for her to oppose?
Last week, Livni escaped the physical dismantling of her party, as she led a raucous boycott of the Knesset (including the spontaneous singing of Israeli folk songs in the plenum) in protest over attempts to pass a law that would allow 7 MKs of her party, led by Shaul Mofaz, to split off and join the coalition. Maybe Bibi played his hand too forcefully. A tactical error perhaps. But it only slowed the process.
Today Mofaz has launched a blistering assault on Livni. “She’s a nice person, you can sit and have a drink with her,” Mofaz said, “but we’re not in a club; she just doesn’t have the ability to make tough decisions.” This is an explicit echo of the Likud’s campaign against Livni: That she is too indecisive to lead.
At the same time, Netanyahu is playing it cool, calling on Livni to join the coalition. If she does, her supporters will clearly see it as a capitulation. Her inability to stick to her guns will be confirmed. Mofaz will have all the momentum in her party. And she will be giving her nemesis, Netanyahu, premiership over an unprecedentedly unified country. But if she doesn’t, she will find herself increasingly irrelevant in opposing a government with which she has no discernible disagreements, left with little to say to Israelis on the Left or Right.