Israel: Tzipi Livni to join Netanyahu government


JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - FEBRUARY 05: Chairperson of The Movement (HaTnuah) party and former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni attends the swearing-in ceremony of the 19th Knesset, the new Israeli parliament, on February 5, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. The 120 members included a record 48 new law makers. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)


Uriel Sinai

JERUSALEM — Former opposition leader Tzipi Livni is the first to enter a coalition with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after general elections last month.

According to their agreement signed on Tuesday, Livni, head of the centrist Hatnua party, will serve as justice minister in Netanyahu's government, Haaretz reported.

Netanyahu said on television that the deal would create a "broad and stable government that unites the people."

Livni will also serve as chief negotiator with the Palestinians, a role she filled as foreign minister under former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

She told Israeli Radio that Hatnuah and Netanyahu's Likud party shared "a common goal" and that she had not betrayed her voters, the BBC reported.

"It's not about names, it's about policies," said Xavier Abu Eid, spokesman of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Negotiations Unit, in response to Livni's appointment, according to the BBC.

"We want Israel to honor its obligations to respect international law, that's the only way to create the right environment for negotiations."

News of the agreement between Netanyahu and Livni came as talks with the centrist Yesh Atid party and the right-wing Jewish Home party reportedly broke down, The New York Times noted.

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The coalition announcement was generally greeted with a yawn in Jerusalem.

In the last elections, in 2009, Livni was the top vote-getter, making her a rising superstar. This time, her newly formed party barely scraped by, gaining 6 parliamentary seats out of 120.

Many see her deal with Netanyahu as a union of two enfeebled political figures. 

Ariel Kahana, diplomatic correspondent for the newspaper Makor Rishon, echoed common sentiment in a tweet.

Netanyahu needs 60 Knesset members if he is to have even a weak governing coalition. He currently has 31 seats. (If his indicted former foreign minister, Avignor Lieberman, abandons the current coalition, the prime minister would be down to about 20.) Livni adds six. Serious rumors have it that Netanyahu is set to announce that the ultra-Orthodox Shas party (11 seats) and the barely present Kadima (two seats) will join him next.

Many believe Netanyahu would drop Livni if he can get a better deal from one of the larger but currently recalcitrant parties, such as Naftali Bennett's Habaiyt HaYehudi or Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid.