Thursday 18 September 2008


In the 219 years since George Washington was elected the first President of the United States of America in 1789, America has never had a lady President. In fact, America has never even had a lady Vice President although that may change if John McCain gets his way in the upcoming presidential election. The first woman to be appointed US Secretary of State was Madeleine Albright in 1997, only 11 years ago. The current serving Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, is the second lady to serve in this position.

In contrast to that, Golda Meir was elected Israel's first lady Prime Minister in 1969. She was, at the time, only the third woman in world history to hold the post of Prime Minister following Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka (1960) and Indira Gandhi of India (1964).

It now seems inevitable that Tzippi Livni will follow in Golda Meir's footsteps by moving into the Prime Minister's office after having served as Foreign Minister. During her time as Israeli Foreign Minister, Livni appears to have built a good working relationship with her American counterpart at the State Department. Although not a great deal has been written about the relationship between the two ladies, it is interesting that Livni's entry in The Time 100 list of most influential leaders and revolutionaries is written by Condoleeza Rice (see Time 100 List). Even though their main objective of advancing the peace process has not yielded significant achievements, they seem to have built a strong bond with each other.

So how will Livni interact with the new American administration from her new position as Prime Minister? For starters, as the leader of the country, Livni will be forced to focus more on the White House than the State Department. On the face of it, she seems not to have a great deal in common with McCain or Obama. But the interesting question is whether McCain, in the event that he wins the election, will use a strategy of involving Sarah Palin in any work that he does with Tzippi Livni. Despite the fact that Palin seems hopelessly underqualified for such a role based on her previous experience, it may make sense for McCain to deploy Palin to attempt to build a strong working relationship - woman to woman. This may allow him to get through to Livni in a way that he, on his own, could not hope to achieve.

Livni, as a former army officer, former Mossad agent, lawyer and seasoned politician is clearly a tough cookie. Even in Israel where girls are regarded as being very tough, Livni is no pushover. Palin, despite her stint as Governor of Alaska, seems softer in her approach although still very resilient. It would be very interesting for me to see these two ladies build a relationship in the interests of making some progress towards a peace arrangement.

The obvious problem in all of this is the fact that women do not have the same status in the Arab world as they have in other parts of the world. The leaders of all the Arab countries and groups who would need to be involved in a peace agreement are men. They are also men who appear to come from a background where male domination remains a strong cultural value and phenomenon. Whilst they may have had to get used to working with Rice and Livni over the past few years, it was always in the knowledge that their respective bosses were both men. Now, at least in Livni's case, the buck stops with her.

Having seen male predecessors and counterparts fail to achieve anything of meaning over the course of sixty years, it would be interesting to see whether the Ladies-in-Waiting are able to create a lasting peace in the Middle East. I, for one, am happy to give them the chance.

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