George Whitten, BosNewsLife Chief Middle East Correspondent reporting from Jerusalem
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (BosNewsLife)– Israeli Foreign Minister looked set to become Israel’s second female prime minister as her centrist Kadima party won Tuesday’s parliamentary election, exit polls showed.
Her Kadima won 29-30 seats, Likud 27-28, Yisrael Beiteinu 14-15 and Labour 13, the exit polls said.
The elections were overshadowed by concerns over Israel’s security, following a three week war with the militant Hamas group Hamas in Gaza, that apparently boosted the popularity of her party.
Although the prime minister is not directly voted, the party that wins the ballot can appoint the government leader, and Kadima current favorsi Livni.
Livni already is the most powerful woman in Israel, having served as foreign minister since 2006 and as Israel’s lead negotiator in peace talks with the Palestinians, observers said.
The 50-year-old Kadima leader has earned a public reputation as “Mrs. Clean,” because she has not been touched by corruption scandals involving her colleagues.
Yet she still will have to assemble a coalition government of a majority of the 120 Knesset seats and present her government to the President of Israel. And, at any given time, a no-confidence vote can be taken, which has brought down previous governments at a time of mounting tensions in Israel over its place and future direction in the volatile Middle East.
If the coalition fails to muster 61 votes the government collapses and elections are held once again. In the last eight election cycles, only one of the coalition governments survived the entire 4 year term for its government.
However analysts say, Livni has some levarage, as she is already the most powerful woman in Israel, having served as foreign minister since 2006 and as Israel’s lead negotiator in peace talks with the Palestinians.
Livni helped approve Israel’s recent offensive against Hamas militants who control the Gaza Strip. She said Israel must weaken Hamas to deter future rocket attacks by Gaza militants.
Livni has also made clear that Israel and its main ally, the United States, share a common interest in working toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Before entering politics, she worked as an Israeli spy and at a private law firm. Livni’s critics say she lacks experience in security issues. She disagrees, pointing out that under the tutelage of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, she became convinced that the only way to preserve Israel as a Jewish state was to relinquish at least some of the land it took in the 1967 war.
She was among the first ministers to join Sharon in breaking with Likud in 2005 to found Kadima, a party established on the idea of unilateral withdrawal from parts of the occupied territories.
Livni was born in Tel Aviv on July 8, 1958. She gained a law degree from Bar-Ilan University and specialised in commercial, constitutional and property law in a private firm for 10 years before entering public life. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos)