MOSCOW, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has been elected the leader of the ruling Kadima Party, beating her opponent, Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, by a mere 2 points.
Now she has every chance to become Israel's prime minister. If this happens, Livni will become the second woman to occupy this position after Golda Meir, who led the country from 1969 to 1974.
Current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is suspected of corruption. He did not run in the race and promised to resign after the winner was announced.
After becoming prime minister, Livni, a 50-year-old lawyer, will have 42 days to form her Cabinet, but for this she will have to retain Kadima's ruling majority in Parliament. Otherwise, early general elections will be held in the country.
Livni was brought into big-time politics by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In 1999 she became a deputy in the Knesset, then regional cooperation minister, and eventually foreign minister.
Will Livni become a second Golda Meir, staying in office for a long time and enjoying the respect of her compatriots? Many believe it possible. First, Livni has an impeccable reputation. Unlike Olmert and former prime ministers Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu, she has never been involved in financial or sexual scandals. Second, Livni has already amassed considerable political experience as foreign minister. Third, she was a Mossad intelligence agent. This period of her life remains shrouded in mystery, but the American press reports that she took part in operations to assassinate Arab terrorists.
However, despite her military background, Livni is considered Olmert's dove, rather than Sharon's hawk. Even her name, Tzipi, is short for Tzipora, meaning "bird." At the same time, her friends and acquaintances call her a strong and purposeful personality. She is at ease with the public and knows how to influence her audience. All this means that one day the dove could turn into a hawk. Everything depends on domestic and foreign factors.
As foreign minister, Livni conducted Olmert's moderate foreign policy. Apparently it will be continued unless Palestinian or Lebanese extremists provoke Israel into a new war. In the talks with the Palestinians, Israel's position was virtually the same as the American one and is not likely to change in the near future. It boils down to support for the idea to set up a Palestinian state in the West Bank of the Jordan River and in the Gaza Strip.
Livni is ready to talk only with Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian National Administration and does not want to hear anything about Hamas. In theory, an interim peace treaty with the Palestinians may be concluded before the year expires (both President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke about this possibility more than once), but even if this happens, this will be a treaty with Abbas rather than Hamas.
This means that prospects of peace are rather vague, even for the Palestinian and Syrian talks. Livni is not likely to persuade Israeli society to return the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel during the 1967 war, to Syria. She will not be able to do this single-handedly without the Knesset (in Israel the prime minister cannot make decisions on war and peace without Parliament's consent). Only such charismatic leaders as the late Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, who still remains in a coma, could persuade the Knesset to forgo territories.
In relations with Russia, Tzipi is most likely to continue the present line aimed at developing political, economic and cultural ties. At the same time, Israel will continue its persistent attempts at persuading Moscow to curtail cooperation with Iran and Syria, particularly in the military sphere and the energy industry.
(Andrei Murtazin is a correspondent for RIA Novosti, but the opinions expressed in this article are his alone and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)
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