Ex-Foreign Minister Livni Mulls Joining Lapid Ahead of Israel's Election

Once a strong contender for Prime Minister, Livni sees opportunity in Kahol Lavan’s steep decline ■ Tel Aviv mayor set to present new party

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Tzipi Livni speaks at an anti-Netanyahu demonstration in Tel Aviv, October 17, 2020.
Tzipi Livni speaks at an anti-Netanyahu demonstration in Tel Aviv, October 17, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are in talks about possibly running together in the upcoming March 23 election, as center-left parties weigh unions and split-ups in the hopes of gaining a foothold in a political map dominated by right-wing parties, according to the latest polls.

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Livni, chairman of the Hatnuah party, did not contend in the three most recent elections, but is weighing a return to politics following the disintegration of Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party.

At the same time, Lapid may be looking to separate from Moshe Ya’alon and his Telem faction.

Livni would bring an important asset to the partnership: The money in Hatnuah’s coffers. In the 2015 election, Hatnuah joined with Labor to run as Zionist Union and five members of Hatnuah were elected to the Knesset, which gave the party 7 million shekels ($2.2 million) in party funding from the government annually. According to the party’s financial statement for 2017, it had 2.8 million shekels in the bank at the time. While some of the money was presumably spent on preparing to run in the April 2019 elections, the party still has an estimated 2 million shekels available. In early 2019, Labor’s Avi Gabbay unilaterally announced he was breaking up Zionist Union, and Hatnuah did not run.

Livni, who began her political career in Likud, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, joined the Kadima party founded by Ariel Sharon and led it during the 2009 elections. Before the 2013 election, Lapid offered Livni the No. 2 spot on the Yesh Atid slate, but she rejected the offer and established Hatnuah instead. The party won six seats in that election.

As for Ya’alon, Lapid is convinced that he has very little electoral value and is disappointed in Ya’alon’s level of support. The Yesh Atid chairman has also concluded that the center-right, with which Ya’alon is identified, is too crowded and he plans to move leftward before the election.

Both Livni and Yesh Atid refused to comment on this report.

Meanwhile, Ofer Shelah, who recently resigned from Yesh Atid, is trying to form a new political framework that would gather the remnants of Kahol Lavan and create a left-wing alternative.

Shelah’s move seems questionable. Recent political polls show him with less than 1 percent of the vote. But Shelah is well aware of his political position and knows that the future of the left will again involve party mergers, which is why he hastened to announce his candidacy, to give him time. Within a few days he will announce the name of his party and launch a campaign that will have clear left-wing messages. This new party will also join any government that replaces Netanyahu.

Ofer Shelah speaks at a press conference announcing his new party, Tel Aviv, December 24, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

Meanwhile, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said he will formally present his new party on Tuesday. He said in a statement that “several leading figures in Israeli public life” have joined forces with him.

“Hundreds of thousands of Israelis feel they don’t have a home in the current political system,” Huladi said in a statement. “We will bring back their hope.”

Bar Peleg contibuted to this report.

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