Tzipi Livni: The New Golda Meir?

Tzipi Livni
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Jeff Koopersmith takes a break from American politics to take a look at a possible new superstar on the international political stage.

July 14, 2008 – Geneva ( – Just a few days ago Tzipi Livni was elected Kadima Party leader in Israel. Under Israeli law this gives her the chance to form a government capable of gaining a majority in Israel's parliament – The Knesset. I believe she can do it, and will then take her place as the second woman Prime Minister of Israel after Gold Meir.

In my office we often see messages about "Zippy" or "Zippy Lippy" – a smiling, cheerful play on words. Most people here are thrilled she could take the reins in Israel, but few are certain about what she will do with, about, for, or to the Palestinians. The White House of course is anxious that Livni might cobble together a peace plan that is acceptable to both sides. However even if this was possible between the two parties, outside pressure from around the Islamic world will most likely interfere.

Livni was born in Tel Aviv the daughter of Polish parents Sara and Eitan Livni. She, unlike Sarah Palin, has true military and central intelligence experience and served Israel as a lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces. Her sharp mind also put her in Mossad for almost two years in the early 1980s. Rumor has it that she was a terrorist hunter, but this may not be true.  She was married in 1983, left the Mossad and finished her legal education at Bar Ilan University. She practiced commercial law for ten years. Tzipi's husband, Naftali Spitzer is an accountant and they live in Tel Aviv with their two children, Yuval and Omri.

Livni was elected to the parliament in 1999 and two years later Ariel Sharon appointed her Minister of Regional Cooperation. From there she rose to other high level positions including Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Immigrant Absorption and Minister of Housing. In 2005 she became the Minister of Justice officially although she had served as acting Minister for months prior.

Ms. Livni was a great backer of Sharon's disengagement plan and was considered a dove in the Likud Party. She was instrumental in having he Knesset ratify the pullout form the Gaza Strip in November of 2005.

That same month she became a member of the new Kadima Party and became both the Foreign Minister and the Justice Minister under Ehud Olmert, the current Prime Minister who is stepping down because of an ongoing investigation of his activities while in office.

By the late Spring of 2006 Livni was already viewed as one of the most powerful politicians in Israel and one of the most influential women in the world. She kept the post of Foreign Minister, became the Deputy Prime Minister and stopped serving as Justice Minister except for a brief period again between November and February of 2007.

Livni sees attacks on Israeli soldiers as warfare, not terrorism. She views attacks on Israeli citizens as certain terrorism.

In May of last year Livni called for Prime Minister Olmert to resign and stated she would run against him for head of the Kadima Party if he did not step down on his own. Her decision to remain in the Olmert's cabinet stunned many, but was, to me, exactly the right thing to do.

In the end Olmert resigned and on September 17, 2008 Tzipi Livni took the reins of Kadima by a close vote – paving the way for her to become Prime Minister.

She won't have an easy time to form a new coalition government as she must negotiate with other coalition parties that have different and competing goals within the government. Likud, the main opposition party which spawned her career is also making her ascendancy more difficult by urging the Shas party not to join her coalition.

Something tells me that she will succeed. In these times personal qualities often make the difference over political differences. Tzipi Livni has star quality, in every way – and for that reason I believe she will succeed either by creating a working coalition soon or by election later should she fail to gain the 61 votes she would need in parliament to avoid new elections.

Personally I think she is very "cool."

REQUESTED COMMENT FROM MS LIVNI: Should you fail to form a coalition government what might your strategy be with referenence to the Palestinians as new elections were called?

Jeff Koopersmith is an internationally renowned political consultant, opinion research authority and policy analyst. He has lobbied for causes including the alternative fuel sector and women's health, and is an expert on the international real estate market. He lives in Philadelphia, Washington and Geneva.

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