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In what senior figures described as “a clear signal” to the international community, Livni and her six-seat Hatnua party became Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s first official coalition partner on Tuesday, after up to 20 hours of one-to-one negotiations between the two former rivals.
After reaching an agreement on issues including electoral reform, military service and the cost of living, the two parties made the unusual step of appearing together in a joint press conference.
Livni takes on the influential portfolio of Justice Minister, while her deputy becomes minister for environment protection.
However, senior figures involved in the past week’s negotiations said the significance of the agreement went beyond her cabinet position. “The most important thing is that she has full authority on negotiations, as she did with Olmert, so it sends a very clear message about the intentions of the new government,” said a source from Jerusalem.
“It says that the peace process will be a top priority for the new government, when it wasn’t for the last one. Netanyahu has decided to move forward with it and he wanted a credible person. When you give someone like Livni a lot of power within your government and the lead on peace negotiations, I think it speaks for itself,” he said.
Whilst Livni will now appoint a special staff for the peace talks, she may not be given free reign. A Netanyahu aide will be posted to her team, and any peace deal will need approval from the cabinet and Knesset.
British experts saw the tactical angle to Netanyahu’s offer. BICOM chief executive Dermot Kehoe said: “Livni’s role leading negotiations fulfils Netanyahu’s need to be seen as serious about future peace talks. Time will tell how much control he is actually willing to give up.”
The agreement, which includes a clause that prohibits other coalition agreements contradicting Livni’s deal, was being interpreted as a warning to the bigger parties to agree terms.
Yair Lapid’s popular Yesh Atid and Naftali Bennett’s religious-nationalist Jewish Home, with 19 and 12 seats respectively, have been seen to stall the process by making their involvement conditional upon each other’s inclusion and on the exclusion of the two ultra-Orthodox parties.
“By entering the coalition first, Livni secured a good deal while Netanyahu strengthened his bargaining power against the other potential coalition partners,” argued Kehoe.
The Jerusalem source concurred, saying: “What Netanyahu did with this agreement was break the stagnation and show that things are moving forward. He’s telling the other parties ‘you’re either on the train or off it.’”Tzipi Livni Makes Dramatic Return To Frontline Politics by Steven Oryszcuk