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Patrick Martin

Israel's Tzipi Livni in the fight of her political life Add to ...

Tzipi Livni, Israel’s enigmatic leader of the opposition, is in the battle of her political life. Her Kadima Party votes on Tuesday to confirm or reject her leadership and Ms. Livni, 54, spent much of the weekend campaigning in the Galilee, among Arab Israeli party members, hoping to eke out a victory.

Trailing in the polls behind her chief rival, former military chief of staff and ex-Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, Ms. Livni was thrown a lifeline last week when a survey of party members showed her ahead of Mr. Mofaz in voting preference – at 46 per cent to his 36 per cent – for the first time in weeks.

No sooner was that news made public, however, when forces again combined against her as the second challenger to her leadership, Avi Dichter, former head of the Shin Bet military intelligence unit, announced he was throwing his support behind Mr. Mofaz. If all those who intended to vote for Mr. Dichter now follow his lead, it would almost certainly give Mr. Mofaz enough support to win a majority in the one and only round of voting.

“Shaul and I have much in common to unite us, while Tzipi Livni has already proven that she has failed,” said Mr. Dichter announcing his decision to unite the two military heavyweights against Ms. Livni, a former Israeli foreign minister, and herself a one-time Mossad agent.

What many Kadima supporters fear is that if Ms. Livni loses, Mr. Mofaz may try to merge the party with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, the bloc many think is Mr. Mofaz’s preferred home.

Indeed, another recent survey showed the party faithful believe it would win more Knesset seats under Mr. Mofaz than they would under Ms. Livni, though still fewer than the 28 seats Kadima now holds.

For this state of affairs, people blame Ms. Livni. A survey of the Israeli public earlier this month showed that Ms. Livni ranked last out of 16 political leaders people were asked to grade.

Yet, this is the same Tzipi Livni whose party garnered more votes than that of Benjamin Netanyahu in the 2009 election and took one more seat in the Knesset. It is the same person whose reputation for integrity secured her widespread support even when others in the Ehud Olmert era were being forced to resign for alleged criminal behaviour or incompetence in waging war.

What happened? Nothing, and that was the problem.

Her problems began when she was unable to form a coalition government in 2009 even with the long suit her party was dealt. An activist for women’s rights and gay rights, Ms. Livni was uncomfortable making a deal with the ultra-Orthodox Shas party that opposed such ideas. A long-time supporter of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she had trouble too dealing with the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party of Avigdor Lieberman. She was actually willing to share power with Mr. Netanyahu and his Likud Party, provided each leader was guaranteed a turn as prime minister, a scheme the Likud leader rejected.

In the end, Mr. Netanyahu put together a coalition of right wing and religious parties and got to form the government. Then, in opposition, Ms. Livni lost her way.

Member of Knesset Yohanan Plesner, a bright up-and-comer who had supported Ms. Livni’s initial leadership bid, told her in January he was supporting Mr. Mofaz this time. He said he admired her, but was impressed by Mr. Mofaz’s ability “to lead, to gather a group of quality people, to lead staff work and to make decisions” – all qualities Ms. Livni was seen as lacking.

Other critics said she dithered when it came to making decisions. Some said she was too cold a fish, others too hot and emotional. For her integrity, she was labeled Mrs. Clean and, in Israeli politics, that was intended as an insult.

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