The announcement that Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah party will be part of the coalition moved us a little closer to the establishment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's next government. Together, Likud-Beytenu and Hatnuah have only 37 seats.
Tuesday night's announcement was awkward. Much bad blood has flowed between Netanyahu and Livni over the past four years. This peaked during the election campaign, during which Livni tried to form a united bloc with Shelly Yachimovich and Yair Lapid that would either enter or stay out of the government as one. The latter refused, making Livni available for Netanyahu. Despite what Livni hurled toward Netanyahu during the campaign, her decision to join the government evoked a mere shrug.
Even more awkward is Amir Peretz's readiness to serve as a minister in a Netanyahu-led government. Peretz left Labor for Hatnuah because Yachimovich wouldn't pledge to stay out of a Netanyahu-led government (a commitment she later made). What happened to Peretz's integrity?
The move to bring Hatnuah into the government reinforces the sense young Israelis have that all politicians are irrevocably cynical. A thousand citizenship classes won't be able to correct this harsh impression. Hatnuah leaders deserve every word of criticism that they will hear from both their supporters and rivals, as well as the general public.
But alongside this, the move also has positive aspects. Livni's involvement in negotiations with the Palestinians will create a new opportunity for the sides to clarify their intentions. I must repeat what I have written here since Livni served as foreign minister in Ehud Olmert's government. Olmert made grave concessions in the talks he held with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, including breaking the taboo against the return of the descendants of Palestinian refugees from 1948 to inside Israel. However, in the parallel talks Livni held with Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei, she rejected any right of return to inside Israel.
But Livni is not a mathematical or political alternative to what Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid represent in terms of establishing a government with a traditional Likud agenda. Netanyahu needs Lapid and Bennett, with or without Livni.
Despite being a former leader of the particularly corrupt Kadima party, Livni always kept her hands clean.
It is a relief to know that Livni will serve as justice minister. In her past stint in this role, during which she had a major feud with then-Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, Livni was sometimes right and sometimes wrong, but she was always a member of the enlightened crowd.
Livni did not take part in the attempts of her good friends — led by Haim Ramon — to harm the state prosecution and law enforcement systems. She also opposed Olmert, Ramon and Daniel Friedmann when they tried to thwart police investigators who were working on the case that ended with a conviction of Ramon for indecent conduct. This was no trivial matter.
After years of Friedmann and Yaakov Neeman leading the Justice Ministry, and with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein badly piloting the state prosecution system, the appointment of Livni as justice minister is a breath of fresh air.