Palestinians have little faith Livni can influence peace talks
RAMALLAH // Palestinians are not optimistic about the influence of Tzipi Livni as Israel's negotiator in talks with them after her appointment in the emerging coalition government of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Mrs Livni, a former foreign minister, was the leader of the opposition until March last year, when she formed her own party on a platform critical of Mr Netanyahu and his government's policy of expanding Jewish settlements.
She was a negotiator in the last round of serious peace talks in 2008, but these broke down due to legal troubles facing the then prime minister Ehud Olmert and Israel's war against Gaza.
For Palestinians, her apparent about-face and additional appointments on Tuesday, as justice minister and head of peace efforts, do not inspire confidence.
"What we're interested in is not big names but policies," said Xavier Abu Eid, spokesman for the Palestinian negotiations department, which conducts peace talks with Israel. He and others questioned whether Mrs Livni, 54, had enough leverage in a coalition likely to be led by Mr Netanyahu's right-wing Likud-Yisrael Beitenu bloc, which has backed settlements despite drawing criticism from Palestinians and world powers.
Mrs Livni's Hatnuah party won only six seats in the 120-member parliament, and the parameters of her peacemaking mandate with the Palestinians have not been spelt out publicly.
Abdul Sattar Kassem, professor of political science at Nablus's Najah University, said Palestinians and their leadership doubted the potential influence of Mrs Livni - or any relatively dovish Israeli leader - on Mr Netanyahu and his allies of largely pro-settler ideologues.
The Palestinian leadership "is certainly disappointed by this decision because they thought they could depend on Livni for support in the future", he said.
Although Palestinians have insisted Israel must halt settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem for peace talks to resume, Mrs Livni gave no indication of whether she would heed this demand when she announced her decision to join forces with Mr Netanyahu.
"The commitment to the peace process and the trust we were given that we would fight for it led to this partnership," she said on Tuesday, adding that this alliance had "blossomed after I was given the authority to negotiate on behalf of the Israeli government".
Palestinians hold mixed views on Mrs Livni, who used to lead Mr Netanyahu's opposition as head of the Kadima party before losing a primary poll in March and then going on to form her own party.
When she served as foreign minister and negotiator during peace talks in 2008, she reportedly spurned a generous Palestinian offer that would have allowed Israel to keep all but one of its East Jerusalem settlements in return for a peace deal.
"Maybe Livni will relax the situation a bit, but we don't expect her to somehow do what's necessary to create a Palestinian state," said Ayed Morrar, 50, a Palestinian activist from the West Bank village of Budrus. "Especially if she's in a government with Netanyahu."
Mr Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beitenu is parliament's largest faction, winning 31 seats in the January 22 elections. He has until March 15 to form a coalition, which requires a 61-seat minimum
Updated: February 21, 2013 04:00 AM