Livni joins Netanyahu government
Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Hatenuah party, during their joint statement at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament last night. Photograph: Reuters
Analysis: Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last night that Tzipi Livni, the former foreign minister, who has long been a harsh critic of his handling of the Palestinian conflict, would join his next government, serving as justice minister and leading negotiations with the Palestinians.
Ms Livni's new Hatnua Party is the first to sign an agreement with Mr Netanyahu, who has been struggling for weeks to set up a coalition of at least 61 of the 120 Parliament members elected January 22nd.
The move came amid reports that talks with two larger factions - Yair Lapid's centrist Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett's right-wing Jewish Home - had broken down, and analysts said it was an effort to put pressure on those parties to join the coalition quickly or risk being left out.
"This is an agreement Netanyahu formulated as a sort of doomsday deal," said Idan Kveller, Army Radio's political reporter.
"Even Livni's great accomplishment still depends on whether Netanyahu forms a government. Otherwise this deal goes down the drain."
Giving Ms Livni a role in the peace process could also be an attempt to placate Washington ahead of president Barack Obama's planned visit to Jerusalem next month.
The campaigned largely on the Palestinian issue, and is among the parliament's strongest advocates for the creation of a Palestinian state as the only path to preserve Israel as a Jewish democracy.
“This is an Israeli interest," Ms Livni told a conference of American Jewish leaders here last week.
“It's not a favour to the Palestinians, it's not a favour to the Arab world, and it's not a favour to the president of the United States.”
“There is no status quo," she added. “Stagnation and stalemate means deterioration; this is something we cannot afford.”
Ms Livni would hardly be given a free hand. Any negotiating team would include Isaac Molho, who as Netanyahu's special envoy has presided over four years of impasse in the peace talks.
Any deal with the Palestinians would also have to be approved by the cabinet and the parliament, and possibly a voter referendum.
Ms Livni, a 54-year-old lawyer, began her political life as a member of Netanyahu's Likud Party, but broke away to help form the centrist Kadima faction in 2005.
Under her leadership, Kadima won more Parliament seats than Likud in 2009, but she failed to form a coalition, handing Netanyahu the premiership.
After several years of leading the opposition, she was ousted by Kadima voters in primary elections early last year, and quit politics, only to return several months later under the new banner of Hatnua, Hebrew for the Movement.
At a news conference announcing the deal, Mr Netanyahu and Ms Livni acknowledged their past disputes but said they paled next to the challenges Israel faced, including the Palestinian conflict, Iran's nuclear program, Syria's civil war, and domestic issues including a sagging economy and the integration of ultra-Orthodox Jews into the military and workforce.
"We must set aside our disagreements and join forces for the state of Israel," Mr Netanyahu said.
"The state of Israel now needs a large national unity government. Today we're making the first step towards this end."
Ms Livni said that though she had "criticized the government's action during the past four years," she and Mr Netanyahu had "sat down for many long and calm conversations" since the elections, and had "reached the conclusion that we must truly put all this behind."
Before the announcement, Ms Livni repeatedly said Hatnua's six lawmakers would not join Mr Netanyahu's government without other center-left parties.
New York Times