Livni to announce separate Knesset run, infuriating center-left rivals

Former Kadima chief to revive the secular Zionist Hetz party, likely to take votes from Labor, Yesh Atid and Meretz, but not from the right

Tzipi Livni will announce her plans to run in the upcoming Knesset elections, scheduled for January 22, as soon as former prime minister Ehud Olmert makes clear that he will refrain from contending.

Livni, who inherited the leadership of the Kadima party from Olmert and relinquished it after losing in primaries this year to Shaul Mofaz, will vie for votes at the head of a new political party formed on the basis of the secular Zionist Hetz, or Arrow, party, reported Israel Radio on Friday.

Hetz, which is an acronym in Hebrew for “secular Zionist,” was formed by former politician Avraham Poraz and 10 other MKs from the liberal Shinui, or Change, party. Hetz failed to pass the 2 percent electoral threshold for entering the Knesset in 2006.

Livni has been the source of rumors that she would attempt to form a new centrist party with her former colleague, Olmert.

“I gave Olmert breathing room to reach a decision, which will also affect my own decision,” Livni said at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya earlier this month. “This saga is taking too much time and will be over in two or three days,” she indicated before the start of Operation Pillar of Defense, which ended with a ceasefire on Wednesday.

It was reported before the Gaza operation that Livni wanted to let Olmert announce his decision first, which appears to still be the case. The former prime minister is expected to announce on Sunday his decision to not run in the upcoming elections, after Olmert’s internal polling reportedly showed that a party headed by him would not garner enough votes to unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Olmert is still heavily embroiled in legal difficulties, as a defendant in the Holyland real estate trial and facing a state appeal against his acquittals this summer in two major corruption cases.

Leaders of the left-leaning Labor and left-wing Meretz parties are reportedly furious with Livni for her decision to throw her hat in the ring, saying that she will only pull votes from centrist and left-leaning factions, while Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc is likely to remain intact. Labor’s Shelly  Yachimovich implored her to run with Labor, but Livni reportedly refused to be number two to anybody, preferring to head her own list.

Recent polling indicates that Livni would also usurp votes from anchorman-turned-politician Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid party, dropping its projected Knesset seats to 4 or 5. Her run is also expected to decimate the floundering Kadima party, and several former Kadima MKs are expected to join Livni’s roster.

Strengthening Livni’s security credentials is expected running mate and ex-general Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, a former Kadima MK and ex-head of Israel’s space program. Another ex-general linked to Livni, Teva pharmaceuticals head Shlomo Yanai, is not now expected to run. Rounding out the prospective Livni list are “Suckers’ Tent” protest leader Boaz Nol — campaigning for universal conscription — and the former Israeli ambassador to France, Daniel Shek.

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