JERUSALEM, Israel – Only three years after positioning herself to become Israel's second-ever female prime minister, Tzipi Livni has now vanished into the Tel Aviv sunset.
The 53-year-old former foreign minister, who twice came close but never actually secured Israel's highest political office, suffered a crushing defeat in her centrist party's primary this week. In the wake of her loss of the Kadima party chairmanship to rival Shaul Mofaz, sources close to Livni said that she would soon announce her retirement from politics.
This will, in all likelihood, mean the end of Livni's political aspirations. "In the coming years it looks like she is going to be pushed aside," said Avraham Diskin, a professor of political science at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. "And for people like that usually it means the end."
It is true that, as Diskin put it, Israel has seen its politicians "rise from the ashes like a phoenix" more than once. He cited the resuscitated fortunes of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, President Shimon Peres and current premier Benjamin Netanyahu, but added that Livni -- due to her seemingly total political defeat, both at the hands of Netanyahu and her Kadima rivals -- is not a candidate for a political revival.
Livni had enjoyed a meteoric rise since she first won a seat in the Knesset in 1999 as a member of the Likud party. The Tel Aviv-born mother of two had grown up as a "Likud princess," as her parents were close friends with Menachem Begin, the first Likud prime minister. But the Mossad agent turned real estate lawyer waited until her forties to make her first run for parliament.
Livni has long been viewed as an honest and principled political figure -- somewhat of an oddity in Israel's political landscape, where turnabouts are commonplace. As Time magazine, which referred to her as "Israel's Mrs. Clean," put it in 2008, Livni, "gained a reputation for being modest and humorless -- but always on the straight and narrow."
Political analysts, however, say her inability to compromise also hurt her political ambitions, leading her to miss a number of key opportunities during her time in the spotlight.
It wasn't always so. Livni proved most opportunistic when she decided to support Sharon in his breakaway from the right-wing Likud party in late 2005. What became known here as "the Big Bang of Israeli politics" gave birth to Kadima, a centrist alternative that attracted supporters from both sides of the political spectrum.
Livni, who had held a number of minor ministerial positions since joining the Likud government in 2001, quickly benefited from the move. As a protégé of Sharon, whom she helped push through Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, she quickly rose through the ranks to the position of foreign minister. The new post gave her more prominence both at home and on the international stage.
When Sharon's debilitating stroke left Kadima leaderless in early 2006, Livni put her own ambitions on the back burner and settled for the party's No. 3 position, giving Ehud Olmert free rein to replace Sharon. The move allowed Kadima to avoid splintering into several factions, and also served Livni well. A longtime advocate of a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict, she proved a palatable interlocutor for foreign diplomats in the West, and most Palestinians saw her as the lesser of two evils in comparison with her more hawkish rivals.
So when corruption allegations pushed Olmert to resign, Livni appeared primed to fill the void and become Israel's second-ever female prime minister after "Iron Lady" Golda Meir assumed the position four decades ago. But even after securing the Kadima party leadership, her intransigence once again stood in the way of her securing the premiership. In negotiations over the formation of a coalition government, she refused to meet the conditions posed by Shas, a religious party that demanded economic concessions and that the status of Jerusalem be excluded from future peace negotiations with the Palestinians.