No more lives left to Livni: 8 things to know for February 19
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No more lives left to Livni: 8 things to know for February 19

The Hatnua leader’s political death is blamed on her own intransigence or her lack of allies, as well as her dramatic journey from right wing to center-left

Then-opposition leader Tzipi Livni speaks during the plenary session of the opening day of the winter session at the Knesset, on October 15, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Then-opposition leader Tzipi Livni speaks during the plenary session of the opening day of the winter session at the Knesset, on October 15, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

1. Livni throws in the towel: Tzipi Livni, the almost prime minister who has seen her political fortunes drop like a rock since hitting her peak a decade ago, is leaving politics, saying she would rather voters not “waste” their votes on her.

  • In Israel’s high-threshold parliamentary political system, the only valid votes thrown in the trash are those for parties that fail to get at least 3.25 percent, and without managing to team up with any other big names, her Hatnua faction was seen as falling well below that.
  • Two polls published on Sunday by Channel 12 television and the Kan public broadcaster both gave Hatnua less than 1% of the vote.
  • Before leaving, Livni, who came from a family of Jabotinskyite Likud stalwarts and cut her teeth in the party before moving left with Ehud Olmert, offered some stark warnings about the country under the leadership of the party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “The last years have been tough, peace has become a dirty word, democracy is under attack, and having a different political position [from the government’s] has become a curse.”
  • “If Netanyahu won’t stop, these elections will be the last act of democracy in Israel.”
  • Former Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt calls her “perhaps the best PM Israel never had.”

2. No allies: In Haaretz, analyst Yossi Verter notes that Livni’s weakness was her inability to forge connections with other politicians and join forces.

  • Some note that she managed to spar with pretty much every factional leader as she moved from Likud to Kadima to Hatnua to Zionist Union.
  • “In the political world, Livni was considered a tough customer. She was unsympathetic, not a pal, not nice. The only person who forged a deep personal connection and even a friendship with her was [former Labor head] Isaac Herzog (just two weeks ago, they and their spouses had dinner together at her home). But Herzog could get along with Dracula,” he writes. “The other players in the arena had trouble swallowing her. It wasn’t just her leftist image, but her character, that drove them away.”
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, Sima Kadmon portrays her as much softer, noting her tears at her press conference announcing her departure.
  • “Livni wasn’t a woman of simple messages and soundbites. To understand her, you need to invest more than a second. And who has patience for that. It’s much simpler to just call her a leftist than try to understand her.”

3. No love for Livni: While politicians on the left and center mourned Livni’s departure, those on the right are less kind.

  • Israel Hayom’s Amnon Lord calls her a zig-zagger who lost the trust of the public by constantly changing her colors.
  • “Livni was the one to first bring up the nation-state law. She turned into its number 1 enemy by making the false claim that it was racist. She used to be for the greater Land of Israel, and transformed in a short period into Meretz from a diplomatic perspective. “
  • The Walla news site notes that many online mock Livni for being her own undoing, including sarcastically sharing pictures of North Koreans being forced to mourn as “world reactions of Livni announcing her departure.”

4. Benny’s choice: For those still in the game, there are last minute negotiations to try and join up and strengthen their positions.

  • Yesh Atid revealed its list Monday, but said it was still open to joining up with Gantz.
  • According to press reports, though, Gantz is busy trying to reach a deal with Orly Levy Abekasis and her Gesher faction instead, despite her recently saying the chances of her joining Gantz were “zero.” Reports indicate the two are quite close to reaching a deal.
  • Haaretz reports that Gantz is willing to give Levy-Abekasis a “senior social” portfolio, like the Finance Ministry, if they run together and he is tasked with building the government, though it’s unclear why she would have to join his party now and not just rely on coalition negotiations for such a post. Unless, that is, she fears her party may not clear the threshold — a realistic concern according to several recent polls.
  • Yedioth notes that Gantz, who will reveal his full list Tuesday night, is trying to recreate what he did just before his first speech, when he managed to reach a deal with Moshe Ya’alon, pumping a bit more excitement into his campaign.
  • As the paper notes, campaign laws forbid Levy — who broke away from Yisrael Beytenu in the outgoing Knesset — from joining up with a party that was in the Knesset during the last term, meaning Gantz could not merge with her and with Yesh Atid.

5. Speech to speech: Despite some nasty back and forth with Likud, Gantz told the Munich security conference on Sunday that on Iran, at least, he stands “shoulder to shoulder” with Netanyahu.

  • According to Channel 12 news, he’s standing even closer than that, with sections of his speech closely paralleling — or just inspired by — Netanyahu’s speech to the UN.
  • You yourself can play spot the difference here.

6. Unite or die: Despite Jewish Home and National Union getting together, Netanyahu is still pushing hard for them to bring Eli Yishai and the extremist Otzma Yehudit into the far-right fold.

  • “Without unity, the left will win,” reads a top headline in Israel Hayom, seen as a Likud organ.
  • In the paper, Meir Indor calls on the public to get involved in pressuring them, and explains why it’s okay to link up with racists.
  • “Unity with Otzma Yehudit doesn’t mean you share opinion, but is a technical bloc built upon otherwise lost votes which will turn in a bank of votes. Even the most moderate in the [national-religious] community understands math; if they don’t get together, there’s no reason to vote for them since the vote will just be wasted on a party on the edge of the Knesset threshold.”

7. Bitter pole to swallow: Netanyahu’s attempt to link up with Poland despite anti-Semitism and historical revisionism exploded badly in his face, with the Visegrad summit of central European powers slated to take place in Israel — a major coup for Netanyahu — being canceled Monday.

  • The spat came after Netanyahu tried to walk a thin line between making Poland happy — to keep his bloc of support within the EU together — while also keeping his electorate at home happy. It did not end well, with neither side pleased.
  • Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer writes that Netanyahu’s defenders who say his position is born of realpolitik should realize that “realpolitik is about politics, not rewriting history.”
  • “What Netanyahu has done goes much further and is ultimately unsustainable. Political expediency is a flexible thing. You can say different things at different times to different audiences. History is much more difficult to change at a politician’s convenience,” he writes.

8. Biggest crisis ever: It’s acting foreign minister Israel Katz who is blamed for the row reaching this level, though, after he said the Poles “suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk,” quoting the late prime minister Yitzhak Shamir.

  • Yedioth writes that Katz, in his first day on the job, managed to create a crisis in Israeli-Polish “even bigger than the one created after the Polish Holocaust law.”
  • Rafal Pankowski, a Polish academic and the founder of the Never Again Association, tells JTA that recent days have seen an uptick in anti-Semitic sentiment in Poland that appears to mirror the atmosphere that prevailed last year during the previous diplomatic crisis, the agency’s Sam Sokol reports.
  • But despite the spat, he notes that Poland remained on a map of places where Israel has had diplomatic successes shown by Netanyahu on Monday to a gathering of Diaspora Jewish leaders in Jerusalem.
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