Tzipi Livni’s 42-day countdown
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images By 431 votes, Tzipi Livni — a 50-year-old lawyer and former Mossad agent — bested rivals and stepped in to replace Ehud Olmert as head of Israel’s Kadima Party today. But there was little time for celebration as the clock’s a-tickin’ for both Livni and her party. Once Olmert officially resigns, Livni ...
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
By 431 votes, Tzipi Livni — a 50-year-old lawyer and former Mossad agent — bested rivals and stepped in to replace Ehud Olmert as head of Israel’s Kadima Party today. But there was little time for celebration as the clock’s a-tickin’ for both Livni and her party.
Once Olmert officially resigns, Livni will have 42 days to pull together a government so that she might step in as prime minister. If she can’t keep the ruling 67-seat, Kadima-led coalition intact, Israel will hold a snap general election. Polls predict the winner will be Likud, the right-wing party led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Livni began the heady task of reaching out to other party leaders today, but judging from the chatter coming out of the Knesset she’ll be fighting an uphill battle. Some, like Yossi Beilin of the small Meretz Party, have already pledged support for Livni’s plan to wrap up the ongoing peace deals with the Palestinians. Beilin even hopes that she’ll continue on to forge relations with Syria and Lebanon. Others, such as Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, will likely side with Livni only to keep Likud from taking power.
It’s clear that Livni’s toughest challenge is wavering coalition member Shas, the ultra-Orthodox party that currently holds 12 crucial Knesset seats. The Shas party line is more in tune with Likud’s tough talk on the Palestinians and its call to end talks with Syria than it is with Kadima’s peace initiatives. Completely aware of their pivotal position, party leaders are already voicing demands of Livni, such as the call to increase child-benefit allowances (an initative rather unpopular with Treasury officials). Whether she will bend to them to stave off an election remains to be seen.
But Likud is champing at the bit to test its popularity with voters now. Far from bedding down with Livni, Netanyahu said yesterday that to throw his support to Kadima would be like joining the board of Lehman Brothers. “The cleanest and most democratic thing to do is to hold a general election,” he told reporters today.
Not so fast, Bibi. The clock’s ticking, but time hasn’t run out yet. If Livni manages to pull together a majority coalition, she’ll be the first Israeli woman to lead the country since Golda Meir.
Rebecca Frankel was an editor at Foreign Policy from 2013-2018.
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