Text size

Over the past week I took statements from about a dozen people who know Tzipi Livni quite well. None of them is close to either Benjamin Netanyahu or Ehud Barak. Most support Kadima or parties on the left. Nevertheless, all are concerned. The portrait they paint of Livni is a disturbing one.

Kadima's chairwoman is a principled, patriotic, exemplary human being. She is intelligent and a quick study. But there is one fault that no one disputes: Livni is short-tempered. Her more serious critics believe she has an attention deficit. She is incapable of delving into the details of a document or of sustaining an extended discussion. She does not stay with a topic until it has been completely clarified. Her thinking is not clear and she cannot distinguish the wheat from the chaff. Unlike Netanyahu and Barak, who can get to the bottom of an issue and discuss it in all its complexity, Livni tends to oversimplify, to go for the schematic. One of the most respected figures in the country says she is opinionated and superficial.

Nor is there any disputing a second flaw of Livni's: She finds it very hard to make decisions. Even with noncritical decisions she deliberates, wavers, delays and changes her opinion over and over. Some people believe the combination of inexperience and lack of confidence paralyzes Livni. They think the foreign minister is incapable of deciding whether to launch a strike against Iran. Livni does not have the spine, levelheadedness and internal calm necessary to take the most critical decisions.

Her third flaw is her total lack of emotional intelligence. Livni neither understands people nor likes them. That is why she has no inner circle of confidants. With the exception of her husband, Naftali Spitzer, she has no trusted partners. Many people who made personal sacrifices on her behalf feel betrayed. Unlike Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak, Livni lacks personal warmth or charm. Few top Kadima figures like or believe her. In the party's inner circles she is thought of as lacking leadership. The most common comment is that she simply doesn't have it. Her ability to lead after the election is in doubt.

Livni has several other faults. She does not take the long view, is inconsistent, and her deep fear of failure prevents her from being daring and original. She disguises her internal panic with exaggerated displays of self-confidence that sometimes border on rudeness. Her appointments are mediocre and her teamwork is poor. Many people at the Foreign Ministry view her as some sort of country bumpkin.

All these issues, however, are dwarfed by the question of all questions that Livni evokes: Who is she and what is her inner core? A few of the people I spoke to this week had a disturbing response to this question: Tzipi Livni is hollow. They argued that Livni lacks the cultural baggage, historic vision, emotional tools and personal abilities of a leader. She has never shown civil courage, has no achievements to her name and has never gone against the tide. She recites a series of correct statements about dividing the country but does not know how to translate them into policy. That is why her negotiations with Ahmed Qureia failed and why her faith in Annapolis was proved false.

But Livni's Palestinian failure is tiny compared to her Iranian error. Livni did not understand the Iranian challenge in advance, did not take it on board and effectively did nothing in the international arena to deal with it. Iran's nuclear program is what turned Livni's term as foreign minister into a colossal failure.

One of the people I spoke to was especially agitated despite being a mature, restrained and conservative person. He told me he felt like a member of some cult with a terrible secret: Tzipi Livni is not fit to be prime minister. There is a black flag waving above her journey to the Prime Minister's Office.

The witness said it was inconceivable to him that the media are not revealing this secret; intolerable that the public does not know. That is why he spoke, that is why I recorded his words. That is why this piece was published. So the public will know - and decide.