Profile: Tzipi Livni Has a Vision for Israel
Ten years ago, Tzipi Livni failed in her bid to become the second woman to serve as Prime Minister of Israel since Golda Meir. In 2015, she formed a partnership with Isaac Herzog to defeat Benjamin Netanyahu. In both cases, Livni fell short. Currently, she is serving — for the second time — as Israel’s Opposition Leader.
But following the resignation of Netanyahu’s coalition partner, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, earlier this week, the government now faces another realignment. Israel’s Knesset is likely heading to early elections months ahead of the original November 2019 date.
In an interview with Jewish Insider while in New York for a keynote speech at the Israel Policy Forum annual event last month, Livni expressed her hope that Israel will be ready for change if it is presented with a clear alternative to Netanyahu in the upcoming elections. “We will win by putting our vision on the table, by explaining to Israelis that the current government will take us to the moment of no return,” she asserted. “I read polls. I know the situation is not easy, but I’m in politics for a reason. I believe in a vision. It’s 50/50. We need to work hard, but in the end I think that even now Netanyahu understands that he might lose the next election if some of the small parties on the right don’t cross the threshold.”
“[Netanyahu] makes everything personal. Instead of the good of the state, it’s about him,” Livni critiqued. “I believe that this should be changed.”
While several previous prime ministers rose to the role after leading the opposition, Livni herself is not in a position to be considered chief rival to Netanyahu since she does not lead any major party (Livni formed an alliance with Labor Chair Avi Gabay, who cannot serve as head of opposition as he is not currently a member of the Knesset). And Livni has no aspirations for the number one spot.
“I see myself as helping change the path that Israel has taken in the past years,” Livni said, when asked if she envisions herself one day becoming Israel’s leader. “The goal is to have a better prime minister and help him take Israel in the right direction. It’s not personal. And me being in any position that I could do so, this is what I will do.”
Last month, Haaretz reported that Livni had reached out to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and three former IDF chiefs, Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz, to form an alliance between the center-left parties that will run as a bloc to challenge Netanyahu. Livni did not deny that report, but told Jewish Insider that the effort has not yet come to fruition. “There is nothing concrete,” she said. “I speak publicly about the need to work together, to form one bloc. This is my policy and belief since 2013.”
Recent polls show Netanyahu’s Likud Party with a substantial lead over rival parties from the center-left. However, a hypothetical internal poll — published by Israel’s Channel 10 on Thursday ― showed that an all-star party would beat Netanyahu at the polls (34 to 28 seats). In such a scenario, the party with the most seats would have a chance of being nominated by President Reuven Rivlin to form a coalition government.
However, Livni — who’s been on the political scene for the past 20 years — well knows that winning at the ballot booth does not necessarily guarantee the top prize. In 2009, Livni led the former Kadima Party to victory, winning 28 seats to Likud’s 27. But Netanyahu, serving as a popular opposition leader after losing to Ehud Olmert in the previous round, managed to gather enough votes to create a majority bloc in the Knesset. The Likud leader has since won another two elections, and is now on the path to becoming the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history.
A recent report citing a Trump administration official indicated that President Trump will roll out his much-anticipated peace plan in the coming two months, regardless of Israel’s political calendar. Livni — who served under Netanyahu as Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians from 2013 to 2015 — is worried that the plan would deal a final blow to the future of peace if it’s rejected by the Palestinians. “I’m not sure that we cannot afford another failure,” she said, pointing to previous unsuccessful attempts at Camp David and Annapolis. “I am worried that this would lead us to more frustration, violence, and complete lack of hope.”