Can Tzipi Livni oust Netanyahu and the Likud Party?
Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister of Israel, is making a political comeback. At the same time, the ruling Likud Party has announced a hard-line slate of candidates. Can Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu win re-election in January?
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Then Monday night, Netanyahu's Likud Party announced its slate of candidates for the Jan. 22 election.
The list was dominated by hard-line supporters of West Bank settlements. Some candidates have alienated mainstream Israelis with failed attempts in parliament to stifle dissent and rein in a Supreme Court that they believe is too independent. In addition, several prominent moderates were effectively ousted. Netanyahu's decision to join forces with the ultranationalist party headed by his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has added to concerns that his next coalition will be too hard line for many.
Menachem Hofnung, a Hebrew University political scientist, said the Likud could have a hard time appealing to centrist voters with its new list. "After seeing the Likud's results, the race is (wide) open," he said.
Livni, 54, joins a field that includes the centrist Labor Party, led by former journalist Shelly Yachimovich, and the centrist "Yesh Atid," led by former anchorman Yair Lapid.
While largely similar in ideology, these rival parties have focused largely on domestic economic issues. Livni made clear her new party, called "The Movement," would focus on resuming peace efforts.
"I decided to give an answer to people who don't have anyone to vote for," Livni said. "This party will return this hope that was lost."
It won't be an easy task. Recent polls have predicted Likud would be the largest party in the 120-seat parliament and in a strong position to cobble together a majority coalition. The centrist parties remain divided, and their leaders have been reluctant to join forces.
A survey published Tuesday predicted that Livni's new party would garner just nine seats, Labor would win 20 and Lapid's Yesh Atid would get only five. That would leave the centrist bloc far short of the 61 seats needed to form a coalition.
In contrast, Netanyahu's Likud would win 37 seats, making it by far the largest single party in parliament, with hard-line nationalist and religious parties giving it a majority.
The poll by the Maagar Mochot agency surveyed 504 people on Sunday and Monday and had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points. However, the poll was conducted before Livni's comeback and Likud primary results were announced, so the numbers are expected to change.
Livni herself is the daughter of one of Likud's founding fathers and entered politics in 1999 as a Likud lawmaker.
But like many other former hard-liners, she has moved over to Israel's dovish left to confront what many believe to be a demographic time bomb. If Israel continues to control millions of Palestinians, they say, it will cease to exist as a democracy with a Jewish majority. The solution, they say, is establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
As foreign minister, Livni forged a strong relationship with her American counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, as well as the Palestinians. The sides claimed to have made great progress.
Although her legacy was tarnished by criticism over an Israeli military offensive in Gaza in 2009 that left hundreds of civilians dead, she nonetheless remains popular internationally. She has been identified by Time, Newsweek, and Forbes magazines as one of the world's most influential women.
While Kadima won the most parliamentary seats in that election, Livni was unable to form a coalition and confined to the opposition. Early this year, she was ousted as party leader and left politics. Kadima has steadily lost support since then, and recent polls have forecast Kadima may not win even a single seat in parliament.
Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg and Daniel Estrin contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
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