Meet two women on the threshold of power

But Sarah Palin of the US and Israel's Tzipi Livni have less in common than first appears
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Indy Politics

Both of them are women who have rekindled interest in the electoral politics of their country. Neither – unlike Hillary Clinton (or Eva Peron or Imelda Marcos) – has become a candidate for high office on the back of a reputation built as the first lady to a politician husband.

Both have strong families and strong opinions. Both have skilfully combined family with career, though neither could be described as conventional feminists. Both are within reach of office, despite the quantitively poor representation of women in their respective legislatures. Both have made pitches to be cleaners-up of the political environment. The simultaneous advance of both has been heralded in some quarters as heralding a "new era" for women in politics.

So Sarah Palin, John McCain's choice for the US vice-presidency, and Tzipi Livni, newly elected to replace Ehud Olmert as leader of Israel's ruling Kadima party, and therefore potentially the country's next PM, certainly have something in common. The election of either to the offices they now seek would be something of a breakthrough.

Because Geraldine Ferraro never made it, thanks to the Reagan-Bush landslide in 1984, Mrs Palin would, if elected, be the US's first woman Veep. Ms Livni would not create that kind of precedent – Golda Meir, elected to Israel's premiership in 1969, was there first. But Mrs Meir was something of a classic Iron Lady, Thatcheresque best-man-in-her-cabinet type. In contrast, Ms Livni has even spoken a little disparagingly of "guy issues" in describing the failures of the Lebanon war.

If Ms Livni becomes PM, it would create for the first time an all-women troika in key posts: Dorit Beinisch is head of Israel's supreme court and Dalia Itzik is speaker of the Knesset. Which is remarkable given that internationally Israel is 79th in terms of the presence of women in parliament, with 14 per cent, worse than both the US (69th with 16 per cent) and the UK (59th with 19 per cent).

But before we get carried away with the new Palin-Livni axis, you can't ignore the differences either. Maybe it's an inevitable consequence of US electoral politics that Mrs Palin's family has been thrust into the limelight. Ms Livni, who has a devoted husband in advertising and two sons, has resolutely kept hers private. Second, for all the extravagant claims made for Palin's experience as a small-town Alaska mayor, Ms Livni has the more impressive CV. Two years in Mossad, 10 as a lawyer after graduating from Bar-Ilan University, and extensive experience as Foreign Minister.

And unlike for Mrs Palin, God does not seem to play much part in Ms Livni's politics. A secular Tel Aviv girl through and through, she has frequently made it clear that Judaism, for her, does not mean dominance by the ultra-orthodox. Finally, the Israeli does appear to have made a thought-out ideological journey from the right to the centre. The American, by contrast, seems to have actually hardened in her right-wing positions as time has gone on. All of which will make life more interesting if, as they may well do, the two start doing business with each other in 2009.