A day after she shook up the political system by becoming the first party leader to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s emergent government, Tzipi Livni on Wednesday said that her decision to sign on to a Likud-Yisrael Beytenu-led coalition was an expression of the two parties’ “common goal” and did not constitue a betrayal of her voters.
The Hatnua party’s about-face — Livni had asserted that she’d never serve as a “fig-leaf” in a right-wing Netanyahu government, a sentiment expressed in even stronger terms by her party’s number three, Amir Peretz — will land her in the position of justice minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians. Peretz will serve as environmental protection minister.
“We understand there was nothing personal,” Livni said, downplaying past disagreements between Netanyahu and herself. The “common goal” she shared with the prime minister was not a “sudden” revelation, Livni told Israel Radio, but rather the result of many hours of talks since the January 22 elections.
Livni, who based the Hatnua campaign on calling for a resolution of the Palestinian issue, cited statements by Netanyahu — both in the past four years and on Tuesday evening, when he and Livni announced their agreement — that the conflict could only be resolved via a two-state solution. Netanyahu, she said, “has an interest in pushing this forward.”
That the prime minister had not committed to a two-state solution in writing, and did not have the full backing of his party to carry out dramatic concessions, was not a deterrent, Livni said. Rather, in conducting negotiations — according to the agreement with Likud, she will be subordinate only to the prime minister in such matters — she would be guided by Netanyahu’s policy statements, both in public and in private conversations with her.
Livni stressed that her move wasn’t a “betrayal” of her voters, and did not contradict her “deep criticism” of the previous administration; nor, she averred, had that criticism diminished. “The question is whether or not we can still implement those policies that we discussed, both in negotiations [with the Palestinians] and with the Justice portfolio,” she said.
Livni criticized the nationalist Orthodox Jewish Home party after some members on Tuesday said that her inclusion in the government would make it more difficult for them to join Netanyahu. She called on center-left parties Yesh Atid and Labor to “do today what we have done, and create a government that enables us to push forward” with the peace process.
MK Uri Orbach of Jewish Home on Wednesday did not rule out the possibility that his party would sit in a government that included the dovish Hatnua. He said that while his party was not happy that Livni had been chosen to head peace negotiations, it understood Netanyahu’s need to assemble as broad a coalition as possible.
Zahava Gal-on, the head of the left-wing Meretz party, on Tuesday night blasted Livni for entering the coalition.
“When Tzipi Livni entered the election race, moments before the deadline for filing lists, she decimated the hope that a center-left government would be formed. Today, despite all the slogans she spread in her campaign, she is the first to go crawling into the forming right-wing coalition,” Gal-on wrote on her Facebook page. “Livni’s entrance into the government is a slap in the face for her voters, who dreamed of a diplomatic shift and discovered that their votes were stolen and given to the right.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s political adviser, Nimer Hamad, called Livni’s appointment to head negotiations “a positive sign.”
Hamad praised Livni’s stated views that the “settlements are an obstacle to peace” and said she had “a broad understanding in what is needed for the peace process, and a vision of the Palestinian point of view.”
The ultra-Orthodox Shas is seen as the next party in line to join a Netanyahu government.
The party’s leader, Interior Mininster Eli Yishai, on Wednesday morning said there had been progress in his party’s negotiations with Likud-Beytenu, but that some gaps still remained. He estimated that the two factions would not finalize a deal before the end of the week.
On Tuesday night, Channel 10 reported that negotiations between Likud and Shas saw “significant progress” toward bringing the 12-seat party into the government, including on the contentious issue of a universal draft bill that would include the ultra-Orthodox.
The deal would be based on a proposal put together by Eugene Kendall, the head of Israel’s National Economic Council, according to which the IDF would draft upwards of 60% of ultra-Orthodox Israelis aged 18-24 within five years, and the government would provide monetary incentives to those who comply while penalizing the yeshivas of those who don’t.
The Yesh Atid and Jewish Home parties rejected the Kendall proposal when Netanyahu’s team pitched it in coalition talks last week.
On Wednesday morning, Yishai said that differences between his party and Likud centered on the universal draft, as well as economic considerations.
Ron Friedman and Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.