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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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At a time when there are no talks with the Western-backed government of Abbas, Israel this week opened an indirect dialogue with Abbas' rival, the Islamic militant Hamas movement, as part of a cease-fire that ended an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip last week. Israel considers Hamas, which seized control of Gaza five years ago, a terrorist group.

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"Everything is upside down: a government that negotiates with terrorists and freezes all dialogue with those who work to prevent attacks," Livni said.

Livni told the audience that the fighting in Gaza, in which her youngest son was mobilized to Israel's southern front, had factored into her decision to return to politics.

"A week ago when my youngest son, today an officer in the Paratroopers, went down south, I sent him a text message that I had decided to fight on my turf, politics, so that he maybe won't have to fight on his turf, the battlefield," she said.

Throughout his term, Netanyahu relied on a handful of moderate figures in his Cabinet to blunt international opposition. Following a pair of events this week, Netanyahu appears to have lost this political cover.

On Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak resigned from politics. Barak, a former prime minister, had often served as Netanyahu's unofficial envoy to Washington to ease tensions with the White House.

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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.

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