Livni First in, Gets Justice Ministry

YERUSHALAYIM -

Amir Peretz Tapped for EPA

With less than two weeks left before the deadline for forming a new government, Tzipi Livni became the first to enter Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition on Tuesday, after reaching an agreement for her to serve as Justice Minister and chief Israeli negotiator with the Palestinians during any future peace talks.

In addition, Livni will be a member of the prime minister’s inner cabinet.

Livni’s party, the Movement, will also get the Environmental Protection portfolio, which is expected to go to MK Amir Peretz, a former Labor party chairman and defense minister who switched to Livni’s party before the elections.

The agreement between Livni and Netanyahu was reached without the knowledge of Hatnua faction members, according to Ynet.

At a press conference called Tuesday night to formally announce the first concrete advance toward his third government, Netanyahu addressed the stalled peace talks:

“I am hoping for a peace deal based on two states for two peoples, as per the parameters I outlined during my speech at Bar Ilan University,” Netanyahu said. “Today Israel extends its hand once more for peace. We want a peace process, and we hope that it will yield results.”

However, lest anyone think that Netanyahu has signed implementation of the two-state solution over to one of its more enthusiastic proponents, the agreement provides for Livni to be part of a ministerial peacemaking team including the defense and foreign ministers, to be overseen by Netanyahu. With right-wing Moshe Yaalon a leading candidate for defense, and Netanyahu himself possibly taking the foreign ministry while Avigdor Lieberman stands trial, Livni will not be operating on her own.

“In the event an agreement [with the Palestinians] is reached, it will be brought to the government and Knesset and, if the law requires, it will be put to a referendum,” according to a statement released Tuesday evening.

Livni headed negotiations with the Palestinians for then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which were cut short by the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

The agreement also included pledges to work to increase “equality in the burden” — the codeword for drafting yeshivah students — institute electoral reform and lower the cost of living.

The deal represented a generous offer by Netanyahu for Livni’s relatively small party — only six Knesset seats, and could be seen as a stinging rebuke to Jewish Home and  Yesh Atid party leaders, who have been holding out over their demands for drafting yeshivah students and reforming the electoral system.

An early reaction from further left than Livni or Lapid on the political spectrum scorning the deal as a “slap in the face of Center-Left voters” came from Meretz head Zehava Gal-On. “They gave their voices to Livni thinking that she would advance the peace process, and today discover that their voices were stolen and handed off to the Right,” Gal-On said.

“Talk of peace negotiations were empty election slogans… Livni is joining a Netanyahu government that might start a peace process, but won’t make peace,” she added.

Meanwhile, in what could be described as progress on another coalition-building front, Yesh Yatid leader Yair Lapid sent a message to Netanyahu on Monday, reassuring him that he could be trusted if he includes his party in the coalition, sources close to Lapid told The Jerusalem Post.

Lapid was responding to a report that Netanyahu had told Likud ministers on Sunday that Lapid was only concerned with becoming the next prime minister and would not be a reliable coalition partner. The accusation was based on a statement to that effect Lapid had made a few days before. Netanyahu blamed the stalemate in negotiations to Lapid’s disregard for the good of the country.

“We will not undermine you or topple you,” Lapid promised Netanyahu in his missive. “We want the next government to serve out its term. We have goals to reach and accomplishments to achieve. Do not worry.”

A source close to Likud-Beiteinu negotiating team downplayed the message from Lapid and said he did not know whether the prime minister had also received it directly.

Netanyahu is planning a breakthrough in coalition talks in the next few days, said a Likud-Beiteinu source, holding out hope that agreements can be wrapped up before an extension of the deadline is required.

At the press conference, Livni added her call for other parties to “set aside their campaigning” to join in forming a broad Netanyahu-led coalition.

In coalition-related diplomacy, U.S. State Department Spokeswomen Victoria Nuland said that the new Secretary of State John Kerry will not be in Israel during his first visit to the middle east region, beginning ten days from now. The reason, she said, was that Kerry decided not to visit until a new government is formed.

Kerry will, however, join Obama in his scheduled visit to Israel next month.