Tzipi Livni’s razor-think leadership victory in the Kadima primary yesterday proves that you can never trust an Israeli poll in party leadership contests. There are too few voters (35,000 in this case) and either they don’t tell the truth or somehow the results get skewed. Livni was ahead by as much as 20 points in some of these polls. On election night the exit polls showed her winning by a similar margin. She actually won by a single point.
All of which means, Livni hasn’t much of a mandate to implement sweeping change, which probably was what she was hoping for. I’m fairly sure she wants to follow through on Israeli efforts to negotiate a peace deal with Syria. This becomes problematic without a decisive mandate.
Likud is braying for new elections believing Bibi is the man the nation wants to turn to as its next leader. With such an anemic showing, their calls resonate that much more strongly.
The fact that her chief rival, Shaul Mofaz, resigned from the party today is another grim indication of her weakness. She needs a united party if she is to stitch together a successful coalition and fend off the Likud hawks. Now, though Mofaz claims he’s taking a sabbatical, this looks like a return to Likud for him where he can continue to belittle her for her moderation.
Whether Livni can succeed depends on what type of coalition she’s able to cobble together. If her coalition includes Meretz, Labor and other center-left parties then perhaps she can wage peace with Syria and the Palestinians. If she chooses to go Olmert’s route and shoots for a center-right coalition including Shas, then she is more hamstrung.
The only Israeli leaders of the recent past who’ve been able to carry the nation forward toward territorial compromise with their Arab neighbors have been Sharon and Rabin. I was hoping Livni would be such a one. But the jury’s still out and chances don’t look good. Livni is incredibly smart and remarkably pragmatic. But she has little charisma and none of the camraderie with her followers and voters that the other leaders had.
She will become only the second female prime minister in the nation’s history after Golda Meir.