Tzipi Livni as Israel’s next Golda Meir? Well, not so fast.

September 21, 2008

Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi LivniTzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, put some deep cracks in the macho Mediterranean country’s glass ceiling with her victory — albeit a narrow one — over former general Shaul Mofaz in Wednesday’s Kadima party leadership election.  But no sooner had she moved a step closer to becoming Israel’s first woman prime minister since the legendary Golda Meir in the 1970s, than two former members of the vaunted Sayeret Matkal commando unit got together for a strategy session.    

Ehud Barak, whose Labour Party is a key member of the Kadima-led coalition government, and Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the right-wing opposition Likud, met on Saturday to discuss their next moves in Israel’s political turmoil.

Livni is widely expected to get the nod from President Shimon Peres to try to form a government to replace the one currently led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is resigning in a corruption scandal.

File photo of Golda Meir visiting troops in the Golan Heights in 1973Labour would be a natural partner for Livni: it belongs to the current governing coalition and supports the peace moves she and Olmert have been leading with the Palestinians.  But Barak, Israel’s defence minister, is playing hard to get and Netanyahu has no incentive to join up with Livni — opinion polls show Likud would win an early parliamentary election, a ballot likely to be held should she fail to form a government.    

Keeping Livni out of the prime minister’s post — Olmert stays on under Israeli law until a new administration is in place — could be their battle plan. Political commentators say both Barak and Netanyahu believe an early election is inevitable, and they don’t want a coalition deal now that would enable Livni to run in that race from a position of strength as prime minister.

Blocking Livni’s ascent to power at this stage could also give Labour and Likud a unique opportunity to try to weaken Kadima, already dealt a blow by the corruption allegations that forced Olmert out.  Labour and Likud — traditionally Israel’s two biggest parties — have a score to settle with the upstart Kadima. Formed in 2005 by former Likud leader Ariel Sharon, Kadima billed itself as a centrist party and attracted defectors from both Labour and Likud.  

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