As her time as opposition leader ends with a thud, at least we can say Tzipi Livni always stuck to her guns.
• In September 2008, when PM Ehud Olmert submitted his resignation letter, President Shimon Peres looked to Livni, newly elected as leader of the Kadima Party, to form a coalition. She refused the demands of right-wing parties Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu, and did not want to bring Likud into her government. Her failure to build a coalition led to early elections.
• Livni’s Kadima Party won the most seats in the February 2009 elections, but her unwillingness to make the compromises necessary to bring Shas and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu onboard led President Peres to ask Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government.
• Netanyahu offered Livni a spot in his government, but again she refused, choosing instead to lead the opposition. She never managed to mount a coherent opposition to Bibi’s government.
Livni enjoyed a meteoric rise, especially on the international stage, but her unwillingness to dirty her hands in the business of Israeli politics left her helpless in the face of Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima primary challenge. As party leader, she never found a way to discipline Kadima MKs who voted against her wishes, and let rivalries simmer with other party officials. As long as the polls stayed high, her position remained strong, but when they began to drop, she found herself without the internal party organization that Mofaz had built.
So what does this mean for the Israeli political landscape, especially as Netanyahu will likely call early elections?
Kadima, built by Ariel Sharon as a centrist party attracting both Likud and Labor members, will likely lose MKs back to Labor, but Mofaz might be able to pull in some ambitious Likud MKs looking to move up on a party list. Still, he won’t be able to defeat Bibi in a general election, and it is certainly possible that Mofaz will decide to join a secular unity government with Likud, Ehud Barak’s Atzmaut party, and possibly Yisrael Beiteinu. Leaving the settler and ultra-Orthodox parties out of the government will have particular appeal in the contemporary political climate, especially as the debate over ultra-Orthodox men serving in the army and living off government largess heats up.
Last summer’s massive social protests will loom large in the next election. To try to capitalize on the public mood, Mofaz talks primarily about social issues, belying his past as IDF chief of staff and defense minister. Labor’s new leader, Shelly Yacimovich, is also positioning herself as the social movement’s candidate, railing against excessive privatization and the domination of the Israeli economy by tycoons.
The wild card is Yair Lapid, the popular journalist and author who recently announced he was forming his own centrist political party. Early polls showed that Lapid’s party would garner enough votes to place second in national elections. Livni would find a natural home as the number two in Lapid’s party, but she has stated that she is leaving politics, and Lapid has made a point of stressing that his party will feature new faces and new ideas.
Still, perhaps Livni’s political career is not over. As Shimon Peres has demonstrated repeatedly, in Israeli politics, anyone can make a comeback.