I confess I have something of a soft spot for Tzipi Livni, for two principal reasons.Firstly, and it's worth remembering, she could and would have been prime minister had she given in to Shas's extortion and continued the government she inherited from Ehud Olmert on the back of increased funds for Charedi yeshivot and schools. That she preferred to stick to her principles was admirable, and a marked contrast to the man who did become Prime Minister. Netanyahu often acts as though being in power is the end rather than the means.
Secondly, she is the only leading Israeli politician in recent years to have made a point of speaking out on the need for Jewish pluralism in Israel and for really trying to ask questions about how to strengthen Jewish identity in Israel in a pluralistic way. In 2010 she even held a day-long conference in the Knesset on the subject, moderated by the Shalom Hartman Institute - one of the outstanding centers of open-minded Jewish and Zionist thought in the world.
However, it can't be denied that she has been politically cack-handed as leader of the opposition. She has been completely undiscriminating in her criticism of the government, even attacking Netanyahu for steps that she would almost certainly have taken herself in the same situation. She has (rightly) condemned the government for its failure and/or unwillingness to act proactively or creatively to change the status quo with the Palestinians, but she's let Mahmoud Abbas completely off the hook, refusing to condemn his numerous evasions of negotiations and steps away from the peace process and towards rejectionism.
So what of her replacement? As Defense Minster under Ariel Sharon Shaul Mofaz was one of the most uncompromising and hawkish figures in the cabinet (in an administration not lacking uncompromising hawks). He also embarrassed himself hugely by publicly pledging to stay in the Likud after Sharon had left to create Kadima, then jumping ship to join the new party only when it became clear he would have no chance of beating Netanyahu for the Likud leadership.
Despite all that, the labelling of him as a simple "right-winger" or the accusations from many, that there is no significant ideological difference between him and Netanyahu, are wide of the mark. On the contrary, the one thing that marks Mofaz out as different, not just from Bibi or Livni, but from any other senior member of Knesset, is that he has proposed a serious and thoughtful alternative to negotiations with the Palestinians. (And I said serious and thoughtful, so I'm not including the "do nothing" option of much of the Likud or the "kick out the Arabs" ethnic cleansing of the far right.)
The plan he launched at the end of 2009 was not dissimilar in essence to those of others who understand that there is an urgency to ending the occupation and separating from the Palestinians, and have been ready and able to think outside the box - such as leading Arab affairs journalist Ehud Ya'ari and the Tel Aviv thinktank the Reut Institute. Mofaz's proposal would see a gradual process of establishing a Palestinian state with temporary borders. Settlements in areas that would have to be given up in order for this state to be contiguous would be evacuated (with a comprehensive resettlement and compensation plan drawn up first) while the settlement blocs would be de facto incorporated into Israel with all restrictions on building lifted.
Mofaz has said: "My main idea is to start with a Palestinian state. The state is not
temporary, the borders are temporary. The moment they have a state, they
could build their economy, law and security apparatuses. They could
build a better life for the Palestinian people."
There would be a Palestinian state and an end of Israeli occupation, but the final borders would be resolved in negotiations. The onus would be on Palestinians to return to the negotiating table to finalize the borders - the temporary borders would be dictated by Israel and its security concerns.
Let's be clear, the polls do not look good for Kadima and the chances of Mofaz being in a position to advance this plan are not high. In addition, he is completely untested as a political leader and the demands of Israeli coalition politics could well see him make concessions to right-wing partners. However, whether or not he ends up as Prime Minister, I for one hope he can use his new prominence as leader of the opposition (and, currently - lest we forget - the largest single party in the Knesset) to get more support for his plan or something similar. Shelly Yacimovich has had precisely nothing to say on the peace and security question since becoming leader of the Labour Party, there is no reason why she could not endorse Mofaz's plan as way to break the current diplomatic impasse. Then there is Yair Lapid, the other main contender for center-left votes in the next election. It is clear that he sees the demographic, diplomatic and moral dangers of remaining in control of another people, but that he has little trust in the Palestinians as negotiating partners. At the very least, he should have something about to talk to the new Kadima leader.
Mofaz is an unlikely savior, and I did not write the above with a great deal of optimism. But for those of us tired of an Israeli government and a Palestinian Authority that seem equally unwilling to go that extra mile to end an occupation that is ruinous for both peoples, straw-clutching is preferable to imagining that Netanyahu and Abbas will remain co-captains of a sinking ship.