Israel's coalition is a missed opportunity

Tzipi Livni's decision to join Benjamin Netanyahu in trying to form a new Israeli government is bad news for hope of real negotiations with the Palestinians.

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When it comes to peace, it has been clear for a long time that Israel's politicians will never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Faced with a peace-minded president in the White House and world opinion against the occupation, Israel's leadership still continues to find ways of avoiding putting peace talks back on the agenda.

Consider the current attempts to form a coalition government, which brought its first recruit this week in Tzipi Livni, a former minister of foreign affairs. When Ms Livni saw a chance to return to government, despite this being the very government she had accused of stonewalling the peace process, she took it.

Ms Livni used to be a leading light of the centrist Kadima party but left to form her own party Hatnua for Israeli's parliamentary elections in January. Hatnua did badly, winning only four seats, but other parties did little better. Likud Yisrael Beiteinu, the hybrid party formed from the centre-right Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the controversial right-wing group Yisrael Beiteinu, did not gain enough to form a government outright, necessitating a coalition.

At this point, Ms Livni appealed to other leftist parties to come together and block Mr Netanyahu. When that failed, she agreed to join his coalition and head the government's negotiation team with the Palestinians, telling the media, apparently with a straight-face, that she joined the coalition because of "the need to find a diplomatic solution".

Leave aside that Ms Livni previously refused to enter a coalition with Mr Netanyahu because of his hawkish views on peace. Ms Livni's about face is a blow not only to her reputation, but to any possibility of a genuine peace process. For some reason Ms Livni, in the face of all the evidence and her previous pronouncements, still believes Mr Netanyahu is interested in being a partner for peace. If she believes she has any chance of resuming meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians on his watch, she must have misread the political tea-leaves.

This shuffling of the deck has implications for both Israel and the Palestinians. Faced with a faltering economy and knack for making enemies with its neighbours, Israel could have used a coalition to help forge closer ties with the region. Instead, it is likely to do the opposite, with Ms Livni used merely as the fig-leaf for Mr Netanyahu's expansionist tendencies.