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(photo credit: AP [file])
With her dark suits and matter-of-fact lawyer style of speech, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni may not seem like star material, but Arabs attending the World Economic Forum on the Middle East here thought she was a hit.
They were struck by her beauty and her brains.
"I was impressed by her," Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Mahmoud Nazif told The Jerusalem Post on the sidelines of the forum, where they met for the first time. "She's sharp, articulate and polite." Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, he added, was also "impressive." The two have met three times. "We are similar," Nazif said. "We're not from the old generation. We don't carry all the baggage." Nazif said he was "very optimistic" about the future with both these leaders.
Arab participants were not only charmed by Livni's manner and mind. "She's beautiful," said a Jordanian. Like all the others interviewed by the Post, with the exception of Nazif, he asked not to be named.
The three-day forum, which tackled the social, political and economic challenges facing the Middle East, provided an opportunity for Livni to present the government's policies in depth to the leaders of Middle East governments, the private sector and the general public.
Because of the question-and-answer style of the sessions, Livni also had the opportunity to defend those policies, something that TV does not afford.
Livni participated in Sunday's plenary session panel on Palestinian relations along with the foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt and with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
Hundreds of Arab leaders and journalists heard her discuss Israel's security, economic and foreign policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians, and they had the opportunity to ask her about it.
"She's really sharp," said one Lebanese businessman. "And she surprised me. She said [positive] things I didn't expect her to say. She also said some other things that made me mad, but afterwards I thought about what she said and she may have a point." He did not elaborate.
The forum was an opportunity for Livni to make an impression on the Arab media, which attended the forum en masse. They too were impressed, as they crammed to hear her speak after she left meetings with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
"She has charisma," said a Moroccan journalist. "It's the first time I saw her in person; before this I had only seen her on TV. Now I have seen her in long sessions."
Like others, the journalist said he didn't agree with everything Livni said, but some of her statements gave him hope. "She said Israel won't cut ties with Abbas and she talked about a Jewish state for the Jews and a Palestinian state for the Palestinians," said the journalist, adding, "But I think there also needs to be at least a partial solution for the Palestinian refugees."
One Egyptian journalist called Livni "very sharp," adding: "She looks like a famous Egyptian movie star who recently began wearing the veil."