Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering appointing Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni as “minister for the promotion of the diplomatic process,” a Likud-Beytenu official involved in the ongoing coalition negotiations said Wednesday.
Former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman resigned his post in December pending the outcome of a corruption case brought against him. Netanyahu is currently acting foreign minister, reportedly holding the job open for his ally. Yet he remains mindful of the possibility Liberman will be convicted and will not return to his post in the next government, according to the official. “For that reason, Netanyahu is seriously considering appointing Livni as an ‘acting foreign minister’ who will ultimately be responsible for carrying out the political process [with the Palestinians],” he told Haaretz.
The official also explained that appointing Livni, who served as foreign minister in Ehud Olmert’s government, would help portray the prime minister as open to peace. “Livni will whitewash the Netanyahu government in the eyes of the world, just as the Labor Party and later the Independence party did in Netanyahu’s previous government.”
The official suggested that Livni would be more comfortable dealing with Israel’s foreign policy with Liberman out of the picture. The Yisrael Beytenu party leader was indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust for allegedly advancing the position of Ze’ev Ben Aryeh, Israel’s former ambassador to Belarus, in exchange for information on an investigation against him.
“We are impressed that Livni changed her attitude toward participation in the Netanyahu government,” the official said. “In talks, she sent a message of readiness for real cooperation with the prime minister.”
Before the election, Livni set herself apart from a campaign that focused mainly on domestic issues and placed herself in stark opposition to Netanyahu, saying she was the only one who could bring about a diplomatic solution with the Palestinians. But Netanyahu, and Liberman, have reportedly been in contact with Livni in recent days, seeking to encourage Hatnua to enter the coalition.
Tuesday’s White House announcement that US President Barack Obama would be visiting Israel in the spring has helped bring the Palestinian issue back to the political focus. Livni welcomed news of the visit, saying she hoped it would mark a resumption of peace talks.
Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio on Wednesday that the restarting of peace talks would be one of the central principles of the next government that must be accepted by any party that aimed to join the coalition. Netanyahu on Tuesday said he hoped to oversee “a prudent” process of negotiations with the Palestinians. He has also called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table.
The prime minister has 28 days to put together a coalition. If he is unable to do so in that time, the president can either give him a two-week extension or offer the opportunity to another party head to attempt to build a new government.
“Coalition negotiations always drag on until the latest date possible and the candidate for prime minister always asks for an extension period. I see no reason why it would be different this time,” the Likud official said.