Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni returned from Washington Sunday and immediately took action to present herself as a serious alternative to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Livni drafted two key members of the national-religious camp to her new Tzipi Livni Party: Former OC Human Resources Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Elazar Stern and Netanyahu’s former spokesman, Yoaz Hendel.
The task of the two, whose joining was not yet final Sunday night, will be to present Netanyahu as having gone too far to the Right and Livni as the only hope of the Center.
“The Likud has become much closer to what the National Union was,” an MK who supports Livni said. “There are many Likud voters who don’t want to vote for a party dominated by settlers. They will never vote for [Labor leader] Shelly Yacimovich, but they can vote for Livni who is the child of a Likud MK and has the heritage of Jabotinsky. That can bring three to four seats.”
Hendel reportedly told Livni he could help her draft Likud Minister Dan Meridor, who did not win a realistic slot on the Likud list.
Channel 10 reported that Minister-without-Portfolio Bennie Begin told Netanyahu he would only accept the prime minister’s request to remain a minister in his next government if Meridor and Minister-without-Portfolio Michael Eitan remained in the cabinet as well. Begin denied the report on Monday.
“The basis for joining my party is support for maintaining Israel as a Jewish democratic state that is nationalist and liberal,” Livni said when asked about Hendel and Stern. “Anyone who comes will have to endorse those values.”
The Tzipi Livni Party will officially become a Knesset faction Monday when the Knesset House Committee is expected to approve a split in Kadima. Seven Kadima MKs will join the new faction and bring along with them NIS 9 million in public funding.
Seven MKs were needed to make the split legal, and after five days of lobbying, MK Meir Sheetrit agreed to join Shlomo Molla, Yoel Hasson, Majallie Whbee, Rachel Adatto, Robert Tibayev and Orit Zuaretz.
“I thought joining Tzipi Livni was the right thing to do in the current situation, even though I have criticized her and went against her in the last Kadima race,” Sheetrit said. “I have always had very good relations with Livni. I thought she made several mistakes, which I tried unsuccessfully to prevent her from making.
But Livni has the best numbers to run against Netanyahu, and if everyone drops their ego and all the Center-Left parties join together, maybe we can even topple the government.”
The Likud called Livni’s party a refugee camp and released a list of past quotes of Sheetrit attacking Livni.
Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz made a point of not reacting at all to the departure of his former ally.
Other public figures said to be on Livni’s shortlist include Moshe Karadi, former State Police inspector-general, socioeconomic activist Yuval Elbashan, and journalist Ben- Dror Yemini.
Former state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss decided to turn down Livni’s offer of a top slot, saying that he did not want to be identified with one political camp or another.
Livni declined to address the rumored names but she said that as the most senior MK who came from Kadima, Sheetrit would receive a high slot on her list. She praised former Labor leader and Haifa and Yeroham Mayor Amram Mitzna, who she introduced as her party’s No. 2 at a Tel Aviv press conference on Sunday.
“Amram Mitzna came to fight with me,” she said. “He knew how to fight in battles for Israel and went to the Negev to fight the social gap in Yeroham. We will be partners in leading our struggle.”
Mitzna said he was happy Livni decided to run and present an alternative to Netanyahu. He accused Yacimovich, who defeated him in last year’s Labor leadership race, of having misplaced priorities.
“There won’t be social justice without solving the diplomatic question,” Mitzna said. “They say you cannot leave a political home. But my political home never gave up before on leading the peace camp. I am convinced that if we don’t reach an agreement with the Palestinians, there won’t be a democratic state with a Jewish majority. Labor for the first time is not talking about the quest for peace and is not presenting a real alternative to the right-wing government led by Netanyahu.”
Recalling Kadima’s slogan in the 2009 election, Mitzna said “It’s either Bibi [Netanyahu] or Tzipi.”