Tzipi (Tzipora) Livni was born in Tel Aviv to parents who were former members of the Irgun, a pre-state, right-wing paramilitary organization. She served as a lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces and later worked for the Mossad.
A graduate of Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Law, Livni practiced public and commercial law for 10 years before entering politics in 1996 as a member of the Likud Party.
In 1996, after working as a lawyer for the Mossad, she failed in her attempt to make it to the Knesset, and was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the head of the Government Companies Authority. After three years, Livni made it to the Knesset list for the Likud party as part of the opposition. As a member of Knesset, Livni rarely dealt with lawmaking. However, when she did take an active role in making laws, they were often ones that made it harder for the government to make territorial concessions within the framework of the peace process.
Following the election of Ariel Sharon as prime minister in 2001, Livni served in several ministerial positions, including Minister of Agriculture. After the 2003 elections, she was appointed to be Minister of Immigrant Absorption as well as Minister of Housing and Construction. After the Shinui Party left the coalition, Livni was appointed to the position of Justice Minister. During those years, Livni turned into one of Israel’s foremost politicians, and was seen as a person of integrity who stood on the side of the rule of law, specifically in relation to several corruption cases attributed to different members of Likud. During the Gaza disengagement in 2005, Livni served as a bridge between the government and the settlers, and stood out for her humane treatment of the sensitive issue.
When Sharon established Kadima at the end of 2005, Livni was one of the first to join the party. She was placed as number three in the party, and was later appointed to Minister of Foreign Affairs by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Near the end of the Second Lebanon War, Livni handled the negotiations in the United Nations Security Council over Resolution 1701, which brought an official end to the fighting. As Foreign Minister, she accepted the notion of territorial concessions to the Palestinians, and was partially responsible for peace negotiations. Livni called on Olmert to step down as prime minister after the release of the damning Winograd Commission. Livni defeated fellow Kadima member Shaul Mofaz by 431 votes in the party's 2008 primaries.
Following that, Livni failed to form a government coalition without general elections, due to problems raised by the Orthodox parties.
In the 2009 election, Livni lead Kadima to become the largest party with more than 28 mandates. Kadima had the backing of leftist voters, but the right-wing block won and made Netanyahu prime minister and Kadima the opposition. As opposition leader, Livni was unable to present a substantial leadership alternative to the government.
Livni is expected to struggle to win the current primaries after numerous party members and party supporters shifted their preference to Mofaz, as did Knesset members and central activists. Unlike Mofaz, who declared he would stay with Kadima regardless of the result, Livni did not commit to remaining a member, and, if she loses, is expected to leave the party in order to join another or form a new one.
Kadima MKs are divided in their support. Livni's supporters include Nachman Shai, Orit Zuaretz, Rachel Adatto, Yoel Hasson, Shlomo Molla, Robert Tiviaev, Roni Bar-On, Marina Solodkin, Majali Wahabi and Doron Avital. She also has the support of party members Haim Ramon and Tzachi Hanegbi, who are not MKs.
Livni describes herself as the only alternative to Netanyahu. Last week, she said at a women's conference that voting for Mofaz is effectively voting for Netanyahu for another four years. "There's no point in hiding that," she said, adding, "That is the difference between someone who wants to be a minister without caring who the prime minister is and what policies are in place, and someone who fights for their values and the promises that the public expects us to stand for."
This week, she called upon Kadima party members to vote for her. "This is a battle for our lives. This is a battle for how our lives will look here; whether Netanyahu's evil coalition and his natural partners will continue for another four years."
Livni ultimately lost to Mofaz.