Now that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he will resign, Israelis have a rare chance to double down. On what? On the number of X chromosomes in the Prime Minister’s office.
appealing Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni. She would be the second person with a full complement of X chromosomes to occupy that office, just as she is in the Foreign Minister’s office. (The first for both: the great Golda Meir.)
A poll taken today says she would handily beat former Prime Minister and right-wing hardliner, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. As for Shaul Mofaz, her main rival for the leadership of the centrist Kadima party, she would beat him even more badly. And Ehud Barak, the head of the Labor Party—a true hero but, like Bibi, a not-too-successful former Prime Minister—would be barely be able to touch the hem of her skirt.
Livni is 48, was born in Tel Aviv, and is the daughter of two ultra-nationalist heroes; prominent members of the Irgun, they would today probably be considered terrorists, but they helped to evict the British and found the State of Israel. She was an officer in the IDF, served in the Mossad, practiced law for a decade, and entered the Knesset in 1999. Until recently, she was a faithful daughter of her right-wing parents.
But in the last few years she has moved to the center. In an interview with the New York Times in 2006, she said, "I believe, like my parents, in the right of the Jewish people to the entire land of Israel. But I was also raised to preserve Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people and [to preserve] democratic values.
"So choosing between my dreams, and my need to live in democracy, I prefer to give up some of the land."
That same year, as Ariel Sharon’s right-hand woman, she was an architect of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. This pragmatic and, on her end of the spectrum, unpopular move disentangled Israel from a hopeless situation but led to a seemingly not-much-more hopeful one; constant rocket fire from there rains down on Sderot and other towns nearby, and Livni, no dove, advocates retaliation.
But in fact the Gaza withdrawal changed many things. First, it showed the world that Israel’s Jewish soldiers can and will drag Jewish settlers out of Jewish settlements when it is good and ready to hand a piece of land over to its enemies. Second, it inadvertently precipitated a civil war between Hamas radicals and Fatah moderates. The latter, no fans of Israel, ended up with the West Bank, and active negotiations are under way to establish a Palestinian state there—sooner, not later.
Tzipi Livni will not drop that ball. Olmert’s resignation will take effect as soon as Kadima chooses a new leader, scheduled for September 17. Olmert has vowed to continue the peace process until that date passes and the new head of Kadima can form a government. Likelier than not, either Mofaz or Barak would pursue the same process.
But Livni, known in Israel as Mrs. Clean, will not have the smell of corruption hanging around her like Olmert and others in the current government do. She does not have the political baggage of the former Prime Ministers who are her rivals. And she does not seem like the same old, same old, which at this point almost any male politician will.
In fact she will be a breath of fresh air. She is smarter than most of the men around her. She has the respect of leaders around the world, having represented Israel as Foreign Minister for years. She is fluent in English and French in addition to her native Hebrew. She comes from a family of dyed-in-the-wool Zionists willing to fight and die for their country, and as a member of the IDF and the Mossad she showed her willingness to do the same.
But unlike some with that sort of background, she is also willing to pay a high price for peace. She is calm, experienced, pragmatic, and judicious. She wants her two children to live in an Israel that is safe within its borders, and she will do what is needed to make that happen without regard to ideology. Like Deborah of old, she may turn out to be both a righteous warrior and a wise judge with regard to peace.
With the Iranian threat looming, Lebanon unstable, Gaza radicalized and violent, and delicate peace negotiations going on with both Syria and the Palestinian Authority, Israel could do a lot worse this fall than choose Tzipi Livni.