Livni, 50, a lawyer and a former Mossad agent, was justice minister under Ariel Sharon. She is among Kadima founders and is slated to become Israel’s second female prime minister after Golda Meir held the post from 1969 to 1974.
In her victory speech Livni early this morning she thanked her supporters, saying that she will approach her new responsibilities with 'great reverence'.
She also called on her party to work together to build a coalition that can govern the country.
Although last night’s victory puts Livni at the helm of the party, Olmert remains prime minister. He will resign which the Knesset will accept when Kadima’s new leader has formed a new cobbled together a working coalition.
Starting tomorrow and for the next 42 days she will meet with the leaders of other parties to hammer out a new alliance and choose a new cabinet.
Her task appears an uphill job, especially since her own party seems quite weak. Founded in 2005 by politicians who left Labour and Likud, Kadima has been weakened by a succession of scandals that ultimately forced Olmert to quit.
The party is also split. Mofaz supporters fought hard believing that he, as the more experienced leader, was better placed to build a strong coalition government. However, a series of polls showing Livni beating Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu tipped the balanced in her favour.
Indeed some potential coalition partners are laying down their conditions. Shas has already laid down its economic and political terms for joining the coalition, the hardest being “no concession” to the Palestinians over Jerusalem. This runs against one of the factors that played in Livni’s favour in the primaries, namely her image as someone open to dialogue with the Palestinian Authority. Since the launch of the Annapolis peace process in November last year, Livni has in fact been Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians.
Palestinians are also split over her rise. Senior Palestinian Authority negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said he hoped the result would lead to a return to stability. By contrast, a sceptical Hamas chief Ismail Haniye said that all “Israeli leaders unite in their hostile positions against our people and in denying their rights.”