Head of the centre-left Hatnua party Tzipi Livni has resigned from Israel’s election race.
In a tearful announcement today, Livni said that she would no longer contest Israel’s general election on 9 April, citing difficulties in forming a united left-wing bloc and a lack of support for her views on how to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Speaking at a press conference, Livni explained that “recent years have been particularly difficult,” adding that she has operated her political career according to a belief that “separating from the Palestinians is crucial in order to preserve the State of Israel,” Haaretz reported.
Livni said that the word peace has “become a vulgarity in Israel” and that she has “had to pay a price for her beliefs”, but added: “I am leaving politics but I will not allow the hope for peace to leave Israel […] I have the internal strength to continue fighting, but we don’t have enough political power to actualize our vision on our own.”
Commentators speculated that Livni’s decision is also likely motivated by a need to save face in light of her party’s poor performance in the election polls. The latest opinion polls have shown that Hatnua might struggle to reach the 3.25 per cent of the vote – which usually translates into four seats – needed to sit in the 120-seat Knesset.
If this were to happen, the votes cast for her party would be lost and could not be transferred to another party. Given the importance of strategic alliances and bloc voting in Israel’s election, such a move could cost the left-wing camp valuable votes on 9 April, a cost it cannot afford in light of poor polling figures for all left-wing parties.
This was not lost on Livni, who stressed that “there needed to be one bloc to bring about a political upheaval,” the Jerusalem Post reported. Livni explained that she had worked towards bringing left-wing parties together – hinting at her talks with Yesh Atid, among others – but conceded that “this time, it didn’t work”.
Israel’s left-wing has been in disarray since a split between Livni’s Hatnua and the Israel Labor party, which previously worked together as the opposition under the Zionist Union banner. In January, Israel Labor’s leader Avi Gabbay unceremoniously dismissed Livni in a press conference, without giving his former ally prior warning. Gabbay said that he had “hoped and believed that the new partnership [the Zionist Union] would lead to our joint growth, to a real connection [but] this is not the case,” before wishing Livni “good luck with the upcoming elections, no matter which party” she aligns with.
The dismissal quickly led to a trading of insults between Gabbay and Livni, with the Hatnua leader saying that “what you heard [in Gabbay’s speech] is what I heard throughout this entire period: Me, me, me […] He doesn’t want a partnership. The way he ended things today proves that”. Gabbay also lambasted Livni, saying: “I had to take s*** from her the entire time, from the moment she became [opposition leader]. Whenever there was good news, she ran to the media. When times weren’t as good, she disappeared and left us all the work.”
However Gabbay’s move quickly appeared to have backfired, with reports circulating that Israel Labor was trying to oust Gabbay from the party’s leadership. The latest polls show the party is likely to win only ten seats, down from the 18 seats it currently holds in the Knesset. Just a week ago Israel Labor was polling as low as five seats, barely over the minimum threshold needed to sit in the Knesset, but its recently-held primary appears to have marginally boosted its popularity.
Other electoral candidates have been keen to capitalise upon this weakness, with newcomer Benny Gantz positioning his Israel Resilience (Hosen L’Yisrael) party as a centrist, security-focused alternative to the dovish left. Incumbent Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has also tried to quash his opponents by using “the left” as a catch-all insult against the media, pro-Palestinian activists and any liberal political parties.