Livni confirms Hatnua-Labor close to pre-election merger

Ex-justice minister says she is ready to head joint list, but accepts its leader will be decided based on likelihood of unseating PM

Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog at an anti-government demonstration in May 2012 in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog at an anti-government demonstration in May 2012 in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni confirmed Saturday that her party was on the brink of closing a deal to merge with Isaac Herzog’s Labor party ahead of the March 2015 elections, asserting that such an alliance would offer Israeli voters a viable alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

In an interview with Channel 2 News, Livni stressed that while she was prepared to head the Hatnua-Labor list and run for prime minister, the future joint party leader would be selected based on his or her likelihood of unseating Netanyahu.

“I am a candidate for prime minister… and so is Herzog” the recently fired justice minister said. “[But] the parameter [for the party’s leadership] must be constructed upon what can potentially harness more votes for those who can bring down Netanyahu.”

Livni said the public need not be concerned over the possibility that she and Herzog, who is also the opposition leader, were engaged in a political power struggle, as the two party leaders were deeply committed to forming a unified front against the current prime minister.

Discussions regarding the merged party’s future leader “leads to the public potentially thinking that these are all ego games which will result in a joint list,” she said.

“[But] there will be a joint list, because it is necessary and offers a better result compared to a situation in which we each run separately. We must join forces and create a situation where there is energy and there is hope. Once there is hope that we can replace Netanyahu, it will happen.”

On Friday, Herzog declared that he would become Israel’s next prime minister by leading a centrist bloc that would defeat Netanyahu. Since the Knesset passed a first reading of a law to dissolve itself last week, Herzog has been courting Livni as well as other politicians, including Kadima head Shaul Mofaz, in an attempt to forge such a bloc.

Speaking at the Saban Forum in Washington, DC, Herzog joked that he warned his wife he would be “investing in some couplehood with Tzipi over the weekend.” Livni, Herzog and other Israeli politicians were in Washington to participate in the annual gathering of politicians, academics, business leaders and journalists.

בדרך לפורום סבן בוושינגטון

Posted by ‎יצחק (בוז'י) הרצוג – Isaac Herzog‎ on Thursday, December 4, 2014

Livni is reported to have responded: “Great, as long as there’s another prime minister.”

During his address Friday, moderated by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, the Labor chairman and opposition leader expressed confidence that he would form the next government and “lead Israel in a different direction.”

“I’m here to break this notion that Netanyahu and the Likud is [sic] unbeatable,” he charged.

“We [in Labor] believe that we should have a front, running together, of forces. Clearly, Tzipi Livni is a very distinguished Israeli leader and I would like very much to be able to join forces with her and her party, with other parties in the center,” he said.

Leaders of centrist parties must come together and present a clear, unequivocal alternative to Benjamin Netanyahu, Herzog said.

On Friday, Channel 10 reported that Herzog offered Livni the number two spot on a joint list, as well as two more seats for party members Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz among the top 10.

A recent Globes poll gave a Labor-Hatnua alliance 24 seats, Channel 10 said.

Earlier Friday, a report on the NRG news site indicated that Kadima party leader Mofaz was also set to join the Labor Party.

According to the report, Mofaz had met with Herzog, who promised him a place in the top five spots on the Labor Party’s list. Mofaz reportedly demanded another spot on the list for a candidate of his choice, but did not receive it.

Mofaz is a former IDF chief of staff, who previously served as a defense minister in the Likud party.

Shaul Mofaz at a press conference in Jerusalem earlier this month (photo credit: Flash90)
Shaul Mofaz at a Jerusalem press conference in January 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)

Other reports in Israeli media maintained, however, that Livni was also fielding an offer from Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid, who proposed giving Livni and her colleagues four spots on his party’s list.

Lapid and Livni were sacked as finance minister and justice minister, respectively, last Tuesday, moments before Netanyahu announced that he would move to dissolve the Knesset and go to elections. One day later, the Knesset approved the first reading of a bill to dissolve itself, and party leaders set new elections for March 17.

Netanyahu alleged that he was forced to end the coalition because Lapid and Livni had attempted a “putsch.” This was denied by both ministers. Lapid said Netanyahu’s allegation was “an absurdity.“

Ricky Ben-David and Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.

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