More than a month after losing the leadership of the Kadima party to her perennial rival Shaul Mofaz, former Foreign Minister and former opposition leader Tzipi Livni resigned from the Knesset on Tuesday.
"I have no regret for not caving in to political extortion, for not selling out the country in exchange for the support of ultra-Orthodox," Livni said upon handing her letter of resignation to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. She was referring to her unsuccessful attempts to forge a 61-member coalition after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stepped down in 2008, and in 2009, after she led her party in that year's election to win 28 Knesset seats. "I refused to abuse the people's trust," Livni said, adding that her "principles and values" made it impossible for her to remain part of the Kadima Knesset faction.
Livni said she would continue to work for the causes she held dear, "because Israel is too precious for me to just drop everything." "I shall move on, free from political constraints; this is the right thing to do, and this is democracy at its best," Livni said, warning that the current government "is eroding Israel's standing." Livni added that she wished she could have done more to advance the peace process with the Palestinians.
"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not top the current government's priorities, but even if this is currently out of fashion, it is incumbent upon us to reach a permanent status agreement; the clock is ticking and our continued existence as a Jewish and democratic state is under threat, but the leadership continues to bury its head in the sand and subscribes to a policy of tricks and spin," Livni said, adding that the government "continues to engage in dirty politics, where values are trampled upon for the sake of personal gain and the intoxicating sense of power."
An emotional Rivlin wished her all the best, saying "many politicians have handed me their resignation letters upon stepping down from the Knesset, but this is the first time I feel the person is a friend who has yet to fulfill the true potential at the state's helm. A future in public service still awaits her."
According to Israel Radio, Livni will remain in Kadima but will not seek a place on its candidate slate ahead of the next elections. Some analysts have speculated that Livni may seek to run with journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid, who announced his entry into politics in January and formed a new party this week. In March, Lapid ruled out a joint run with Kadima, writing on his Facebook page that "no single incumbent politician is going to be in my party."
Livni's decision to quit formal politics comes just days after meeting with her successor Mofaz, in what was described by both sides a highly charged encounter. Immediately after unseating Livni in the March 27 primaries, Mofaz said he would like to see Livni remain in the party, but did not specify whether he would secure the number two position for her on the party's candidate list.
The former defense minister and long-time rival narrowly lost to Livni in the 2008 primary elections, but managed to rally fellow MKs to support early primaries several months ago, shortly after the Likud announced it would hold its own primaries in early 2012. He eventually won by almost 25 percentage points, a landslide, to become Kadima's fourth chairperson.
Livni's knockout defeat and precipitous departure mirrors her meteoric rise. Named head of a government agency in 1996, Livni became a Likud Knesset member and cabinet minister several years later. Over the years she has established herself as an above-the-fray politician who steers clear of corruption and political mischief, and was arguably the most popular politician in the country for a period when many other politicians, especially in her own Kadima party, faced a litany of corruption charges. In 2005, Livni helped Prime Minister Ariel Sharon create Kadima as a centrist alternative to his native Likud. When Ehud Olmert replaced Sharon following the latter's debilitating stroke in early 2006, Livni became his deputy and foreign minister, and eventually succeeded him at the helm of the party when he resigned two years later over corruption charges. But bitter in-fighting in Kadima over the past three years has severely hurt Livni's standing, as she was unable to bring unity and sense of solidarity to her fractured party.