Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Livni's Next Challenge/ "United Against Nuclear Iran"

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Update from AIJAC

September 23, 2008
Number 09/08 #07

This Update features analysis of the challenges faced by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni now that she has won last week's Kadima party primary, Ehud Olmert has officially resigned as Prime Minister  and Livni has been formally asked by President Peres to try to form a new government.

First up, the Jerusalem Post looks not only at Livni's options in terms of building a new coalition, but also in terms of the political issues she will need to tackle. These includes political reform, religious-secular relations, water and the environment, education, etc., as well as the crucial foreign policy issues -  not only the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, but also the ongoing threat from Hamas in Gaza and the indirect talks with Syria. For the paper's full discussion of what she will need to consider on each of these crucial issues, and a plea not to let  them drift over coming months CLICK HERE. A reminder that, despite how it is sometimes portrayed by media commentators, the resolution of Israeli-Palestinian issues is largely beyond the control of any Israeli government, no matter who leads it, comes from Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post. Making some similar points is American Jewish Committee chief David Harris.

Next up, the British-Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) provides a longer discussion of Livni's political, policy and diplomatic challenges, and also provides some discussion of the history and possible future of her ruling Kadima party. This paper provides more discussion of the basic two options Livni has as she tries to form a new coalition - preserving the current coalition or seeking a government of national unity. It also has some additional good discussion of Livni's history and style as a leader, and some of the abilities she will be attempting to demonstrate to Israelis in the face of critics. For all the vital details, CLICK HERE.

Finally, we also feature a joint call by some of the leading foreign policy specialists in the US for unity to deal with one of the most crucial issues Livni will have to face as prime minister, namely Iran's ongoing illegal nuclear program. The experts, who hail from both sides of the political aisle, and include former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, former CIA director R. James Woolsey, and former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, have formed a new non-partisan group called United Against Nuclear Iran, which is designed to rally the country and educate the public about why a nuclear Iran is completely unacceptable. They make the case very plainly and clearly, and to read their full argument, CLICK HERE. Other important initiatives on the Iranian nuclear crisis include a round-table of experts convened by the European Jewish Congress and the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya (IDC), who concluded that current international efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program are "severely deficient" and a new major report (in pdf form) from the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington (to which recent visitor to Australia Dr. Michael Rubin served as a key consultant.) Yet more prognostication about the Iranian nuclear situation comes from Israeli military intelligence.

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Editorial: Livni's challenge

Jerusalem Post, Sep. 18, 2008


Israelis woke up Thursday morning to discover that Tzipi Livni had defeated Shaul Mofaz in the race to become leader of Kadima by a mere 431 votes. Most pre-election surveys, and all the exit polls, had forecast a 10-point margin of victory.

With polling stations allowed to stay open late, disqualified ballots, and erroneous TV surveys showing Livni winning easily before voting had even ended, Mofaz had good reason to feel deeply aggrieved. But in defeat, he demonstrated a certain political nobility - first, graciously accepting the outcome, and then announcing a "time out" from politics.

That departure, unless he can be prevailed upon to change his mind, serves as an indictment of the Kadima election process and its media coverage, immediately complicates Livni's road forward, and does Israel's wider interest no favors. Mofaz has been the minister heading Israel's strategic dialogue with Iran - an area where we can afford no vacuum.

Livni replaces Ehud Olmert as head of Kadima. Her task now is to replace him as prime minister, by building a viable coalition.

Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu believes that were general elections held now, his party would win the most mandates. Can Livni nonetheless entice him to join her government? Highly unlikely. Labor's Ehud Barak claims, unconvincingly, that he's not afraid of elections, allowing that a spell in the opposition might do his party good. And Shas will drive its usual tough bargain, seeking financial inducements in return for supporting a Livni-led coalition.

So staving off elections will not be easy - and, given the momentous decisions the next prime minister will have to make, perhaps not even desirable.

Since her entry onto the national stage, Livni has become increasingly confident in public. And her "clean" image may have gotten her this far.

But now, as party leader and possible premier, more is demanded. Assembling a coalition and handing out portfolios alone does not advance the national interest. What matters is an agenda - a vision.

DOMESTICALLY, we'd like to see Livni advocate reform of the political system to promote representative government and diminish the influence of sectarian parties; to see her reach out to citizens on both Right and Left who are alienated from the system and to advocate respect for tradition and religious pluralism.

Let's see her address our chronic water shortage by supporting desalination and hear her views on environmental issues. Let her advocate for public transportation and commit to investing in education. Does she support national service for all?

But it is foreign and security policy that will dominate the next prime minister's agenda. Livni must define the path for addressing the Iranian nuclear threat.

In trying for an accommodation with relative moderates among the Palestinians, she needs to articulate how this is an Israeli interest, and needs to talk about the ticking diplomatic and demographic clocks. What does she think will happen when Mahmoud Abbas completes his term as Palestinian Authority president in January?

Livni needs to tell Israelis where the negotiations stand, especially on Jerusalem and refugees. What steps are being taken to ensure that a "shelf agreement" doesn't come back to bite us should the Islamists take complete control of Palestinian affairs? And what are her - and Israel's - red lines in the negotiations?

What's her plan for Gaza, where ever more extreme Hamas factions are solidifying power? How does she propose to keep the West Bank from becoming a launching pad for violence against Israel if the Palestinians get their state?

She will also have the opportunity to take a fresh look at negotiations with Syria; the current approach of indirect talks does not instill confidence.

A well-negotiated agreement with Syria is in Israel's strategic interest. But does she agree that the extent of any withdrawal from the Golan Heights must parallel the depth of the peace offered? Does she understand that the finer points of an accord, such as access to Israel's main natural water resource, Lake Kinneret, are critical?

ISRAEL CANNOT afford a rudderless policy drift, for months on end, as party politics sort themselves out. This is a nation longing for honest, capable and inspiring leadership - urgently.

Can Tzipi Livni provide it? 16,936 of Israel's voters said yes on Wednesday. Now she must persuade the rest.

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LIVNI'S KADIMA: THE ROAD AHEAD


 Key points
  • In a historic victory, Tzipi Livni has won the race for the leadership of the Kadima party, making her the second woman in Israel's history to lead a governing political party.
  • Livni will be granted 42 days to assemble a new governing coalition. If unsuccessful, general elections will take place within 90 days.
  • Her experience as foreign minister and her time as the leader of Israel's negotiations team with the Palestinian leadership should ensure that there will not be a hiatus in the Annapolis diplomatic drive.
Political options: Coalition or elections

All exit polls published this evening suggest that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has achieved a significant victory over her main rival for the Kadima party leadership, Shaul Mofaz. According to the exit polls, Livni has achieved between 47 and 49 percent of the vote, while Mofaz received 37 percent. Meir Sheetrit and Avi Dichter, the two other contenders for the party's leadership, received seven percent each. Reports have indicated that an hour before the poll closing time, approximately 45 percent of eligible Kadima voters had cast their vote, with voting numbers increasing after working hours.

Livni's victory in the Kadima party primary marks an important milestone, making Livni only the second woman in Israel's history to lead a governing political party, and, if successful, the second female prime minister. However, Livni will face some noteworthy political challenges before being able to recreate Golda Meir's 1969 achievement. Livni's victory was achieved largely thanks to her public appeal as a centrist leader, able to attract voters from the traditional political camps. One of her key appeals to the electorate is her image as an honest and moderate politician, leading a modest lifestyle not directly associated with business interests, and who publicly criticised Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's leadership after the Second Lebanon War.

First, Kadima's new leader will have to determine whether she intends to invest her efforts in forming a new governing coalition or whether she will harness her current popular support and push for general elections at the closest possible date. Livni's top campaign advisors, a team comprised of media and political strategists who accompanied former prime minister and Kadima founder Ariel Sharon, initially leaned towards the latter option, hoping to capitalise on Livni's current popularity. Recent polls indicated that under Livni's leadership, Kadima would receive 28 seats and appeared tied with Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud. Livni may want to use her momentum to set a date for early elections and place herself in comfortable position to form the next coalition. However, Livni will have to overcome the will of a majority of Kadima members who prefer to avoid new elections at this point.

Now that Livni stands at the forefront of Kadima, she is likely to attract more criticism from political rivals who will try to undermine her credibility and experience. Livni's main rival for the party leadership, Transportation Minister Mofaz, focused most of his attacks on Livni's lack of experience in defence and security matters. It is safe to assume that both Israeli Labour and Likud will repeat this line of attack, and point to Livni's supposed unpreparedness to lead Israel through the security challenges it faces. Both parties will hope that the Israeli public will consider military expertise as a determining factor in the next elections, undercutting Livni's appeal.

Another criticism that has been levelled at Livni is her inability so far to build a strong team of advisors. Livni has been often portrayed as a soloist, who thinks and decides alone or with the advice of her husband and confidant Naftali Shpitzer. Livni will need to prove her ability to put together a team that will help her overcome the challenges of the Israeli political system and implement her agenda on the national and international level.

Expecting critics to target her political experience, Livni may prefer to opt to form a new coalition and prove her competence at the country's helm. In the immediate period, Livni can also benefit from the political composition of the Knesset, which may prove more conducive to her diplomatic agenda (see below). Recent polls suggest that elections in the near future will favour the right-wing bloc and weaken the centre-left parties. Under these circumstances, Livni will face a significantly harder political challenge in forming a coalition.

If Livni chooses to form a new coalition, she faces two possible options:
  • Preserving the current coalition. Under the current parliamentary composition, Livni can inherit a coalition of 67 MKs, with Israeli Labour (19 seats) and the Sephardic ultra-orthodox Shas party (12 seats) being the main partners. However, this inheritance will come at a price: Shas especially will present Livni with a list of demands that are likely to strain the 2009 budget that was recently approved. Livni may attempt to invite the left-wing Meretz party to join her coalition if Shas's demands appear unbridgeable, but this coalition - with 60 MKs - will rely on the outside support of Arab parties and will undermine Livni's image as a centrist leader.
  • Forming a national unity coalition. Livni may attempt to establish a national unity coalition with Israeli Labour and Likud. However, this scenario is less likely for two main reasons. First, Likud has been criticising Livni's handling of the negotiations with the Palestinians, accusing her of compromising on key issues. It is hard to see how the gaps between the sides can be bridged while still maintaining the diplomatic momentum. Second, recent polls suggest that Likud may gain 28 seats if elections were held today, compared with the 12 it holds at present. It is therefore hard to see what may motivate Likud to join a unity coalition under Livni when it can have a chance at the country's leadership.
As noted already, if attempts to form a coalition are not successful, Livni will look to gain the premiership through general elections. The negotiations process with other major political forces such as Likud and Israeli Labour will enable Livni to present herself as a responsible political leader striving for political unity and stability, while pointing to her opponents' political interests. However, it is likely that Livni will try to minimise the political heckling to avoid staining her clean reputation.

Livni looking ahead: Views on key issues

Whether Livni will opt for early elections or attempt to form a coalition, it is worth looking more closely at her views on some of the national and international challenges Israel faces:

Israeli-Palestinian talks: Livni has been heading the Israeli negotiations team since the end of 2007 and has become a strong advocate of the need to reach an agreement based on a two-state solution and the belief that time is not on Israel's side. However, Livni recently explained that her view is informed by her strong belief that such a solution will serve Israel's national security and improve its standings in the international arena. While Livni insists that all the core issues are part of the negotiations, she is always careful to stress that she rejects any solution that will include the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel and Israeli withdrawal from major settlement blocs west of the security fence.
Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip: Livni repeatedly stated that she will not accept the current status quo that sees the de facto separation between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Livni is therefore likely to insist that the Palestinian leadership prove its ability to regain its rule in Gaza before an agreement can be struck. Internationally, Livni will continue to call for Hamas's isolation. However, despite previous statements, it is believed that Livni will continue Israel's current policy of restraint in response to violations of the ceasefire.

Israel-Syria talks:
Livni is sceptical regarding the current indirect talks both in format and in substance. On this issue, she repeatedly states that "Peace is not only about eating hummus in Damascus," and she is likely to demand clarifications from the Syrian leadership regarding Damascus's intentions. Livni is mostly wary of Syria's attempt to use the negotiations as an instrument to regains its international status.

The Iranian threat:
Livni is one of the leading advocates for the internationalisation of the struggle against Iran's ambitions to reach nuclear capability and regional hegemony. During her term in the Foreign Ministry, Livni used her power to broaden international cooperation against Iran and is likely to continue this policy as leader of Kadima. The ability to handle this issue competently will be a pivotal electoral issue in the next general election.

Corruption:
After PM Olmert's indictment, public resentment against corruption is likely to take centre stage in the next general election. In the eyes of the Israeli public, Livni symbolises a clean, conscientious politician and is likely to make this issue central to her political agenda.


Background: Kadima - from emergence to the road ahead

Kadima, which means ‘forward' or ‘onward', owes its existence to former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who formed the party in November 2005 as a centrist, third-way party that combined political forces from Israel's traditional left and right wings. Prior to that, as leader of Likud, Sharon was involved in a prolonged political tug-of-war with right-wing elements within and outside his party following the implementation of the disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. Sharon's decision to split from his long-time political home and establish a new party was seen by many as the realisation of the political ‘big-bang', namely, a radical realignment of Israel's political landscape.

Although the immediate period that followed the party's formation indicated that the bipartisan vision was taking shape, attracting leading figures from Likud and Israeli Labour, Sharon was never able to lead the party in elections because of a massive stroke he suffered in January 2006. Ehud Olmert succeeded Sharon as leader of the party and was able to lead it to victory in the general election that followed.

Under Olmert's leadership, the party initially set out to complete the unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, but Hamas's strengthening in the Palestinian territories and the eruption of the Second Lebanon War hindered this process. However, the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in June 2007 and the indirect talks with Syrian representatives since May 2008 established Kadima's pragmatic, even dovish, image.

The diplomatic achievements of the government were overshadowed by ongoing investigations against Olmert and his inability to recover from the criticism directed at him following the failures of the Second Lebanon War. Following long internal and external political pressures, Olmert announced that he would not contend in the Kadima primary, and that following the election of a new leader, he would resign from office.

Following Olmert's departure, the party's initial promise of centrist politics still needs to be proven. The next party leader thus faces three primary tasks: determining the party's future political agenda, ensuring political unity within the party ranks and regaining the Israeli public's trust.

Kadima, which means ‘forward' or ‘onward', owes its existence to former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who formed the party in November 2005 as a centrist, third-way party that combined political forces from Israel's traditional left and right wings. Prior to that, as leader of Likud, Sharon was involved in a prolonged political tug-of-war with right-wing elements within and outside his party following the implementation of the disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank. Sharon's decision to split from his long-time political home and establish a new party was seen by many as the realisation of the political ‘big-bang', namely, a radical realignment of Israel's political landscape.

Although the immediate period that followed the party's formation indicated that the bipartisan vision was taking shape, attracting leading figures from Likud and Israeli Labour, Sharon was never able to lead the party in elections because of a massive stroke he suffered in January 2006. Ehud Olmert succeeded Sharon as leader of the party and was able to lead it to victory in the general election that followed.

Under Olmert's leadership, the party initially set out to complete the unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, but Hamas's strengthening in the Palestinian territories and the eruption of the Second Lebanon War hindered this process. However, the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in June 2007 and the indirect talks with Syrian representatives since May 2008 established Kadima's pragmatic, even dovish, image.

The diplomatic achievements of the government were overshadowed by ongoing investigations against Olmert and his inability to recover from the criticism directed at him following the failures of the Second Lebanon War. Following long internal and external political pressures, Olmert announced that he would not contend in the Kadima primary, and that following the election of a new leader, he would resign from office.

Following Olmert's departure, the party's initial promise of centrist politics still needs to be proven. The next party leader thus faces three primary tasks: determining the party's future political agenda, ensuring political unity within the party ranks and regaining the Israeli public's trust.

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Everyone Needs to Worry About Iran

By RICHARD HOLBROOKE, R. JAMES WOOLSEY, DENNIS B. ROSS and MARK D. WALLACE

Wall Street Journal, SEPTEMBER 22, 2008

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the United Nations in New York this week. Don't expect an honest update from him on his country's nuclear program. Iran is now edging closer to being armed with nuclear weapons, and it continues to develop a ballistic-missile capability.

Such developments may be overshadowed by our presidential election, but the challenge Iran poses is very real and not a partisan matter. We may have different political allegiances and worldviews, yet we share a common concern -- Iran's drive to be a nuclear state. We believe that Iran's desire for nuclear weapons is one of the most urgent issues facing America today, because even the most conservative estimates tell us that they could have nuclear weapons soon.

A nuclear-armed Iran would likely destabilize an already dangerous region that includes Israel, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan, and pose a direct threat to America's national security. For this reason, Iran's nuclear ambitions demand a response that will compel Iran's leaders to change their behavior and come to understand that they have more to lose than to gain by going nuclear.

Tehran claims that it is enriching uranium only for peaceful energy uses. These claims exceed the boundaries of credibility and science. Iran's enrichment program is far larger than reasonably necessary for an energy program. In past inspections of Iranian nuclear sites, U.N. inspectors found rare elements that only have utility in nuclear weapons and not in a peaceful nuclear energy program. Iran's persistent rejection of offers from outside energy suppliers or private bidders to supply it with nuclear fuel suggests it has a motive other than energy in developing its nuclear program. Tehran's continual refusal to answer questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about this troublesome part of its nuclear program suggests that it has something to hide.

The world rightfully doubts Tehran's assertion that it needs nuclear energy and is enriching nuclear materials for strictly peaceful purposes. Iran has vast supplies of inexpensive oil and natural gas, and its construction of nuclear reactors and attempts to perfect the nuclear fuel cycle are exceedingly costly. There is no legitimate economic reason for Iran to pursue nuclear energy.

Iran is a deadly and irresponsible world actor, employing terrorist organizations including Hezbollah and Hamas to undermine existing regimes and to foment conflict. Emboldened by the bomb, Iran will become more inclined to sponsor terror, threaten our allies, and support the most deadly elements of the Iraqi insurgency.

Tehran's development of a nuclear bomb could serve as the "starter's gun" in a new and potentially deadly arms race in the most volatile region of the world. Many believe that Iran's neighbors would feel forced to pursue the bomb if it goes nuclear.

By continuing to act in open defiance of its treaty obligations under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, Iran rejects the inspections mandated by the IAEA and flouts multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and sanctions.

At the same time, Iranian leaders declare that Israel is illegitimate and should not exist. President Ahmadinejad specifically calls for Israel to be "wiped off from the map," while seeking the weapons to do so. Such behavior casts Iran as an international outlier. No one can reasonably suggest that a nuclear-armed Iran will suddenly honor international treaty obligations, acknowledge Israel's right to exist, or cease efforts to undermine the Arab-Israeli peace process.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is also the chief spokesman for a regime that represses religious and ethnic minorities, women, students, labor groups and homosexuals. A government willing to persecute its own people can only be viewed as even more dangerous if armed with nuclear weapons.

Finally, our economy has suffered under the burden of rising oil prices. Iran is strategically located on a key choke point in the world's energy supply chain -- the Strait of Hormuz. No one can suggest that a nuclear Iran would hesitate to use its enhanced leverage to affect oil prices, or would work to ease the burden on the battered economies of the world's oil importers.

Facing such a threat, Americans must put aside their political differences and send a clear and united message that a nuclear armed Iran is unacceptable.

That is why the four of us, along with other policy advocates from across the political spectrum, have formed the nonpartisan group United Against Nuclear Iran. Everyone must understand the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran and mobilize the power of a united American public in opposition. As part of the United Against Nuclear Iran effort, we will announce various programs in the months ahead that we hope will be rallying points for the American and international public to voice unified opposition to a nuclear Iran.

We do not aim to beat the drums of war. On the contrary, we hope to lay the groundwork for effective U.S. policies in coordination with our allies, the U.N. and others by a strong showing of unified support from the American people to alter the Iranian regime's current course. The American people must have a voice in this great foreign-policy challenge, and we can make a real difference through national and international, social, economic, political and diplomatic measures.

Mr. Holbrooke is a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Woolsey is a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Mr. Ross was a special Middle East coordinator for President Clinton. Mr. Wallace was a representative of the U.S. to the U.N. for management and reform.

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