Tzipi Livni to replace Herzog as Knesset opposition leader

Labor's Avi Gabbay clinches deal with Hatnua leader to run on joint Zionist Union ticket in next election

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni during a faction meeting in the Knesset on July 16, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Labor party chairman Avi Gabbay on Monday announced that MK Tzipi Livni would be appointed the Knesset opposition leader and preserve her Hatnua party’s alliance with Labor in the Zionist Union faction in the 2019 elections.

Livni will be replacing Isaac Herzog, who is giving up his Knesset seat to become head of the Jewish Agency.

In a statement, the former foreign minister said her leadership would create “a strong opposition and a strong alternative for Israel, with the Zionist Union at the center.”

“We decided to strengthen the Zionist Union as the basis for creating a wide bloc, to work together — I, as head of the opposition, and Gabbay as the head of the Zionist Union and candidate for prime minister — in order to replace the government,” said Livni.

Gabbay also hailed the deal, saying the center-left party was “taking a significant step in building an alternate leadership.”

Livni’s nomination must now formally be submitted in a request to the Knesset speaker and receive the backing of over half of the 54 opposition Knesset members.

Livni’s Hatnua merged with Herzog’s Labor in 2015 to form the Zionist Union slate ahead of that year’s parliamentary elections. She had initially agreed to a two-year rotation of the premiership if the Zionist Union was tasked with forming the coalition, but backed out of the rotation hours before the election. Until Monday’s deal was announced, it was unclear whether Livni would uphold her partnership with the Labor party in the upcoming national elections, currently set for November 2019.

In most cases, the leader of the largest Knesset opposition party is the opposition leader, but Avi Gabbay, who defeated Herzog in a primary to take the helm of Labor in 2017, cannot take on the position as he is not currently a member of the Knesset.

Labor chairman Avi Gabbay (r) and Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni attend a Zionist Union faction meeting at the on July 24, 2017. (Miriam Alster)

As a result, Gabbay was tasked with selecting a sitting Knesset member for the senior role. Gabbay began holding discussions last month to select the next opposition leader. According to Channel 10, in addition to Livni, former Labor leaders Shelly Yachimovich and Amir Peretz were under consideration for the position.

Livni’s Hatnua currently holds only five of the Zionist Union’s 24 Knesset seats, and some had seen making her opposition head over a Labor Knesset member as a controversial move.

Outgoing opposition chief Herzog called the choice “the right decision,” saying that he had personally encouraged the continued partnership between Hatnua and Labor.

Herzog, who established the Zionist Union with Livni, said she was “the best person to full the position of opposition head and I am convinced that she will fulfill the role in best way possible.”

Opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) attends a discussion at the Knesset, May 08, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

Herzog had endorsed Livni as opposition leader in a radio interview last month, citing the 2015 rotation deal.

The Zionist Union had until August 1 to name a replacement for Herzog, when he will officially replace outgoing Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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