Former Israeli foreign minister Livni joins Netanyahu coalition
By Joel Greenberg,
JERUSALEM — Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister who campaigned in Israel’s recent election for a negotiated accord with the Palestinians, on Tuesday became the first party leader to sign a coalition agreement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mired in tough talks with other factions on forming a new government, Netanyahu announced with Livni at his side that she would serve as justice minister and Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, a role she filled when she was foreign minister.
Netanyahu said he would head a ministerial team for the peace process, and that Livni would be a “senior partner in the effort to pursue a diplomatic process with the Palestinians whose aim is achieving peace between two nation-states.”
The results of the election, which boosted centrist parties whose coalition demands include a renewal of talks with the Palestinians, have pushed Netanyahu to accommodate their positions. A planned visit to Israel next month by President Obama, during which he is to meet with Palestinian leaders, has added to the political momentum that is prodding Netanyahu to show readiness to resume negotiations.
“I hope we will find a Palestinian partner that will take Israel’s security needs seriously and will be prepared to end the conflict once and for all,” Netanyahu said. “We want a diplomatic process.”
Peace efforts have remained at an impasse in a dispute over continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. The Palestinians have refused to resume negotiations unless the building stops, while Netanyahu has urged talks without preconditions.
Livni refused to join Netanyahu in a coalition government after the 2009 elections and was widely seen as a lackluster opposition leader.
“I’m here because of the strategic and moral imperative to leave no stone unturned, to exhaust every path and to be in any government that commits itself to bringing peace,” she said.
Livni’s party, Hatnua, or the Movement, won only six seats in the 120-member parliament, putting her in a weaker bargaining position than other factions.
Netanyahu has been struggling to reconcile a popular demand by Yesh Atid, the second-largest faction, for conscription of ultra-Orthodox Jews into military or civilian national service, with his desire to include the ultra-Orthodox parties, who oppose such moves.
Livni formerly headed the centrist Kadima party, and though it emerged as the largest faction after the last election, she was unable to form a majority coalition. After what was widely seen as an ineffectual stint in the opposition, she was unseated as party leader.