Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat resigned from political life Sunday, after more than 20 years as a Likud lawmaker and 14 as a cabinet minister.
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Livnat, who is 64, has been an MK since the 12th Knesset took office in 1992. In addition to serving as culture and sports minister, she has also held the education and communications portfolios and headed the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women.
Speaking shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved toward early elections, scheduled to take place March 17, Livnat said she had enough of political life and was ready to step away from it.
"After so many years of public service, and more in political activity I want to pursue other directions," said Livnat. "This is an extremely significant decision in my life, and I made it wholeheartedly, out of a belief that this was the right thing to do."
The Labor Party said Livnat's resignation demonstrates that Likud is a "sinking ship."
Referring to Moshe Kahlon and Gideon Sa'ar, two former Likud ministers who have quit the party but could rejoin political life in time for the upcoming election, Labor said in a statement that Livnat understood what Sa'ar and Kahlon had earlier realized and "jumped the sinking ship Likud in time."
"Netanyahu's Likud is an extremist right-wing party that is unable to move the State of Israel anywhere, and it's good that these are its last days in power," the Labor Party said.
The outgoing culture and sports minister said she had discussed her resignation with Netanyahu several months ago, but some of Livnat's fellow Likud MKs said she was quitting now because she was concerned she wouldn't win another term in office.
"Livnat realized that she has a slim chance in the primary that will take place in a few weeks," said one. "Likud has become more right-wing, and Livnat didn't have a chance."
Livnat was considered a pillar of Netanyahu's first term as prime minister, from 1996-1999, when she served as a sometimes controversial education minister. But in recent years, her influence in the party has waned.
Livnat has been criticized for taking moderate positions as well as nationalist ones.
Under Ariel Sharon's Likud, Livnat supported his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, despite serious opposition from within the party. The withdrawal took place in 2005, after Sharon left Likud because of the resistance to his plan and formed the Kadima party. In Netanyahu's current government, Livnat walked out of a cabinet meeting a few weeks ago to avoid participating on a vote to promote the Jewish nation-state bill, and criticized Netanyahu's support of a more extreme version of the bill.
But during her stint as education minister in Sharon's government, she supported a "national corner" in every school featuring the Israeli flag, a copy of Israel's Declaration of Independence and the lyrics of the national anthem, "Hatikva."
Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz had kind words for the outgoing minister.
"Limor is ending a magnificent political career in public service," said Steinitz, adding that Livnat was not just his party colleague but also his friend.