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Tzipi Livni’s Israel

HAIFA – Famously irreverent, Israelis tend to call their leaders by their first name or childhood nickname. But don’t be fooled: Tzipi (Tzipora) Livni is nobody’s close friend. Her dry style, personal remoteness, and forced smiles make her an atypical Israeli. Perhaps the country needs exactly this just now: an atypical Israeli at the steering wheel.

Newly elected as leader of the Kadima party, Livni only barely defeated her rival, Shaul Mofaz. Her predecessor, Ehud Olmert, inundated by corruption charges and set to resign, is hardly her best asset. But, beyond narrow party confines, opinion polls were exceptionally kind: a vast cross-section of the Israeli public wants Livni to lead. It has been a while since any national figure won such high esteem. If she manages to rebuild Olmert’s coalition and become Israel’s next prime minister, Livni’s initial credit at home and abroad will be outstanding.

The reason is that Livni is the quintessential envoy of “Middle Israel.” She comes from the heartland of a successful and moderate civil society flanked by extremism and rage.

Despite her brief spell in Mossad, Israel’s spy service, Livni is deeply civilian when set against Israel’s militarized landscape. Given reasonable security conditions, she may be able to navigate Israel from war to peace. She represents the civic values that have been common to many “middle Israelis” ever since Theodore Herzl first put them in writing: the Jewish state must be modern and democratic to the core. It should respectfully leave the rabbis and the army officers in their confined quarters. It belongs in the world of nations, and seriously strives for peace with its Arab neighbors and equality for all its citizens.