Tzipi Livni's New Movement Brings Her Full Circle Back to Israeli Politics

Livni has chosen to call her new party Hatnuah, The Movement, not in the sense of a Mizrahi movement or a youth movement, but more in the sense of progressing, constant motion - perpetuum mobile.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

In a dark suit and a formal white shirt, cheered on by a claque of appropriately enthusiastic activists, Tzipi Livni presented herself to the reporters today to announce her return. It is no wonder there was a sharp odor of deja-vu in the air; hang on a minute, did she even leave half a year ago? The failure to lead Kadima in the opposition, three years of treading water and the loss to Shaul Mofaz in the primaries – did all that happen or not?

Israeli politicians resign and then come back immediately. There are those who came back after an hour (Ehud Barak in 2001), two days (Shaul Mofaz in 2008), a week (Moshe Kahlon in 2012). And there are those who waited for two years, three, or a term (Benjamin Netanyahu, Dan Meridor, Benny Begin, Uzi Landau, not necessarily in that order). Most likely there isn’t a another country in the world where the concept of resigning is so elusive and chimerical that sometimes it seems like the person who has left is someone who is always with us while some of the people who are here departed long ago.

Livni has chosen to call her new party Hatnuah – The Movement. The name was coined in the sense of the Mizrahi movement – referring to Jews with origins in the Muslim countries – or a youth movement, but more in the sense of progressing, constant motion, perpetuum mobile.

She has explained her return by her desire to provide an alternative to a large public of despairing voters who are sitting on the fence, disappointed and discouraged. Their joining of the public of voters, said Livni, will enlarge the center-left bloc that is today suffering from a severe shortage of Knesset seats.

This assumption will be tested in the coming weeks. Thus far no public opinion poll that has examined the implications of Livni’s presence in the race has indicated any such phenomenon. All the surveys have shown that she tears votes away from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, MK Shelly Yacimovich’s Labor Party and perhaps, in small way, she manages to transfer to herself a Knesset seat and half from the right bloc.

“I didn’t want to return, but I have come back to fight,” said Livni, mentioning a series of issues: peace, society, security, rights and equality. It is all very nice, but Livni mostly gave rise to the impression that she has come because it is cold outside, and boring, and gray and she doesn’t feel like being a pensioner or even returning to the thrilling experience of being queen of the desert.

She was not convincing as to why she has chosen to run alone and not link up with Lapid and Yacimovich instead of splitting the camp that in any case is already thoroughly split among similar but identical politicians. She did not sound believable when she denied in limp language the statements by Lapid and Yacimovich that they had offered her the number 2 spot on their slates but she insisted on being the leader. She emphasized the diplomatic issue and bewailed, rightly, the fate of the pace process that ran aground in the past four years.

“I have come to serve as a personal and ideological alternative to Netanyahu,” she said. If that is the case who, for example, is her candidate for defense minister: Shlomo Molla, Yoel Hasson or Robert Tiviaev (the later was an intelligence officer in the Red Army, so he does have basic skills).

The adventure on which Livni is embarking could end badly fro her. Eight or 10 Knesset seats – even 12 – which for the most part will come from internecine wars within the bloc, will not make her prime minister or foreign minister either. She knows this. What will she do at the head of a less than middle-sized party in the opposition, or as the minister of national infrastructures in a Netanyahu government? There are nine days left to submit the final slates to the Central Elections Committee. It is worth following the developments in the center camp. Something needs to happen there by the 6th of December.

Tzipi Livni at her primary headquarters a day before the primaries. Credit: Alon Ron

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