18 September 2008
By MATTHEW KALMAN
A FORMER Mossad agent was last night poised to become Israel's first woman prime minister since Golda Meir.
Exit polls showed Tzipi Livni, 50, a lawyer and mother of two, had scored a clear victory in the election to replace Premier Ehud Olmert as head of the ruling Kadima party.
Olmert's career crashed after it was revealed he received envelopes stuffed full of cash from wealthy U.S. supporters.
Livni and Olmert founded Kadima with former Premier Ariel Sharon when they all quit the right-wing Likud Party in November 2005.
Livni is a comparative newcomer to politics who entered parliament in 1999. Her father Eitan Livni was operations chief of the Irgun, the preindependence Jewish terrorist movement headed by Menachem Begin. He was directly implicated in the murders of British troops.
Livni has broken with her father's nationalist past, however, and embraced the peace process with the Palestinians. For the past year she has headed the Israeli negotiating team and has declared that Israel should abandon its settlement project in the West Bank if it will lead to peace.
She is married to Naftali Shpitzer, a top advertising executive and her chief strategist in the leadership contest. They met when she was 26 and he was 32 and became engaged after just three weeks.
Livni had just started studying law and was a junior intelligence cadet based in Paris, where she had the responsibility of overseeing a safe house used by Israeli agents for missions in Europe. She wanted to continue with Mossad but Shpitzer persuaded her to stay in Israel and go into law full-time.
TIME magazine named her as the 24th most influential world leader in its last Top 100 and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has called her 'a woman of conviction, intelligence and peace'.
If official results confirm she has won the Kadima election, Livni will have a month to confirm the existing coalition with the Labour Party or form a new government.