As Israel's Olmert falters, a new star rises
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is increasingly seen as the likely successor to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
One of the strongest barometers of Ehud Olmert's expected exit as Israeli prime minister is the extent to which much of the national media's attention has shifted from him to his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Ms. Livni, who is only the second woman to serve as minister of foreign affairs in Israel's history and is not yet 50, has been gaining in stature in the decade since she entered politics, but most notably since the founding of the Kadima Party in late 2004. And as Mr. Olmert's star has fallen amid recent testimony alleging that he took thousands of dollars in cash-stuffed envelopes from a US supporter, Livni's has risen precisely because she is seen as the "Mrs. Clean" of Israeli politics.
"Any day that passes with Kadima not acting to remove Olmert is a day of extreme national and even international irresponsibility," Ari Shavit, Israeli opinionmaker and columnist, told foreign reporters. "Olmert is Israel's Nixon, with one exception. Nixon was a great statesman." Olmert, recently returned from a week-long trip to the US, has provided no indication thus far that he will heed calls to step aside. But Kadima could force him to do so, by holding primaries to choose a new party leader. So could Knesset members as a whole, by calling for a no-confidence vote that would bring about national elections, more than a year ahead of the scheduled ballot in March 2010.
Either way, Israeli pundits are shuffling through the day-after scenarios, and often finding that the strongest suit seems to put the queen – Livni – at the top of the deck. Hers is the name that comes up as the one most likely to lead in a party primary – and the one who might even be able to succeed in a general election against the expected candidate of the hard-line right: ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu.
"The circumstances under which Olmert will leave office have to do with personal integrity, and that is her forte," says a political ally of Livni's who asked not to be named. "If Olmert had left office after the mistakes of the Lebanon War in 2006, they'd be looking for a general, and that would be either Shaul Mofaz or Ehud Barak."
Mr. Mofaz, a former army chief of staff, is transportation minister, and Mr. Barak, the head of the Labor Party, is now defense minister.
Mr. Shavit says the combination of Livni and Barak together looks to moderates to be "the only combination that can work, and the only combination that can stop Netanyahu from being elected."
For those keen for her to step into the ring, Livni already has a lot in her corner. She has a pedigree that makes her something of a blueblood daughter of Israel's founding fathers. Her parents were leaders in the rightist Irgun movement in the British mandatory period; it was viewed as a militia of pioneers by some, and by others as a terrorist group.