Tzipi Livni Testing Waters to Break Up Zionist Union, Run Separately in Next Election

Confident in her public standing, the Hatnuah party leader is conducting polls as relationship with Labor leader Avi Gabbay remains chilly

Tzipi Livni (left) and Avi Gabbay at a meeting of the Zionist Union, July 17, 2017.
Emil Salman

Tzipi Livni, the head of the Hatnuah party, one of the components of the Zionist Union Knesset faction, has been conducting polls to examine the feasibility of contending in the next general elections at the head of a separate list.

The surveys, conducted over the past couple of months in light of tensions between her and Labor party head Avi Gabbay, were funded from Hatnuah’s budget. She has told close associates that if she is pushed by Gabbay into a corner, Hatnuah, with her at the helm, will run separately in the next elections, as it did in 2013. She said her public standing is strong enough to pass the electoral threshold even if her list runs independently.

Gabbay has also been deliberating about what to do with Livni. An analysis of the 2015 election results and polls conducted by Gabbay and his associates show that Livni is popular among Zionist Union voters, but is a put-off for voters who hadn’t supported it in 2015.

After being elected Labor party leader in July, Gabbay tried to bring Livni closer but relations between them have remained cool. Gabbay does not believe in the partnership model that Livni’s Hatnuah forged with Labor, then headed by Isaac Herzog, to contend in the last elections. Gabbay, who frequently uses the term “organizational culture,” believes that a party has to have one leader, not two, and that he is the leader and all must follow.

Gabbay, however, needs Livni for budgetary reasons. The Labor party’s coffers are emptying, and the chairman has approved the dismissal of several party employees to save a million shekels (more than $288,000) which will be used to operate an election headquarters when the time comes. Recently Gabbay met with the management of the Beit Arlosoroff company, the party’s historic assets management firm, and demanded that 10 million shekels be budgeted for the next election campaign. The company refused and the parties are now negotiating the issue.

Hatnuah, on the other hand, has an estimated 7 million shekels in its coffers from the party funding that Livni receives. The party has five funding units, which are worth some 6 million shekels annually, while its expenses are minimal. Labor and Hatnuah have been in talks for the past two years on how their relationship is meant to go forward, but the talks are proceeding slowly and no end seems to be in sight.

A significant rift developed between Gabbay and Livni after an interview Gabbay gave to Zion Nanus from the Israel Television News Company, in which he said there was no reason to evacuate settlements under an agreement with the Palestinians. Livni hastened to criticize him on the Zionist Union’s WhatsApp group and Gabbay regarded that as decidedly disrespectful. At faction meetings on Mondays, Gabby allows Livni to make short remarks after he addresses the MKs, but except for this gesture there is no working relationship between them.

On the other hand, Gabbay has a very warm relationship with MK Yoel Hasson, also of Hatnuah, who now serves as opposition coordinator. Gabbay appreciates Hasson’s parliamentary skills, as well as his militant stance toward the governing coalition. Hasson makes sure to attend Labor party events and a party source said Gabbay is pressing hard to get Hasson to join Labor at any price, which would weaken Livni’s bargaining position.

Livni and Gabbay’s offices issued a joint statement that said, “There are excellent personal relations between Livni and Gabbay and they are cooperating to increase the strength of Zionist Union among the public. Even when there are differences of opinion, they resolve things by speaking to each other directly.”