Gil Troy: Center Field: Tzipi: Don’t do an Al Gore

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-16-09

In one of the few charming moments in Israel’s bleak election campaign, an Israeli rocker who called himself “Tzipi Livni Boy” rapped a love song to Tzipi Livni. It was called “Tagidi Li Ken” – tell me “yes.” Who knew so many others would echo that cry for the Kadima leader after the election?

Many Israelis from across the political spectrum – and many of us who care deeply about the future of Israel and the Jewish people – are begging Tzipi Livni to please say “yes” to joining a coalition with Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud. There are, admittedly, many valid reasons for Livni to say “no.” She has insisted on a rotating premiership, considering that her centrist Kadima party won one more seat than Bibi’s right-wing Likud. She has demanded Netanyahu endorse a two-state solution, so that she does not find herself representing a government whose policies she rejects.

But even if Netanyahu rebuffs those demands – and reports suggest he has agreed to relinquish the premiership to her after three years – Tzipi Livni must say “yes” to his invitation and remain Israel’s foreign minister. This would keep Netanyahu’s government from lurching too far right while preventing the alienating farce to the Western world of Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman becoming foreign minister. In calmer times and in a less dysfunctional system, being an effective opposition leader would be enough to put the brakes on Netanyahu, who was weakened by an abysmal showing in the election. But with so much power concentrated in Israel’s cabinet and in internal coalition politics rather than broader Knesset dynamics, if Livni stays out of the government, her oppositional darts will be about as effective as spit-balls against tanks.

Livni can help manage the two most critical files in Israel’s foreign affairs directory: relations with the United States and Iran. The recent images of Livni palling around with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton illustrated the personal warmth she can inject into this critical alliance. Everyone knows what is coming down the pike. Israel’s relations with Barack Obama’s administration will endure enough strain. Having Livni as Israel’s public face will help alleviate tensions, as will the ability to describe Israel’s government as centrist, pragmatist or even torn – rather than right-wing, racist, or irredentist.

The deeper, more substantive reason has to do with the biggest threat to Israel’s survival, Iran. Despite the Palestinian conceit – and the growing left-wing assumption – that solving the Palestinian problem is the key to Middle East peace, or even world peace, Iran’s rush toward nuclear power is a much bigger problem, for Israel, the US and the West. Left and Right in Israel and the US should agree on this issue. Limiting nuclear proliferation used to be a core value for leftists – until their strange and growing inability to criticize anything Muslims do kicked in. Even if Iran never uses the bomb, Iran has a thirty-year track record as a global troublemaker, funding, training and coordinating terrorists. A nuclear Iran will be more aggressive, more of an outlaw. If the existential threat to Israel in 1967 could encourage a National Unity government joining Levi Eshkol and Menachem Begin, the Iranian threat should be sufficient to unite Livni, Netanyahu – and Labor’s Ehud Barak as Defense Minister.

Some supporters have encouraged Livni to stay out of the coalition, invoking Al Gore’s example. It is worth learning from Gore – as a cautionary tale. Gore, like Livni, had that heartbreaking, frustrating experience of attracting the most votes in the 2000 presidential campaign, yet not winning the desired office. Just as that “democratically-elected” Hamas government of thugs in Gaza teaches that true democracy requires more than elections, democratic rules sometimes deprive the biggest vote-getter of power. True, Gore won an Oscar and a Nobel Peace Prize while his rival George W. Bush ended up with eight years of headaches and historically low public opinion ratings. But Bush changed history, for better or worse; Gore became a footnote.

When Gore lost, he could have functioned as an effective alternative to Bush – and a strong brake on Bush’s administration. The American system does not encourage power-sharing in the executive, like Israel’s does. But in the modern media world, Gore could have led the Democrats aggressively, emphasizing Bush’s limited mandate, forcing occasional compromises and running in 2004. Instead, for the first few years after his loss, Gore went into a kind of public exile, mourning his misfortune. His recent emergence as what President George H.W. Bush once mocked as “Ozone Man” has helped raise environmental awareness. Still, all the celebrity accolades count little compared to what Gore could have and should have accomplished.

Tzipi Livni faces a similar career and historical crossroads. She can help her country in some of the ways she promised her supporters she would, even as foreign minister. It will be exasperating to serve as Bibi’s second banana – as maddening for her as it must be for Hillary Clinton to be Barack Obama’s secretary of state. But her country needs her. Her people need her. The world needs her.

So Tzipi, listen to the siren call of “Tzipi Livni Boy” and millions of others. Please say “yes,” pushing for as good a coalition deal as you can get, making it clear what red lines would indeed compel you and your partners to leave Bibi’s cabinet. But, most important, work on a strategy that maintains Israel’s warm relations with the US and helps stop Iran from becoming a nuclear threat.

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