The Livni Paradox

Tzipi Livni is the most fascinating of the four Kadima candidates, because she embodies hope and offers change.

The election campaign in Kadima has improved somewhat. After an embarrassing start, four candidates began to be exposed, were forced to give an initial accounting of their past, and were even asked about their worldview. Apparently politicians, as well as image consultants and journalists, have all finally learned lessons from the resounding failure of the 2006 election campaign. The participants in the political game have understood that it is not only a game. They have internalized the fact that after everything we have experienced in the past two years, it is impossible once again to elect an Adler poster boy as prime minister. It is impossible to elect an unknown brand as prime minister. At the end of August we can state with satisfaction that a political process is being conducted in Kadima, a public discussion is taking place, and there is a genuine race between Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz, Avi Dichter and Meir Sheetrit.

Livni is not only the leading candidate among the four, but also the most fascinating. Fascinating because she embodies hope and offers change. Fascinating because she is known-yet-unknown, familiar and yet undeciphered. That is why the rumor industry surrounding Livni is now working overtime. Is it true that the deputy prime minister is a less than brilliant lawyer who was just lucky? Is it true that the foreign minister has no profound diplomatic understanding nor a comprehensive understanding of the situation? Is it true that Livni cannot withstand pressure? Is it true that she is cold and arrogant and is unable to form a team around her?

Tzipi Livni is not brilliant, but she is far from stupid. She has insight and she has an ability to learn and she has good judgment. Livni's diplomatic understanding is limited but fundamentally correct. She is well aware of the threat to the Jewish-democratic state and the challenge of dividing the land.

The question of working under pressure is an important question with no clear answer. It should be recalled that the late Yitzhak Rabin also had a problem with pressure. No, Livni is not cold and arrogant, but like Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, she has totally failed to build a team.

Her report card is complex. The daughter of the operations officer of the Etzel - the right-wing, pre-State paramilitary organization, commonly known as the Irgun - she is an ethical and clearheaded Israeli woman, but she lacks experience and is weak on agenda. In a sense her candidacy for the premiership comes too early. This is a promising and interesting candidacy that ripened before its time. A half-baked candidacy.

Livni's chances are good to very good. In the face of bombing Iran, Mofaz, genius-from-Taurus Barak and loathed-by-the-media Bibi (Benjamin Netanyahu), the dynamic is a Tzipi dynamic. Being fed up with arrogant, wealthy and aggressive men has created a true desire for a different leadership. At the end of the summer of 2008, Livni is the different leadership. Therefore, although she did not do much as absorption minister, justice minister and foreign minister, the public tends toward Tzipora. It prefers the unknown about her to that which is known about the former elite combat soldiers.

So that responsibility now lies with the candidate-of-hope. Livni should stop for a moment. She should look into the mirror and understand why she arouses disquiet and raises questions. She should admit her shortcomings and limitations to herself. And she should find a way to run a serious campaign with those shortcomings and limitations. She should recognize the problem and offer a solution to it.

The obvious solution is a Livni-Barak-Netanyahu government. Israel is already facing a dramatic security challenge. Within months Israel is liable to face a severe economic challenge as well. Tzipi Livni does not have the necessary abilities to deal with the two challenges on her own. However, if she rises above herself, she can be quite a good team leader. With Barak in charge of the military and Netanyahu in charge of economics, Livni will have a chance to succeed in the mission. She will provide Israel with the new spirit while the two with experience will contribute professionalism and responsibility. She will provide Israel with civic-ethical leadership, while the two with skills will conduct the complex battles in a cruel situation.

In order to do the right thing Livni must demonstrate a degree of realism and a degree of modesty. She should admit that her meteoric rise has turned her head. She must understand that not everything that others can do she can do better. And she should once again become the devoted and concerned patriot that she was only a few years ago. The paradox remains a paradox: Only if Tzipi Livni understands that she is not yet worthy of being prime minister will she have a chance of being a worthy one.