Ex-Foreign Minister Forms New Party to Oppose Netanyahu

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JERUSALEM -- Calling herself "an answer to the contention that there is no one to vote for," Tzipi Livni, Israel's centrist former foreign minister, returned to politics on Tuesday after a six-month hiatus, heading a new party that she described as "an alternative, personal and ideological," to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"I've come to fight for Israel," Ms. Livni, 54, said in an impassioned 20-minute speech at the journalists' union office in Tel Aviv. "I haven't come to fight against but to fight for." She said she would "fight for peace, a peace of the sober," "for the Jewish Israel," and "for the democratic Israel, a state in which all, but all of its citizens, with no difference of nationality and religion, are citizens with equal rights."

Ms. Livni's return, and her new party -- The Movement -- immediately shook up the center of Israel's political spectrum, with eight members of Parliament from the Kadima Party she helped found in 2005 bolting to join her, heralding its likely demise. But in Israel's coalition system of government, individual parties are less important than ideological blocs, and most recent polls have suggested that Ms. Livni and other existing opposition candidates will have a hard time taking enough votes from right-leaning and religious parties to prevent Mr. Netanyahu from winning a third term.

"The only thing that Livni is capable of doing is splitting the 'left' bloc, not increasing it," Aviad Kleinberg, a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, wrote in a column in the Tuesday issue of the newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

Ms. Livni's long-awaited announcement came the day after Mr. Netanyahu's Likud Party completed a primary in which several moderate members were pushed toward the bottom of the list, with little hope of election, beaten out by ultranationalist candidates including Moshe Feiglin. That rightward trend, some commentators said, could have a more fundamental effect on the campaign dynamic, leaving some centrist Likud voters shopping for alternatives.

To Nahum Barnea, a veteran and respected columnist, the primary showed Likud had "gone off the rails" and provided Ms. Livni with a "good starting point."

"For the first time since elections were announced, it now seems as if there is no certainty that their results are a foregone conclusion," Mr. Barnea wrote, also in Tuesday's Yediot Aharonot. "Netanyahu is going to have to persuade the voter that he is going to form a responsible, levelheaded government for everyone."

Unlike the current leading left-center candidates -- Shelly Yachimovich of the Labor Party and Yair Lapid of There is a Future -- who are emphasizing internal Israeli matters of socio-economics and identity, Ms. Livni's campaign is likely to center on the Palestinian conflict and other security issues. A statement from the Likud Party denounced Ms. Livni as an "eternal deliberator" who lacks diplomatic wisdom and broadcasts "military weakness to Israel's enemies."

Ms. Livni, a Tel Aviv-born lawyer and mother of two, was first elected to Parliament in 1999, with the Likud, and served in several ministerial posts under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before becoming Ehud Olmert's foreign minister in 2006. Under her leadership, Kadima in 2009 won the most seats in Parliament -- 28 to Likud's 27 -- but she failed to form a government and refused to join Mr. Netanyahu's. She headed the opposition for three years, until her ouster in internal Kadima elections this spring.

On Tuesday, Ms. Livni harked back to her entry into politics, in 1995, when she said she looked at her 5- and 8-year-old sons and "decided that it was my duty to act in order for them to stay, after me, in a safe country." She said she consulted her boys -- now young men -- again this fall, and they told her to "fight for us."

As the younger son, a paratrooper, headed south as part of Israel's air campaign against the Gaza Strip last week, Ms. Livni said she sent him a text message saying "that I decided to fight in my field, the political field, so that he, perhaps, would not have to fight in his field, the battlefield."

Myra Noveck contributed reporting.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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