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Tzipi LivniSeptember 19, 2008

Former Mossad agent and current Foreign Minister, 50-year-old Tzipi Livni, stunned pollsters with a claimed victory in Israel’s election yesterday, despite trailing by 10-12 percentage points in the exit polls, reported the UK’s TimesOnline.  In a questionable move, Livni requested an extension of polling times due to low turnout, and was granted a half hour.  Of about 431,000 ballots cast, Livni reportedly won by 431 votes. Gila Svirsky advises that this represents a fifty percent turnout for the Kadima party. 

The TimesOnline continues:

“Her slim win is likely to make talks to form a new coalition even more fraught. She has 42 days to stitch together a government or face new general elections, which polls predict would be another photo-finish, this time with the right-wing Likud Party which she quit to join Kadima.”

Ha’aretz.com is not certain that “Tzipi Livni’s wafer-thin primary victory will prove sufficient for her to form a government and serve as prime minister,” meaning she may face another election shortly.  Providing some background into Livni, Ha’aretz reports that: 

“Livni will not be the first prime minister born in Israel; Yitzhak Rabin, Benjamin Netanyahu and Olmert were all sabras. But Rabin was ambassador to Washington; Netanyahu lived for many years in the United States and served as ambassador to the United Nations; and Olmert maintained close ties for decades with many Jewish leaders and communities abroad, especially while serving as mayor of Jerusalem.

“Livni will thus be the first prime minister to reach the top without any significant, first-hand knowledge of the Diaspora. Her only relevant experience was her short term as immigrant absorption minister, a post she held for part of the time simultaneously with the housing portfolio and escaped as soon as possible to become justice minister. Her role as immigration czar is probably the least significant item on her curriculum vitae, perhaps with the exception of her job as caretaker of a Mossad safe house in Paris.”

In a second TimesOnline article, fascinating detail into Livni’s Mossad years is provided: 

“‘She was in an elite unit,’ said Ephraim Halevy, the former director of Mossad, who for security reasons declined to specify which outfit Ms Livni had served in between 1980 and 1984.  ‘She was a very promising agent who showed all the attributes of a very promising career. She was very well thought of.’  

“Ms Livni, a fluent French speaker and daughter of renowned Zionist guerrillas, served her time in Paris when the city was a deadly battle-ground in Mossad’s covert war with Palestinian militant groups and Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions.

“One Israeli former intelligence source told The Times that the 22-year-old Ms Livni had been recruited into Mossad after her National Service by a childhood friend, Mira Gal, who herself served for two decades in the agency and who now works as her ministry bureau chief.”

Livni ran against hardliner Shaul Mofaz whom a third TimesOnline piece describes as:

“A tough-talking general who leapt straight from an army career to become Defence Minister under Ariel Sharon, after having commanded the retaking of the West Bank from the Palestinian Authority in 2002 at the height of the Palestinian intifada. Known for his hawkish stance, he attracted much attention this summer when he warned his native Iran that Israel would launch an attack if it did not halt its nuclear programme. 

“‘If Iran continues its programme to develop nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The window of opportunity has closed,’ he said in June.”

Arab nationalists are disgusted with the results and condemn Arabs who joined the Kadima party, calling them the court Arabs

“A good Arab is not an Arab who joins Kadima, Likud or even Labor.  Most of Kadima’s Arab voters have already been in all of them; such is the relationship between national minorities and the government.  A good Arab cannot support those parties that are directly responsible for discrimination, occupation and the killing of their people.  However, it turns out that distress leads to disgrace: election corruption instead of struggle, collaboration instead of national pride.”

How this all turns out for Palestinians, Iranians or US interests in the Middle East remains to be seen, but Livni’s right centrist position surely matches Barack Obama’s.  As one commenter posted, “This is just more of the same.”