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On a Friday afternoon in early summer, a group of top female journalists gathered in Merav Michaeli's lovely Tel Aviv apartment for a close-up encounter with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The hostess, a well-known TV and radio personality, put out platters of fine cheeses and bottles of wine and champagne. Livni wore faded jeans and a white blouse.

Some weeks beforehand, at a May 2nd press conference, Livni had called on Ehud Olmert to resign as prime minister in the wake of the interim findings of the Winograd Committee, although at the same time she declined to vacate the Foreign Ministry. Such an event - in which a minister calls on the boss to quit while having no intention of giving up her seat at the cabinet table - was unprecedented in Israeli politics. The press was unforgiving. Chauvinism flourished. Ben Caspit wrote in Maariv that the minister was suited to be secretary-general of Na'amat or, "at most, president of international WIZO" - referring to two Jewish womens organizations; on Channel 2, Amnon Abramovich called her "a pretty little girl"; Sima Kadmon of Yedioth Ahronoth charged that "she has no balls."

Infuriated, Michaeli decided to do something: She invited to her home Gal Gabai, Keren Neubach, Rina Matzliah, Ayala Hason and other female journalists for a chance to get to know the foreign minister better, to hear her views, to dispel the fog.

Why didn't you resign from the government, they asked her. Livni sipped her champagne and responded: "If I had resigned, Olmert would continue sitting in his office, enjoying himself. There wouldn't have been any domino effect. Contrary to what you think, this government would not have fallen, while I would have been left to pay the price in the opposition."

Will you run for prime minister, she was asked. Livni said she would, certainly. She laid out her positions regarding an agreement with the Palestinians and alluded to the clashes she had with Olmert during the war.

The time flew by and Livni was reluctant to say good-bye. This was a rare show of support in what was a tough period for her politically. She had a drum lesson scheduled afterward, and called the teacher to delay it a bit. With self-deprecating humor, she told the group what a lousy drummer she is, with "no sense of rhythm." At last, she bid the women farewell and exited with her bodyguard who'd been watching the door. Michaeli pronounced the event a success. Since then, she's been saying that Livni is "by far the worthiest candidate for prime minister overall, and especially at this very significant time."

The polls reflect a different view: namely, an erosion of public support for Livni. It's possible that her hesitant move after the interim Winograd report, combined with the caution and vagueness she seems to use when approaching nearly every topic, have begun to take shape in the public perception as weakness. Later in the summer, when Michaeli asked her to join a protest rally against the plea bargain struck by former president Moshe Katsav, Livni said no. She's a great believer in the separation of powers, she explained. But the impression is that she is just as afraid to speak her mind. More than a few journalists can attest to times when the minister said things "on the record" and subsequently asked to correct, alter or delete them. (She declined to be interviewed for this article.) The latest polls indicate that the price of such leadership, if Livni were to be at the helm of Kadima, would be at least five Knesset seats.

"The public doesn't want a leader who takes a moral, theoretical position and no more," explains Kalman Geyer, who conducts polls for Kadima and is considered close to Livni. "A leader is expected to do something, to organize a process within the party, or to resign. Not to be a theoretician, but a doer. Livni apparently preferred to express her moral position, but not go beyond that. But she didn't change her mind. She put her neck out there on the table and knew that Olmert could fire her. A senior minister who makes such a move takes into account that his dismissal is a real likelihood."

Despite the erosion of support, Geyer adds, "in the present situation, Livni could bring Kadima the largest number of seats, compared to any other candidate in the party, and position Kadima as one of the three big parties. It's like when I told [Shimon] Peres in 1992 that, according to all the data, we will only win with [Yitzhak] Rabin."

Livni, 49, a lawyer by training and mother of two, has no doubt about her suitability for the job of prime minister - even though she has practically no blocs of support within the Kadima faction, the Knesset or her party's pool of registered voters. Kadima field activists, who have lately been recruiting more people to join the movement, say "the ministers who are most involved in that effort are Meir Sheetrit, Shaul Mofaz and Avi Dichter. Livni isn't a presence."

No love lost

Eran Cohen, Livni's political adviser since 1999, says he has recently been pushing her to leave the diplomatic cocktail-party scene and get out in the field. "She's starting to recruit people for Kadima," he notes. "This time she'll have a larger, expanded political headquarters." In his office at the Amidar company hangs a large picture of Livni from the cover of the Hapraklit law magazine, which chose her as "woman of the year" in 2005. He pulls out a copy of Time Magazine from last year, in which Livni was named one of the world's 100 most influential people. On his desk is a pile of papers containing all the emotional comments received online in response to news of the death two weeks ago of Livni's mother, the renowned Irgun (pre-state underground?) fighter known as "Little Sara." Cohen gathered up the pages to bring to the foreign minister later that day.

"Look," he says with emotion. "Livni is Kadima. She's the tiebreaker, the embodiment of the political center. MKs want to stay with Olmert" Fine, they'll be left with seven or eight seats. Livni is the only one who brings Kadima 25 Knesset seats."

Aryeh Rottenberg, who has run many political campaigns and used to be the foreign minister's strategist, insists that "Livni will only be tested over time. She's mistaken if she thinks that one can rush things here. Only if she takes a drubbing in Israeli politics, if she goes through torment and gets scarred, if she goes through seven levels of hell and still survives, will she have a chance of being suited for leadership. Not by theshortcut she's trying to take."

A few months ago, in a series of closed discussions, Livni expressed an uncommon position: She asserted that the Iranian bomb does not pose a mortal danger to Israel. Even if a bomb were to land in the center of the country, she said with deliberate exaggeration, significant damage would be caused, but the country's survival would not be threatened. Publicly, however, she protested last month in New York against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia University.

In the private talks, the foreign minister stressed that she was not willing to join in the hysteria being fostered by Olmert - who has publicly described the atom bomb being cooked up by Ahmadinejad as spelling total doom for the Zionist entity. She explained Olmert's statements on the Iran issue as a manipulative attempt to rally the Israeli public around him, by playing on its most elemental fears.

Many people who've spoken with her in recent months have noted the scornful look on her face when the subject of Olmert is raised. Livni, say many of her associates, does not respect him and believes she could do a much better job of leading the nation. (The feeling is mutual: She does not command a whole lot of respect from Olmert's people, either.) "She says that Olmert is a cynical and rash person who lacks judgment," says one of Livni's friends. "She calls him an improviser. In recent days, too, with the Olmert-[Palestinian Authority Chairman] Abu Mazen meetings, she says that in his hastiness in the diplomatic process, Olmert is liable to concede strategic Israeli assets." An associate of Livni's describes how exasperated she gets at some of Olmert's decisions. "Look how he's behaving!" she'll say, barely able to contain herself.

The event which upsets her most is the final 60 hours of combat in the Second Lebanon War, the consequence of a decision by Olmert and then defense minister Amir Peretz, just as the UN Security Council was about to pass a resolution calling for a cease-fire.

"If she were to open her mouth about what happened from that Friday evening until Monday morning, the whole country would be in an uproar," says someone who has spoken with Livni about the matter. "She talks about those hours with profound dismay." Her associates attribute her decision to ultimately remain in the government as stemming from a sense of national mission; she's there to protect us from Olmert, they feel.

Given this background, Olmert's decision two weeks ago to appoint Livni as chairperson of the negotiating team with the Palestinians came as a surprise. Does Olmert really intend to place Livni center-stage in a historic process? Cynics are convinced that it's just a maneuver intended to set Livni up as being responsible for the possible failure of the upcoming Annapolis conference. Particularly since, in so doing, Olmert is further distancing Livni from Defense Minister Ehud Barak, whose expectations for the summit, partly due to his personal experience, are very low. But it's possible that Livni herself was behind the surprising appointment.

In an unusual document Livni sent to Olmert a few months after the war, and revealed here for the first time, she demanded from him, in the shadow of their dismal relations and the silence between them, a division of labor that would restore her to a meaningful position. Livni began the letter in her typical style, in a dry and slightly ironic tone: "Enclosed is a proposal for work procedures between us, with the aim of providing an answer to Israel's strategic needs and facilitating early planning and the formation of coordinated Israeli positions ... within the framework of cooperative relations, full transparency and continuous mutual updates."

At first Livni requested several arrangements, such as the one stipulating that "the prime minister and the foreign minister will hold regular work meetings, at least once a week." An allusion to her absence from critical discussions during the war in Lebanon also appeared later on: "The foreign minister will be invited to security discussions and other discussions that have political implications, with the prime minister." And should the prime minister meet with Abu Mazen, a representative of the foreign minister shall also be invited to all the meetings with the PA chairman?s people: "The Prime Minister's Bureau and the Foreign Ministry shall continually and mutually update one another before such meetings or talks and discuss their content."

In a significant section of the document, concerning talks with the Palestinians, Livni wrote as follows: "The foreign minister shall represent the prime minister and the government of Israel and act on their behalf as director of the dialogue with the relevant Palestinian representatives, in accordance with the policy and methods of action that shall be coordinated ahead of time with the prime minister, and while keeping him informed." Two weeks ago, Olmert complied with this request.

"Stop being a schoolgirl"

What exactly is Livni's position on the Palestinian issue, generally speaking and, in particular, now that the summit is approaching? About a year ago Livni said in an interview with Ari Shavit in this magazine that she was working on an "operative, very high resolution" diplomatic plan, but declined to share any of its details with the public. A year later, not even Livni's fans in the Foreign Ministry are familiar with her plan.

One of the people closest to her is Dr. Tal Becker of the Foreign Ministry, who is slated to serve as a senior member of the new negotiating team. Becker, considered the minister's "diplomatic brain," writes many working papers for her, and also wrote the document at the beginning of the last war, upon which the Israeli position regarding acease-fire agreement was formulated. The closest thing to a plan that Becker has prepared for Livni is a draft paper he wrote four months ago, entitled "The Diplomatic Horizon," and which has since been amended by comments in Livni's handwriting.

In the pessimistic document, which has also yet to be made public, Livni and her people express grave doubts about the option of reaching a final-status agreement at present. "On the timeline, the option of a final-status accord vanishes ("shrinks," corrected Livni) and it is still in doubt," it says. Abu Mazen and company are described in the document as "moderate" and as "a party with whom it is possible to come to agreements, though evidently not a final-status agreement." Yet they are also described as "lacking real implementation capability... Palestinian implementation may only be possible, if at all, to the extent that the moderates receive a new mandate in the elections and are actually reinforced in the field, in which case the extremists will uphold the agreements de facto in order to remain in the government and preserve their public support."

As to the guiding principles for an agreement, the document says: "There is no intention of entering into a detailed negotiation over a final-status accord (which appears impossible to attain), but rather to attempt to identify some general principles - not necessarily an exhaustive list - upon which there can be agreement." Regarding the settlements, the document proposes: "There shall be no settlements on the Palestinian side of the border, except if a special regime is established in certain parts." The document also recommends that the Jerusalem issue be postponed until final-status talks.

In recent years, despite her positioning on the right, Livni has formed close and discreet ties with some major figures on the Israeli left. At the end of 2005, shortly before she assumed the post of foreign minister, she held a lengthy dialogue with Yair Hirschfeld, Yossi Beilin and Nimrod Novik, who were among the architects of the Oslo Accords to which she was vehemently opposed. (Livni's parents, Sara and Eitan, were both Irgun fighters; Eitan was also a Likud MK.) In the past year and a half, she has continued to look to Beilin and his Meretz colleague Haim Oron for assistance in fostering ties and setting up meetings with Palestinian leaders.

"This is the paradox of Livni," says Beilin. "She came in to stop the Oslo process and has become a central part of this process and of the negotiations with the PLO leadership in anticipation of an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state."

Beilin, who at the start of her tenure considered Livni a "ray of light," does not, however, hide his disappointment in her: "Livni says that positions should be revealed before negotiations. We heard the same rubbish from Golda [Meir] 40 years ago. For a while there was talk that she was preparing a political plan. Where is it? Either she's keeping this plan to herself, or no plan was ever written. She lacks initiative and gave such apredictable speech to the United Nations. Try to say something that will draw attention, that's interesting, that deserves a response. Past foreign ministers used this platform for such statements, but she's always trying to get home safely."

Meetings with Palestinian officials are a part of Livni's schedule. She used to secretly meet Prime Minister Salam Fayad at Jerusalem's Mount Zion Hotel, and she met with Yasser Abed Rabbo via U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, without informing the prime minister ahead of time. But all these meetings have not produced any progress to date. "The Palestinians were impressed with her at first," says an official who was involved in the talks, "and after that they realized that she's a schoolgirl who just wants to know more and more. At a certain point they said: Enough, stop being a schoolgirl, say something, suggest something."

In March 2006, two months after she became foreign minister, Abu Mazen relayed a message to Livni, via a third party, that he was ready to reach a final-status accord with Israel in less than a year. Livni blew off the messenger. "What's it to you? Check it out," she was urged. "See if his intentions are serious." She was unmoved, and asked: "What will happen it if fails? They'll blame us." The fear of failure has an almost paralyzing effect on Livni. Unlike previous foreign ministers, she is not eager to take initiative. "Her fear of making mistakes makes her do nothing," says someone who knows her well.

But there is one aspect of the conflict on which Livni has been very thorough and consistent: the right of return. Members of Ariel Sharon's government clearly remember how Livni, then a junior minister, flooded his office with documents and "drove them mad" on the eve of the international conference that dealt with the road map, to make sure that the Palestinians renounced their demand for the right of return. This didn't happen, but it did earn her a good dosage of Sharon's scorn. "Tzipi's afraid that when she comes home in the evening, a refugee from Jabalya will be waiting on her doorstep with the keys to the house," Sharon liked to say. Or, "Tzipi can relax - the refugee isn'tsitting on her balcony yet."

Beilin believes that the source of her obsession lies in her upbringing. "It's an expression of the fact that she comes from a right-wing family," he says. "And this sort of behavior is typical of the right's primeval fears."

Prof. Gabriel Sheffer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's political science department gives the foreign minister a passing grade. "She's following a centrist policy, having lots of conversations, conducting negotiations, showing a readiness to deal with matters, but not making a single big move," he says. "Livni is not a pioneer. She has no extraordinary achievements or innovation and in terms of strategy, she'swavering."

"Every vibration"

Livni emerged from the Second Lebanon War with a scar that has yet to heal. Compared to her colleagues at the cabinet table, she actually evidenced some sharp instincts. On the very first evening of the Israeli strikes on Lebanon, she asked a secret team that was formed in the ministry to prepare a "diplomatic exit plan," from what she imagined would be a lightning-quick operation. "As far as I was concerned, on July 12th we embarked on a one-day operation that was supposed to end that night - or the next afternoon at the latest... On the 13th, it was clear to me in the afternoon that we needed to lower the profile, to maintain a low intensity," she said in her dramatic testimony before the Winograd Committee.

Livni testified that she asked for an urgent meeting with the prime minister at the start of the war in order to get a political process started: "The reply I received from the prime minister was not to worry, to relax." She says that when she saw that Olmert was refusing to meet with her, she took advantage of a meeting of the "septet" (seven ministers of the special wartime cabinet) on July 13th to convey a message to him.

"At that meeting I already got the feeling that they weren't listening to me so much," she said in her testimony. "When I started speaking, the prime minister spoke with the chief of staff just then or something, and I stopped talking and he said, "Go ahead," and I said: "I hadn't finished. I ask that you listen to me." And then the prime minister said: "I'm listening to every word, and to every vibration." (As she was reviewing the minutes in preparation for her testimony before the committee, Livni noticed that this particular dialogue was missing. She went to the cabinet secretary's office and asked the person who transcribes the cabinet sessions to go over the tapes to locate the embarrassing quote.)

On July 14th, Livni voted in the forum of seven against the decision to bomb Hezbollah headquarters and the apartment of the organization's secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, arguing that there was no need ?to take things up a notch." This was the only time she voted against Olmert during the war, and she also deliberated very carefully before casting her vote. "I was this close to voting in favor of the operation," she told Foreign Ministry personnel after the meeting.

In her testimony, Livni said she finally met with Olmert on July 16th, after a cabinet session. No official minutes were kept of the meeting and she provided the Winograd people with her own account, which she had jotted down in a notebook. "It's a little embarrassing because it's things that I scribbled to myself," she testified. Livni read from the notebook comments that she says attest to her attempt to persuade Olmert of the need for political activity.

"That's interesting," commented committee member Prof. Ruth Gavison. "At the cabinet meeting on the 16th of the month, you explain that this is not the time to halt the military activity, because we haven't yet attained the capability to translate the achievements [into political gains]." Livni did not answer the question. Olmert, for his part, adamantly denied that Livni talked about a transition to a political track. He also told associates that she tried to apologize for voting against him.

Livni also testified that despite her entreaties, she had to wait until July 23rd before being given any opportunity by the prime minister to advance her ideas. "Why didn't you write him a letter?" Prof. Yehezkel Dror, another Winograd member, asked. "I didn't think of it," she replied. She also did not think of resigning.

Apart from statements she made at a press conference about the need for political action, Livni kept quiet throughout the days of fighting, lowered her profile, disappeared from the nation?s television screens and, as noted, voted in favor of nearly all the decisions that were put before her. Former ministers were appalled. In private conversations, former Likud and Center Party MK and minister Dan Meridor criticized Livni's silence and the fact that she hadn't taken any concrete steps. Said former minister and Meretz leader Yossi Sarid: "War is the time when you have to bare all and fight." People close to her say that she didn't want to expose a rift and dispute in the Israeli leadership.

Livni's success came at the end of the war, with the passing of UN Resolution 1701, which mandated a cease-fire between the parties and the deployment of a multinational force in Southern Lebanon. Hanging -crookedly - on the wall of adviser Becker's office is a copy of this UN Resolution, with a dedication from Livni. Asked why it's hanging that way, he responds: "It's a crooked resolution, which may not be implemented." Becker's mild protest gesture has some validity: The abducted soldiers have yet to be released, the arms shipments from Syria to Hezbollah have not ceased. If Livni understood the folly of warbetter than the generals, perhaps if she had pressed for a political agreement, built a coalition in the government on the matter or stirred up a raging public debate, she might have finished the war a little differently.

The baggage Livni accumulated during the war, with regard to Olmert especially, is what led her to that press conference in which she called for his resignation. Even before the publication of the Winograd interim report on the war, recalls MK Shai Hermesh, "there were efforts on her behalf to put together a majority for [Olmert's] dismissal. There was an understanding that if the worst scenario occurred and Olmert was forced to resign, Livni would replace him. She was interested."

"There were 10 MKs who were counting on her being able to replace Olmert," says another MK from Kadima. "Before the report, she invited people for talks in which she expressed criticism of Olmert and gave the impression that she?d be better than him."

On the night before the press conference, Livni asked to meet with Avigdor Yitzhaki, the only person in Kadima, apart from Marina Solodkin, who had had the nerve to call for Olmert's ouster. The meeting was held at Livni's home and her husband, Naftali Spitzer, also took part. The couple explained to Yitzhaki that Livni mustn't resign from the government. "I can't come off in the public?s mind as the executioner," she explained, "and I'm also not ready to pay the price. I didn't fail."

Livni expected that the dirty work would somehow be done for her. In the evening, after she had issued her call for Olmert to resign, she called one of her close associates. "How was I?" she asked. "Lousy," the person told her, asking why she didn't go through with the putsch. Up to this morning I had MKs on my side, Livni replied. But when I turned my back, I was left all alone. Olmert seduced them all.

A day after the press conference, Livni decided to appear at the mass protest rally that was organized in Rabin Square. There she was going to repeat her call for Olmert to resign and announce her own intention to resign. But in the end, she thought better of the idea.

Meanwhile, back home

Livni wasn't the only one who felt left out and frustrated during the war. Foreign Ministry employees also felt like they were left high and dry. Right after the war ended, representatives of the political cadre submitted to Livni and ministry director general Aharon Abramovich a paper outlining the lessons to be learned from the ministry's functioning during the war. In it they cited a number of problems and structural defects, asserting that "in the war, the Foreign Ministry was erased from the scene." The problems related to all the ministry's areas of responsibility, from the lack of a plan for dealing with a political emergency, to the failure to include a majority of the ministry's researchers and experts on the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. No response to this document has been forthcoming as yet.

Livni inherited a very problematic situation at the Foreign Ministry, whose administrative shortcomings were cited in the 2006 State Comptroller's report. A week after taking on the post, she invited members of the ministry's workers' committee to a private meeting. She pulled out the notebook she always carries with her, and took notes.

"Like many in the public, we also thought that Livni was a person of action and of public integrity," says one ministry staffer. "There were big hopes that she would heal the ministry of some of its longstanding problems, but things have only worsened under her, they've become really embarrassing, and there's no one to talk to. A lot of the conversations that have been held with her were unpleasant. She claimed in the beginning that she wanted to work with everyone. But it's still not happening, after almost two years. She doesn't have time, she interrupts people, cuts them off, loses patience. "Learn to speak in bottom lines, give me the message quickly," she told some senior people who tried to have a conversation with her."

Livni has created a very small forum with which she consults and reaches her decisions. "When the foreign minister and her American counterpart hold their regular one-on-one meetings, there's a difficulty with this, perhaps even a problem relating to a number of professional aspects," the former deputy director general of the North American department, Yoram Ben-Ze'ev, who was recently appointed ambassador to Germany, wrote to her. "However, when before and in tandem with the meetings of the foreign ministers there are a series of meetings with American officials and the head of the department is systematically not invited to take part in them, or even to be informed about them afterward - this is a professional error that cannot bejustified or forgiven."

Most of the information about what goes on in these meetings, the furious deputy director general added, "we get from American officials."One person who is part of Livni's limited forum dismisses the criticism. He cites the "responsibility and judgment" Livni displayed before the decision to strike in Syria, as well as the Winograd report's support for the ministry's decision-making processes on political issues. Others cite Livni's quick grasp of issues, and her scholarly bent.

Livni is known for her fairness and, when it comes to running the ministry, she deserves credit for adopting the recommendations of the State Comptroller's report and cancelling political appointments in the ministry. But the workers' committees are not impressed. At present, they're just a step away from declaring a labor dispute, with the backing of the Histadrut, which would mean a partial or full shutdown of the ministry's operations in Israel and of its embassies around the world. The deadline they gave Livni is the end of the month.

"Livni doesn't grasp that the Foreign Ministry is on the verge of a terrible crisis," says a workers' representative. "We have nothing to lose because the situation in the ministry is desperate. The workers are just waiting for the signal and they'll jump. This is a minister who openly aspires to be prime minister. How can she run the country if she can't even run the Foreign Ministry."

The bad news, aside from the meager improvement in her knowledge of English ("one level above Amir Peretz," in the assessment of one source), is that Livni is having difficulty with interpersonal relations even within her close circle. Not long ago, there was a major turnover in her bureau, with three senior employees leaving of their own initiative after a little more than a year on the job: bureau chief Ilan Yonas, adviser Tamar Abramovich and her personal spokesman, Ido Aharoni. The word around the ministry is that the three felt they hadn't been able to express themselves fully and have an impact, given Livni's centralized way of running things.

People often crave more affection than a boss can offer, but a lot of the people who've worked with Livni, even before she became a minister, complain about her inability to relate to people. "When you go up in an elevator with her," says one Foreign Ministry official, "she doesn't even nod hello. She completely ignores you. She can come to one of the buildings and not notice anyone there." One of her former employees says he heard lots of complaints from MKs and other employees who felt that Livni was ignoring them. "I constantly had to defend her [by saying]: 'You have to understand, Tzipi's very preoccupied with political matters, it's nothing personal, etc.' I became very creative with the excuses I came up with in her defense." One ministry employee who once tried to say something personal only aroused her anger. "Feelings are something I talk about with my son," she told him, "not with you."

"It's not easy to work for Livni," says Shai Ben-Maor, Livni's former communications director, currently the director general of Radio Tel Aviv. "She's a tough, demanding woman. She doesn't tolerate mediocrity. She doesn't care that you?ve just been through a long work day. If needed, she'll call at 11 or 12 at night. She'll demand from you 24 hours a day what she demands of herself. She has a shyness that people tend to interpret as being antisocial. She's working on it, but human relations are still not her strong point. She feels awkward taking that step forward, going beyond the purely professional. Even when it comes to herself: When people found out that she was taking drum lessons, she was very embarrassed.:

Filling the gap

Attempting to fill in this gap is her advertiser husband, Naftali Spitzer, who is very involved in his wife's political life and has made a habit of meeting personally with political activists ever since Tzipi's Likud days (at the Sa?id restaurant in Or Yehuda, they recall his meetings there with Likud central committee members late into the night). Everyone describes Spitzer as an amiable and pleasant fellow, and he often serves as the foreign minister's foreign minister. "He makes up for her in terms of patience, understanding, having an easy way with people, listening," says one of her former employees. Spitzer, or "Naftul" as the foreign minister calls him, also accompanies her sometimes or her trips abroad. Not long ago, he and his wife rubbed elbows with Bono in New York.

Like Merav Michaeli, playwright Anat Gov also believes in Tzipi Livni. The veteran leftist and Livni have known each other for a decade. "When she goes around the world, I feel proud that she?s representing us," says Gov. "She's smart, she looks good, she's charismatic, she's on top of things, she's sane, and she also has an excellent sense of humor. It's really fun to joke with her. My feeling is that she?s long been ready to be prime minister and I'm glad she?ll conduct the negotiations with the Palestinians. As far as integrity goes, I trust her with my eyes closed. She grew up in a home where the attitude to the 'other' was completely non-racist."

Sometimes a single rhyme is enough to get a poet into paradise, the poet Natan Zach once said. As foreign minister, Shimon Peres put together the London and Oslo accords, Moshe Dayan pushed the peace agreement with Egypt, Golda Meir built a bridge to the developing nations, and Yigal Allon built relations with Europe. The Annapolis summit is not only the last opportunity for Condoleezza Rice, it's also Livni's big chance to at last deliver the goods. Otherwise, all that will remain of her term will be Yossi Sarid's bleak assessment: "She knows how to conceal her ambitions. She doesn't foam at the mouth, and amid all the showy and power-hungry types, you can see that she has a good upbringing from home. Her problem is an absence of boldness, a failure to leave a mark, a lack of leadership."