Tzipi and the Expectations

The new year will be a test not only of Livni's suitability for the job, but also of Israel's suitability for a role in which it has never before been cast: a quasi-normal nation.

At the rate that prime ministers are replaced in Israel, it is no wonder that every four and a half years on average, and with steadily increasing frequency, at least one Israeli takes the Rosh Hashanah blessing "that we be a head and not a tail" personally and literally: He gets the opportunity to be prime minister, and others get the opportunity to get on his tail and plot his downfall.

This year, as the job of forming the government goes to Tzipi Livni, it can be said that we have tried almost everything in filling the position of prime minister: men and women, old and young, civilians and military men, right-wingers from Herut and left-wingers from Mapai, the hasty and the hesitant, the tongue-tied and the eloquent, honest folk and scoundrels, hawks who have softened and doves who have hardened. It is true that we have yet to "try" a religious prime minister or one of Middle Eastern origin, but would that have done the trick?

The fact is that despite all this diversity, not a single one of our prime ministers has finished the job well. And in spite of the achievements that some have had (in economics, in treaties with Egypt and Jordan, in improving our international status), none of them succeeded in substantially changing Israel's existential situation as a war that has a country, and as a country that lacks a defined border, both in physical terms and in terms of its identity as an Israeli nation-state - not to mention living in peace and serenity.

Since the Israeli reality does not depend only on us, or only on one person, it is not clear whether anything would change if a chance were to be given to another human type, which we have not yet tried as prime minister: the exotic and elusive creature called "an ordinary person." A man or woman with simple common sense, without personality defects, complexes or overly profound fixations, who is also not dragging a closet full of overly noisy skeletons behind.

Two years ago, if only because it happened almost by chance, it looked as though we had such a "find," in the guise of Ehud Olmert: ostensibly an ordinary Israeli citizen, lacking charisma, but not rigid like his predecessors, someone whom everyone agreed had common sense, shrewdness and understanding. It took a while to discover the traits that distinguished him, too, from the "reasonable man": the uncommon craving for luxuries and ostensibly ill-gotten gains, the unreasonable gap between words and deeds, the contentiousness and belligerence, and all the other choice traits that placed him in the club of the somewhat exotic types - the "larger than life," for good and for ill - who have filled the position of Israel's prime minister.

In fact, whether it stems from the circumstances of our lives or from some collective personality defect, in Israel it is almost a precondition that a candidate for leadership not seem too "ordinary" and "sane," because he will then be a laughingstock; he will be considered an eccentric nerd. Instead, he must be graced with that same elusive but admired character that during the reign of Mapai, the forerunner of Labor, was called "a difficult but talented man" (as columnist Shlomo Grodzensky, who immigrated to Israel in the 1950s, called the type of half-mad party hack whom he encountered in the echelons of "activism" and leadership in Israel. A reminder of this type can be seen today in the revival of the play "His Name Precedes Him," by Ephraim Kishon, which is being staged at the Cameri Theater).

Today, this is called a "killer instinct." Cruel callousness, a thick skin, a love of strife, inexplicable stubbornness, adherence to some idee fixe, a spark of madness in the eyes - these are the basic traits that make a person "worthy" of being prime minister, even in present-day Israel.

There is therefore a daring innovation in having a woman like Livni standing on the threshold of the Israeli premiership, because her advocacy of moderation, her integrity, her caution, her femininity constitute a kind of challenge against everything that has been popular, beloved and admired in Israeli leadership.

It is possible that this will spark a counter-reaction, an opposition, from both inside and outside. It is possible that in her, too, we will discover facets with which we are not yet familiar. On the other hand, it is possible that a change will take place in the style of leadership with which we are familiar.

In any case, the new year will be a test not only of Livni's suitability for the job, but also of Israel's suitability for a role in which it has never before been cast: a quasi-normal nation.