Explainer

After Split With Labor, Can Livni Become an Electoral Asset Again?

Now that Labor Party leader Gabbay has severed his party's ties with her Hatnuah party, what are Livni's political options?

Tzipi Livni at a news conference at the Knesset.
Emil Salman

In the last Knesset election in 2015, Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah party and the Labor Party ran on a joint slate dubbed the Zionist Union. On Tuesday, however, Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay announced that he was severing his party's ties with Hatnuah.

This latest development adds Hatnuah to the already-crowded center-left playing field. Other parties preparing to run in the election include Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid; Hosen L'Yisrael, a new party established by former army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz; Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu party; and a new party headed by lawmaker Orly Levy-Abekasis. Parties left of Zionist Union include Meretz and the Joint List.

What are Livni's options for Hatnuah?

Livni is determined to link up with another party and have Hatnuah run on a joint slate. If it is unable to find such a partner and Hatnuah runs on its own, it would be a major failure for Livni, sources in the party admitted.

According to her associates, Livni is interested in joining forces with Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid or Moshe Ya’alon. Gantz has informed her that he wouldn’t join Labor under any circumstances, denying media reports that Livni is “too left-wing” for his Hosen L'Yisrael party. Hatnuah has rejected the idea of a “New Left” joint slate that would include Meretz.

Has the timing prevented her from splitting up the Labor Party?

Labor Knesset members have claimed that some of their party colleagues would have joined Livni were it not for fact that the expiration date for doing so before the election has passed. It’s unclear whether that was true and whether a similar proposed move last week by some Labor Party Knesset members was serious.

Hatnuah claimed that eight Knesset members had spoken to Livni about leaving Labor, beseeching her to be their leader. On Tuesday, Livni said: “I made it clear that I wouldn’t be a partner to such a move.” A Hatnuah source said that Livni had prevented a split in Labor last week, and that Labor Knesset member Eitan Cabel was the only one who realized that without Livni, the initiative was hopeless.

Cabel purportedly said he wouldn’t join it, but it’s doubtful that eight Labor Knesset members could have been recruited for such a walkout.

How much time does Livni have to come up with a new political arrangement in advance of the Knesset election?

She has said that she prefers to have her Hatnuah party run on a joint party slate with another party, to run as a bloc rather than on its own. From that standpoint, she has just weeks to replace the party's prior affiliation with Labor.

The Central Elections Committee has set a deadline of February 21 for parties to submit their electoral slates -- the list of candidates ranked in the order in which its seats will be filled. The lists are the basis of the proportional representation system, which gives parties the proportion of the seats in the 120-seat legislature corresponding to their proportion of the vote, as long as they receive enough votes for at least four seats.

All of the parties have until February 21 to come to agreement with other parties on any possible joint slates and to finalize their candidate lists.

Has the timing of the breakup with the Labor Party prevented Livni's Hatnuah party from receiving party funding in the run-up to the election?

The split in the Zionist Union is not expected to cause economic harm to Livni and her party, Hatnuah. Theoretically, she can take Hatnuah’s share of party financing with her in any future arrangement that she might come to agreement on. The Basic Law on the Knesset permits factions composed of two or more parties to split as long as the original composition of each party is maintained and as long as Knesset members don't switch from one party to another.

Sources in Hatnuah said that objectively Hatnuah’s financial situation is significantly better than that of Labor, which is burdened with a deficit.

Can Livni become an electoral asset again?

Her strength has eroded dramatically in the past four years since she linked up with Isaac Herzog, who then headed Labor. She herself said that while she had remained in the Zionist Union, her voters had shifted to other centrist parties.

Labor sources said that polling predicting fewer than 10 seats for the Zionist Union prove that Livni is not an electoral asset. (In the 2015 election, the Zionist Union got 24 seats).

In December, as a result of her poor relationship with Gabbay, Livni commissioned opinion surveys of her own and said she thought Hatnuah would obtain at least the minimum four seats if the party ran independently. It is still not clear whether her embarrassing ouster from the Zionist Union will be damaging or beneficial to her.