Analysis: The meteoric Ms. Livni

By David Horovitz September 18, 2008

A resignation away from the premiership on fewer than 20,000 votes

Tzipi Livni’s rise to the leadership of Kadima is meteoric indeed.

A decade ago, she was a fairly anonymous public sector official, at the helm of the Government Companies’ Authority, a post to which she was appointed – ironically, given the challenge she now presents to his ambitions – by Likud leader and then-prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

She barely scraped into the Knesset for the first time in 1999 – 18th of the 19 Likud members who made it. Rapidly promoted all the way to foreign minister, she was truly tested only during the Second Lebanon War two years ago; her ostensible diplomatic achievements have proved significantly less than compelling.

And now look at her, a mere Olmertian resignation away from the prime ministership.

But amid the delighted festivities in the Livni camp late Wednesday night following the exit polls predicting her dramatic victory, and for all her pledged determination to remake Israeli politics in her own clean mould, her victory itself is profoundly problematic.

She has prevailed in a race that was necessitated only because our serving prime minister recognized the impossibility of his position when the failures of the Second Lebanon War were compounded by a stream of corruption allegations that he was unable to swiftly lay to rest. And she has defeated a rival, Shaul Mofaz, who only made up his mind at the 11th hour that he was leaving the Likud for the nascent Kadima.

She has been chosen, moreover, by an electorate some of whom were recruited to Kadima in circumstances that might best be described as murky.

And of that 74,000-strong party membership, barely half voted Wednesday, and only half of them voted for her. Livni, therefore, is a heartbeat from the leadership of Israel on the strength of something less than 20,000 votes.

Kadima is the duly elected party of government in Israel, but that sequence of events makes its mandate – at a time of intensive contacts with the Palestinians, on-and- off indirect talks with the Syrians, and diminishing room for maneuver in grappling with the Iranians – troubling indeed.

Clearly, the party she now heads – and which itself was supposed to represent a shift to more accountable politics – is in desperate need of rehabilitation. Clearly, too, the meteoric Ms. Livni will need all her evidently redoubtable qualities to establish a consensual foundation of public support and turn her Kadima victory into a wider success for Israel.

Livni savored her victory on Wednesday night, declaring that the ‘good guys’ had won. But her real work is only now beginning.

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