Who is Tzipi Livni?

Ron Cantor —  September 18, 2008 — Leave a comment
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Israel on the Verge of Second Female Prime Minister

Last night Israel’s Kadima party gave Tzipi Livni the opportunity to become Israel’s second female prime minister. She narrowly defeated the former general and defense minister, Shaul Mofaz. In contrast to exit polls that showed a strong 10-point victory for Livni, the actual result was a narrow 540 votes, or 1.1%! Despite this, and other irregularities (such as the polling stations staying open 30 extra minutes, exit polls that proved to be grossly inaccurate, and that those exit poll results were released while polls were still open), Mofaz, to his credit, quickly conceded defeat.

Livni, a lawyer and former Mossad agent, replaced embattled Ehud Olmert, the political feline, whose nine lives appears to have finally run out. She now has the enormous task of forming a coalition among other parties so that a new government can be formed. If she succeeds, she will become the 13th prime minister of Israel, and second female to hold the Jewish state’s highest office.

Livni, whose ultranationalist parents fought for Israel’s independence in Menachem Begin’s Irgun, served as a lieutenant in the army before a stint with Israel’s famed Mossad Agency. In 1999 she was first elected to the Knesset as a member of the Likud party and her influence grew each year. When Tommy Lapid’s Shunui (Change) party left Sharon’s coalition she was promoted to replace him as justice minister. In addition, Livni fully backed Sharon’s effort for Israel to disengage from Gaza. She was credited with making a way for Netanyahu to vote for disengagement without losing face (known as the Livni Compromise). She followed Sharon and Olmert to form a new party, Kadima, in 2005. Kadima was birthed because of the split within the Likud party of over the Gaza Disengagement.

The Problem

Some have complained that it is not right that just under 40,000 people (registered Kadima members that voted) have the ability to choose the next prime minister in a state of 7,282,000. This is because the prime minister is stepping down in the middle of his term. In Israel, the leader of the party with the most seats in the Knesset is given the task of forming a ruling majority coalition of 61 Knesset members. With Olmert stepping aside, the party’s number two is given the opportunity to build a coalition. (In this case, she is already the party head because Olmert did not participate in the election.)

So…a women whose named was not known to most Israelis just a few years ago will possibly become the next prime minister with a vote of confidence from about 20,000 (the number of Kadima voters who voted for her) Israelis.

The Problem #2

Forming a coalition could prove difficult as many of Israel’s political parties are calling for new elections. It is almost certain, barring any bizarre scandals, that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party would be propelled back to power after a crushing defeat just two years ago if there are early elections. Why has the pendulum swung back to the right?

1.The Second Lebanon War was seen by most Israelis as a military and political disaster. Prime Minister Olmert and Kadima were blamed for this, as well as the left leaning Labor party. At the time of the war, Amir Peritz, the then leader of the Labor party was the defense minister. Never has there been a less qualified man in charge of a nation’s military. You see, unlike in the US, in Israel cabinet positions are not filled by the most qualified people for the position, but they are given to coalition partners who help the PM form a government—whether the person is qualified or not. In this case, Peretz was the former leader of Israel’s labor union—not exactly a five-star general.  I guess you could say he was closer to a “community organizer.” (I couldn’t resist!) In the war, Israel not only looked lethargic in a military sense, but we lost some of our mythological prowess as the tough guy in the Middle East; a reputation that keeps us alive.

2.The Gaza Disengagement has been a disaster. Many Israelis (like myself) who were for getting out of Gaza, assumed that if terror groups continued to shoot rockets at our cities and towns that we would respond like any other nation who is being attacked. Many have felt that the hesitant response from Israel has only emboldened the terrorists.

3.With Iran growing closer and closer to creating a nuclear bomb, Israelis want a government who can deal with the threat.

For these reasons and more, Netanyahu is leading in the polls. Nevertheless Livni could turn that around if she is able to form a coalition and govern in a way that builds confidence in Israelis. The one thing that she has going for her in a country full of scandal-plagued politicians is that she is clean. Israelis are hungry for a prime minister without skeletons in the closet—no adultery, no bribes, no cronies waiting in the shadows for positions, appointments and favors. In that sense, she is a breath of fresh air. Being female, she gives the impression that she is not a part of the ‘good ole boys’ club and being young (50) she gives the impression of freshness (as opposed to her main rivals, both of whom are former Prime Ministers)—both of these impressions may well be true.

Does Livni have what it takes? We will all know shortly.

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