Livni Prepares for Greatest Challenge Yet

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When Tzipi Livni was 13 she played basketball in a competitive Tel Aviv league. She was not tall enough for attack nor solid enough for defense but she kept her place in the team as she was the best playmaker.

It is an apt description for the role she has filled during a short but dynamic political career that this week saw her catapulted to the verge of one of the hottest seats in international politics — the premiership of Israel.

She might not be showy but she is quietly in control.

Her prime ministership is not quite yet in the bag. After winning the leadership of Kadima, currently the largest political party in Israel, she has the difficult task of persuading rival political parties, each with their own shopping list of quid pro quos, to join a government led by her.

But when, as expected, she does succeed, she will join the ranks of heavyweight international statesmen.

If, and it remains a huge if, a historic peace settlement is reached soon to end decades of Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict, it will be the 50-year-old mother of two’s photograph that will enter the history books as the Israeli leader who sanctioned what no other had dared: the creation of a Palestinian state.

Such a high profile is a monumental turnaround for someone whose early career began in the shadows, who spent most of her younger years beavering away in a law office and who only entered politics less than 10 years ago.

Much is often made of the fact that after military service in the Israeli defence force, where she held the rank of lieutenant, she joined the country’s overseas spying agency, Mossad.

It was back in the early 1980s, the era when Mossad was building up its reputation for ruthless elan and brutal efficiency and she was operational in Paris.

Her actual job was no more exciting than keeping a safe house open for agents working in France and she gave up her career in Mossad after just two years so she could marry. But it is typical of her quiet, undemonstrative style that she is comfortable allowing outsiders to embellish their own mental image of her as a spy.

“She is very much her own person,” a former colleague in the foreign ministry said.

“If others are going to jump to conclusions about her she is happy to let them as she believes in the long term she will make it work for her.

“Her strategy is not to hit the table and bark orders but to gather all the relevant information, construct an argument and then argue it quietly and forcefully until everyone else has either been persuaded or worn down.”


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