After months of speculation, former Foreign Minister and Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni on Tuesday announced her candidacy in Israel's Jan. 22 general elections, unveiling her new party Hatnuah ("The Movement").
According media reports, Livni delayed launching her new party until after hostilities with Hamas in Gaza had ceased.
"It was difficult for me to return to politics," Livni told a packed roomful of reporters at a press conference in Tel Aviv. "I came to fight for our shared vision; to fight for peace. I will not lend a hand to those who are trying to turn the word 'peace' into a bad word. I came to fight for Jewish Israel, for democratic Israel. I came to fight against social gaps."
Livni continued, "When my son, today an IDF officer, went to Gaza a week ago, I texted him to say that I will fight in the political arena so that he won't have to fight on the battleground ... After four years of arrogance, the painful price of Israel's policies has come to light. Thanks to these policies, the state that refused to say the words 'two states' now has to deal with two Palestinian states: one at the U.N. this week and a Hamas state in Gaza. Israel deserves better."
Referring to the Likud primary election held Sunday and Monday, in which most of the candidates supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were either pushed down the Knesset list or entirely out of it, Livni said, "Netanyahu lost in Likud yesterday, and he could also lose the [general] election. Yesterday it was [Moshe] Feiglin's victory and [Benny] Begin's loss; in the general election, it will be Netanyahu's loss and a victory for all of us."
"I didn't return to politics to be in this or that party,” Livni said. “My return was motivated by a void that has emerged. When I thought that [former Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert may run, I was relieved, because I thought he would pose a viable alternative to the prime minister. Ultimately, I stepped in because the political arena remained empty."
Livni initially entered politics just over a decade ago, following a stint in the Mossad intelligence service — as a legal adviser, some say, while others speculate that she helped hunt Arab enemies abroad — and then a career as a corporate attorney.
Dubbed "Mrs. Clean" by one Israeli newspaper columnist, a reference to her unmarred integrity while her colleagues were plagued with criminal investigations, the usually dour former foreign minister is widely seen as the antithesis of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a glad-handing veteran politician embroiled in a corruption scandal that forced him from office.
Reactions quickly followed Livni's press conference. Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich, who had asked Livni to join the party but was rejected, issued a statement saying: "Tzipi Livni, who is a worthy woman and politician, is making a terrible mistake. She is establishing a party of double refugees and giving Netanyahu and [Avigdor] Lieberman a reason to smile. Instead of focusing on their [Likud-Beytenu] ultra-extreme Knesset list, now we’re focusing on the fact that there is another little party in the Center. Anyone who believes that Israel should have a fair economy and just society, protect democracy and the rule of law and be able to promote a diplomatic [peace] process should unite behind the leadership of Shelly Yachimovich, who is leading the Center bloc with confidence and stability. Next week, the Labor Party will present an economic-social plan that, when implemented, will give Israeli citizens better, more decent lives."
The other main Center-Left party, Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid ("There is a Future"), also issued a statement, saying, "The maneuver that Tzipi Livni instigated this morning is an embodiment of the old politics, the quintessential monster, motivated solely by her ego. It is unfortunate that Livni refused to be a partner in making a real change in the lives of Israel's citizens." Lapid had also asked Livni to join his party, and had been refused.