Tzipi Livni Retires From Knesset Following Failed Talks With Gantz & Others

Former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni gives a press conference to announce her retirement from political life, in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on February 18, 2019. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

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Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Monday announced her retirement from politics, ending a 20-year career of a politician who was once a rising star, contender for prime minister and celebrity in international diplomatic circles.

Livni, whose political star has faded in recent years, told a news conference in Tel Aviv that while she will leave the political scene, she believes her vision of peace with the Palestinians will one day be realized.

“I am leaving politics, but I will not allow the hope of peace to leave the state of Israel. I have no doubt that our way will return and win,” she said.

In recent months, Livni had attempted to team up with the new Israeli Resilience party headed by Benny Gantz, as well as Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, but both efforts failed.

She also tried to work a deal with former political notables including Ehud Barak and Dan Meridor, to bring them into her party, but at the end, she is heading home. Most polls show that her party did not earn sufficient votes to enter Knesset alone and she failed to team with others.

Livni, 60, is the daughter of one of the founding members of the governing Likud Party, now led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and began her political career as a Likud lawmaker. She slowly moved towards the center and ultimately, became an outspoken voice for the so-called “two-state solution” with the PA (Palestinian Authority).

Livni joined the centrist Kadima Party in 2005. She held a number of senior Cabinet posts over the years, and served as Israel’s foreign minister and chief peace negotiator under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert from 2006-2009.

Livni forged a strong relationship with her American counterpart, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as the Palestinians. The sides claimed to have made great progress.

In 2011, she was named one of “150 Women Who Shake the World” by Newsweek and The Daily Beast. From 2006 to 2008, Forbes magazine ranked Livni on its List of 100 Most Powerful Women three years in row, while Time included her in its 2007 “Time 100”.

Livni’s career began to crumble after Olmert was forced to resign because of a corruption scandal. Livni turned down a chance to become prime minister and instead called new elections in 2009. Although her Kadima won the most Knesset seats, she was unable to put together a majority coalition, because Eli Yishai and Shas would not sign on, resulting in the presidential mandate going to Binyamin Netanyahu, who has been prime minister since. It was the first time the party with the most seats was unable to form a coalition government.

After serving as opposition leader, Livni briefly left politics, and Kadima ultimately folded. She returned as the head of a new party called “The Movement,” and even joined Netanyahu’s Cabinet, but she was never able to recapture her magic. In the current, outgoing Knesset, she joined the Labor Party — an alliance that disintegrated when Labor’s chairman, Avi Gabbay, fired her on live TV.

Recent polls had indicated that Livni’s tiny party would not receive enough support to enter parliament following April elections, and none of the larger parties showed any interest in bringing her aboard.

While Livni’s downfall was due in part to her aloof personality and clashes with other political figures, it also reflected the lack of interest in the Palestinian issue among Israeli voters.

Netanyahu has largely ignored the Palestinians during his decade in power, focusing instead on countering Iran’s influence across the region. Centrist and dovish parties, while paying lip service to the Palestinian issue, have focused more on domestic concerns like the cost of living.

In her announcement Tuesday, Livni lamented that peace with the Palestinians has become a “dirty word.” She also criticized Netanyahu’s nationalist government for what she called its attacks on the country’s democratic institutions, including the media and the legal system.

“Clear positions have a price,” she said. “I stop my candidacy knowing that I did all I could for my beloved country, and for uniting the forces that will fight for it. But it doesn’t depend on me anymore.”

Tamar Zandberg, leader of the opposition party Meretz, called Livni a “ray of light in a dark and racist Knesset.”

“There is no doubt she will be missed in the next Knesset. I am sure we will hear more from her,” Zandberg said.

(AP / YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)