tzipi livni 298 88 aj.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
People of the year: JPost special
It is a safe bet to say that at this time last year few people outside Israel or the Jewish world had ever heard of Tzipi Livni.
Granted, she had served in the Knesset since 1999, had held several cabinet posts, and had been praised in Israel for her combination of integrity and intellect, but hers was not a name that the anchors at CBS, Fox News or the BBC had to struggle with. She made news inside Israel, not abroad.
That changed, of course, in January, when Ehud Olmert appointed her - a potential rival for the Kadima crown - as foreign minister. Overnight she was traveling the world and holding press conferences galore. Livni had arrived on the world stage.
One indication of how much she had arrived was the fact that in August, Forbes Magazine ranked her number 40 on its list of the 100 most powerful women in the world. She was well behind her friend US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (# 2), but ahead of US first lady Laura Bush (43) and the Queen of England (46).
"Livni, 48, has captured worldwide attention during the recent fighting against Hizbullah terrorists in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip," the magazine wrote. "She became Israel's second most powerful politician in May when she added the vice prime ministership title to her foreign ministry post."
Of the political triumvirate that led Israel to war in Lebanon, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Livni, it is the latter who will likely come out the least scathed from the probes of the government's management of the war.
Already by the second week of the war there were signs inside the government of daylight between Olmert and Livni about how much emphasis should be placed on pounding Hizbullah, and how much on starting to work on the diplomatic track. While Olmert at that time was focused almost entirely on the military aspect of the campaign, wanting to deliver Hizbullah a death blow, Livni was not entirely convinced that much more could be achieved militarily, and wanted to place a stronger emphasis on gaining a diplomatic achievement.
This led to tension between the two, who had up until that time forged a very close working relationship. Nevertheless, Forbes - which noted that Livni was only the second woman to serve as Israel's foreign minister (Golda Meir was the first) - enthused that "it's believed that Livni will follow Meir as prime minister one day."
This might be so: Livni is relatively young, very able and obviously talented, but her chances look worse now than they did before Forbes compiled its list in August, only because the future prospects of the Kadima party - to which she hitched her wagon - are much dimmer now than they were before the war.
Regardless, Livni made her mark this year, and it extended well beyond the water's edge.