Woman of Iron and Silk

Tzipi Livni is a rising star in Israel. She was one of Ariel Sharon's favorite colleagues--the first person he asked to join his new party, Kadima. She's also very popular among Israeli voters, who consider her honest and tough. Now, with Sharon in a coma and new elections looming, Livni is working closely with Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to secure a Kadima victory. NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth met with Livni last week in Israel. Excerpts:

LIVNI: Today was the memorial for my father. I just came from the graveyard. On his gravestone is written here lies the head of operations of the irgun [an underground organization that fought for the establishment of the state of Israel]. On his tombstone is a map of Greater Israel, with both sides of the Jordan Valley as part of Israel. Many ask if territorial compromise is against my father's ideology. I say he taught me to believe in a democratic Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people where all enjoy equal rights. [But] I came to the conclusion that I... have to choose, and my choice is to [create] a homeland for the Jewish people but only in part of the land of Israel.

It's against my values.

No, I understood there was a need to divide the land, but I thought Labor did it the wrong way.

The disengagement plan changed totally the terms of the conflict and the political map in Israel. It changed some of the right-wing understanding and should change the international community's attitude toward Israel. Until then, Israel was blamed as a country that wants to control the lives of the Palestinians and will not dismantle any settlements. What we did changed the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians and the status of Israel within the international community.

I feel that I gained his trust and confidence in the last two or three years. We could speak and he could feel he would not read it in tomorrow's newspapers.

I entered Israel's political life and joined Likud because I thought it should lead Israel in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict... Then I understood that there is no chance to get the Likud to be a united party because most Likud leaders couldn't make clear statements about the need for Israel to support a two-state solution. Until now, every Likud platform starts with the word "no" to a Palestinian state, "no" to the disengagement plan, "no" to this and "no" to that.

It is important to understand the real meaning of a two-state solution. Israel was established as a homeland for the Jewish people. This should be also the true meaning of the future Palestinian state. It should be the answer for the Palestinians wherever they are: those who live in the territories and those who are being kept as political cards in refugee camps. In other words, the establishment of a Palestinian state takes [care of] what the Palestinians call "the right of return."

Israel made clear in the last few months that the participation of Hamas in the Palestinian Authority elections is totally against any kind of democratic values.

Israel cannot communicate with terrorist organizations... Abu Mazen says he is weak. When a leader is weak and cannot confront the terrorist organizations, this is the real importance of the international community--to say it will not accept terrorist organizations as part of any parliament, any government.

The message is that Israel is no longer the Palestinian excuse for not fighting terrorism. We took our forces out of the Gaza Strip; we dismantled the settlements, and now Israel is no longer the excuse. And now we are back on the track of the Roadmap; we are not talking now about more unilateral steps. Our expectation is that the Palestinians will implement their word.