Livni joins Netanyahu coalition to take charge of peace talks with Palestinians
Palestinian youth hurls a stone towards Israeli soldiers during clashes at Hawara checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus yesterday. photograph: abed omar qusini
Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni has joined the coalition of prime minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu and has been given responsibility for conducting peace talks with the Palestinians.
Ms Livni, head of the centrist party called The Movement, which won six seats in the 120-member Knesset parliament, has become the first politician to sign a coalition agreement with Mr Netanyahu.
She headed peace talks with the Palestinians under the government of Ehud Olmert, and will serve as justice minister in the new government with special responsibility for conducting peace talks. Known as a dove, she was the only politician during the election campaign to prioritise the importance of reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians.
At a joint news conference announcing the coalition agreement, both politicians had a lot of explaining to do.
Ms Livni said during the election campaign that she had returned to politics to fight Mr Netanyahu, and predicted that his re-election would lead to disaster. Mr Netanyahu had promised not to let Ms Livni touch the peace process negotiations “because of her irresponsibility on the issue”.
Putting differences aside
However, both said they had now put their differences aside and joined forces for the sake of national unity.
According to the agreement, Ms Livni will be responsible for conducting negotiations with the Palestinians “with the aim of reaching a settlement with them that will put an end to the conflict”. She will be part of a special ministerial team for peace-process-related issues, which will include the foreign and defence ministers, and will be headed by Mr Netanyahu.
“I said during the campaign that the government’s policies over the past four years were wrong, that I would fight to promote the peace process and that I would decide whether or not to be in the government based on my understanding of where I could best promote the peace process, and this is what I did,” Ms Livni said.
Mr Netanyahu said Israel was facing unprecedented challenges and therefore needed a broad and stable government.
“We must make every effort to advance a responsible peace process with the Palestinians”.
Further coalition deals
Mr Netanyahu hopes to sign coalition deals by the end of next week with the centrist Kadima, and two ultra-Orthodox parties, giving him 57 Knesset members. He will then try to persuade the centrist Yesh Atid, the right-wing Jewish Home or Labour to join the government, giving him a parliamentary majority.
With Israel under increasing international pressure to break the diplomatic deadlock, Mr Netanyahu will welcome Ms Livni’s inclusion in the government as a sign that Israel is serious about resuming meaningful talks. Such a message is especially important ahead of next month’s visit by US president Barack Obama.
It remains to be seen how much leeway Mr Netanyahu will grant Ms Livni, assuming that Israel and the Palestinians actually return to the negotiating table.
The right-wing Jewish Home criticised Mr Netanyahu for “placing the negotiations in the hands of someone who conducted talks for partitioning Jerusalem and who was responsible for the Gaza disengagement”.