A role model for the Mideast
The Ottawa Citizen
This has been an exhilarating time for women in politics, from the strong campaign of Hillary Clinton to the emergence of Sarah Palin, not to mention the decision here in Canada to include -- finally -- Elizabeth May in the leaders' debates.
But perhaps the most dramatic political achievement for a woman this fall belongs to Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister who on Wednesday was elected by her Kadima party to succeed Ehud Olmert. This means she is well positioned to become Israel's prime minister.
The ascension of Ms. Livni is a reminder of how Israel is geographically part of the Middle East but, culturally and politically, not of the Middle East. In many countries surrounding Israel, women are lucky to be allowed to drive.
As a liberal democracy, Israel affords women the same opportunities they enjoy in the West. Ms. Livni, 50, is both a lawyer and former Mossad agent, and currently serves as Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians. It's worth noting that Kadima party rank-and-file chose her over cabinet colleague Shaul Mofaz, a former paratrooper commander who served as Israel's top military official.
Strong women don't scare Israelis. In the 1970s the country had as prime minister Golda Meir, who supposedly authorized the Mossad to hunt down, one-by-one, the terrorists who murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. It wasn't for nothing that colleagues referred to Meir as "the only man in the Israeli cabinet."
Ms. Livni's story -- her personal and political development -- resonates with Israelis.
She grew up in a traditional Zionist family, to parents who fought for Israeli independence in 1948 with a hope to building a Jewish state that would encompass land on both sides of the Jordan River. Eventually, however, this dream of a Greater Israel faded as young Zionists like Tzipi Livni realized that indigenous Muslims had legitimate claims of their own. The land would have to be shared, a Jewish state of Israel next to an Arab-Muslim state of Palestine.
It wasn't easy for Israelis to accept that their Palestinian enemy had his own narrative of dispossession and ancestral longings, but accept it they did. "It is painful, maybe in terms that outsiders cannot understand, that it is necessary to give up some of the land that Jews have [claimed] for thousands of years," Ms. Livni told the Los Angeles Times last year.
Her evolution into a supporter of a two-state solution mirrors a collective conversation that took place in Israel over the past 40 years. Ms. Livni is a public example of a second-generation Zionist coming to believe, as most Israelis have, that peace and security are worth more than real estate like Gaza City or Jenin.
Unfortunately, the Muslim-Arab world has refused to engage in any similar introspection that would lead it to recognize the legitimacy of Jewish claims. The world still awaits a Palestinian Tzipi Livni.
In this regard, perhaps Ms. Livni can serve a useful role in the Middle East as a model of political pragmatism. If she becomes prime minister, maybe her example will spark the emergence of Arab counterparts who also prefer peace over conflict and, to paraphrase a famous formulation of Golda Meir, love their children more than they hate Israel.