The Winner / Persistence paved the way
1. The uber-objective
Tzipi Livni is a stubborn gal. Journalists who met her in recent years while she was still a junior minister in the Sharon government came along with her for the ride to the top. They listened to her speeches and her statements, and heard the same message. I'm here because of the uber-objective, which is a Jewish and democratic state. That's why I support the establishment of a Palestinian state, on condition that it will be the national solution for all the Palestinians, just as Israel is the national solution for all the Jews. In smaller forums, Livni repeats the same exact comments, adding: "But that's between us, right?"
Livni's persistence proved itself yesterday, with her victory in the Kadima primary. She is now only a successful coalition negotiation away from the premiership. Over the past year, she learned how to listen to advisers, and gathered around her most of the political and media team of Ariel Sharon, who ran her campaign.
Livni is far from being Sharon. She belongs to another generation, and she doesn't have his cynical, barbed humor or his war stories. She likes to explain herself, but tends not to complain about what the press has said about her, or gripe about some journalists to their colleagues, as other politicians are wont to do. It's important to her to demonstrate self-confidence and a bit of distance. People who meet her for the first time are impressed by her frankness. At the Knesset cafeteria they like her less, because she was marked long ago as an ambitious and dangerous contender for the crown.
Livni expresses her thoughts in writing. Her focus is less on the great idea and more on the solution to problems, and she tends to get involved in the details. That's how she cooked up what came to be known as the Livni compromise, which allowed Sharon to pass the disengagement plan in the cabinet, with the support of Benjamin Netanyahu. That's also how she drafted the Kadima platform, and how she suggested to Ehud Olmert the political way out of the Second Lebanon War.
But in all these cases, there was someone above her who made the decisions and took responsibility. She no longer has that luxury. From now on, that will be Livni's job, and she will be put to the test by her political colleagues, the media and the public.
2. Who chose?
The main complaint against Livni, if she establishes a new government with her at its head, will be that she has not received a mandate from the public, but only from Kadima. The claim that only 20,000 people decided who will be the next prime minister was voiced during the campaign, and will certainly gain momentum.
Livni is not the first person to be appointed the head of the ruling party in mid-term because of a decision by a party forum.
Examples are David Ben-Gurion in 1955, Levi Eshkol in 1963, Golda Meir in 1969, Yitzhak Rabin in 1974 and Yitzhak Shamir in 1983. And don't forget the present prime minister, who was chosen for the post by just one person - Ariel Sharon, who appointed Olmert to be his deputy.
The lesson to be learned from Olmert and Livni's rise to the top is that the position of vice prime minister, enshrined in law only in 2001, gives its holder a huge advantage in any future political battle.
It is always preferable to be only a blood clot away, or only a police investigation away from the present leader. There is no doubt that this lesson will be learned from now on by politicians.
3. The princes won
The prime ministerial rotation between Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres two decades ago gave birth to two groups competing over the future leadership of Israel: the Likud princes against the "Group of Eight" in the Labor Party.
One group was the children of the leaders of Beitar, the Etzel and Herut. The other were a group of young MKs who dared to express more left-wing opinions than those of the party leadership at the time.
The princes won handily, history shows. Two of them, Netanyahu and Olmert, have already been prime minister, and Livni is on the way. The last two have experienced a radical change in their political positions, and today sound more like the Group of Eight - none of whom ever made it to the top. Not Haim Ramon, not Yossi Beilin, not Amir Peretz and not Avrum Burg.
In the next election Netanyahu and Livni will face off against each other, the polls say. Bibi against Tzipi. The son of the historian who was Jabotinsky's secretary, against the daughter of the operations officer of the Etzel. It will be a sweet victory, even if belated, for the Revisionist camp, which has turned from a "small but right minority" to become the political center.
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