Sunday, December 14, 2008

Livni Starts Talking Tough as Elections Loom

With elections in January, Tzipi Livni, leader of Israel's Kadima party has been thinking very hard about what to say and do, balancing her principles and her obligation to lead her party to victory. It seems she has come up with just the solution.

Many Israelis worry that an unchecked Palestinian state would be a broiling terror base. There is some evidence for this--in occupied West Bank, few terror incidents have occurred in the past few years. Despite Israeli domination, those in West Bank favor the Fatah party, and are pro-reconciliation. In Gaza, where Israel withdrew earlier in the decade, Hamas reigns supreme, and launches rocket attacks at Israeli towns almost every day. Hamas is still officially at war with Israel, holding rather ineffectually to a six-month truce that will expire on the 19th of this month. Hamas has not made it clear whether the truce will be extended. Hamas politicians are also sending mixed messages on whether they want a two-state solution--one of Hamas' underlying principles is the elimination of Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state in the territory. Hamas propaganda and speeches drip with anti-Israeli rhetoric. Naturally, leaving the Palestinians to their own devices seems like an unattractive option for Israelis.

Livni may have appeared soft earlier, willing to push for a 2-state solution despite Hamas' continued anti-Israeli stance and behavior. But Livni has taken advantage of international recognition of Hamas as a terror group--while she is willing to deal with the moderate Fatah party as a representative of the PA, Hamas has no authority in the eyes of Israel. They would not be invited to the negotiating table. But further, she's taken a stance of zero tolerance for Hamas, and declared her willingness to use military means to eject them from the Gaza Strip. Such a maneuver will be difficult, given that Hamas is a decentralized party and militia, but it's an important signal coming from Livni. She's saying to the Israeli people that she will not allow her pro-negotiation stance to grant Hamas any legitimacy, and further, that she is willing to be the candidate that gets rid of them for good.

There would even be some shred of international legitimacy in such action--Fatah is currently the ruling party of the PA, but has no control over Gaza because Hamas drove them out militarily--thus, Hamas' control of Gaza can be considered illegitimate and tyrannical. Israel is probably the most effective (if not the most politically attractive) force that could restore Fatah power over Gaza.

This new, tougher stance may win back some of the Israeli moderates that jumped the Kadima ship to Likud. But we'll have to wait a few weeks for the pundits to talk and the polls to come in before we can know.