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At a time when Olmert’s ordeal was making headlines, along with the rape charges against President Moshe Katsav and a corruption case involving a finance minister, it was the Israeli public’s perception of Livni as honest and clean — a Time profile of her in 2010 was titled “Israel’s Mrs. Clean” — that boosted her status.
“Under the immediate circumstances, Livni’s was an alarming anointment, effectively implemented by a well-known advertising and PR firm that had more to do with appearances than with substance,” said Amotz Asa-El, a Hartman Institute fellow and a former executive editor of The Jerusalem Post.
“They played up her Mrs. Clean image, emphasized her femininity, changed her hairdo and dressed her in elegant business suits. But she was a shallow politician who could not seriously debate anything,” he said. “She was no match for Bibi.”
The beginning of Livni’s downfall was her inability after the 2009 general elections to form a coalition, despite winning a plurality of the votes. A bloc of several religious and right-wing parties made it much easier for Netanyahu to form a coalition.
Meanwhile, left-wing parties Labor and Meretz, which had lost votes to Kadima, declined to support Livni because they were concerned she would form a coalition with Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu. Negotiations for a rotation government that included Likud and Kadima fell through in part due to Livni’s opposition to the idea. Ironically, if the deal had been finalized, Livni would have started her stint as prime minister this week. Instead, Kadima remained in the opposition.
Kadima, a party originally built around the dominating persona of Sharon and political pragmatism, lacked both a clear agenda and an ideological tradition, which made it particularly ill equipped to weather a long period of exile from the governing coalition.
“Many in the party simply refused to reconcile themselves to remaining in the opposition,” said Nachman Shai, a Kadima Knesset member and Livni supporter. “They wanted someone who they thought would give them more of a chance to return to the coalition.”