Israel politician Tzipi Livni faces stiff Kadima primary fight (LA TIMES) By Edmund Sanders JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 03/17/12)
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Observers say Tzipi Livni, who failed twice to become premier, hasn´t
articulated an agenda that differentiates her party from the Likud of
A onetime rising star of Israeli politics, opposition leader Tzipi
Livni is finding it hard to convince members of the centrist Kadima
that she deserves another shot as head of a party that has struggled
to articulate a clear alternative vision to Benjamin Netanyahu´s
conservative Likud bloc.
Livni is still one of the nation´s most influential women, yet under
her tenure Kadima has plummeted in polls. Even supporters worry that
she won´t survive the party´s primary.
Some fear that the March 27 primary fight could even mark the
beginning of the end of the party, which was created by former Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005 chiefly to implement his controversial
decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip.
It remains unclear whether Livni or her main challenger for the
leadership, Shaul Mofaz, will remain committed to Kadima if they
lose, potentially splintering a party that has always been an odd mix
ofIsrael´sleft and right.
Some say Livni and Kadima are victims of shifting Israeli attitudes.
Netanyahu has steadily improved his popularity by focusing
onIran´ssuspected nuclear arms program and standing firm against U.S.
and Palestinian pressure to make concessions to make progress toward
ending Israel´s occupation of the West Bank.
The strategy regarding the Palestinians seems to have struck a chord
among many Israelis, who support the two-state solution in theory but
express growing skepticism about the practicality of implementing it.
For much of her time as opposition leader, Livni has made the
resumption of Palestinian peace talks and implementation of a two-
state solution her No. 1 issue.
"With the peace process off the agenda, there is simply no room for
Kadima," said Tamir Sheafer, a communications expert at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem. "Livni has focused on the peace process, but
there is none."
In national elections three years ago, Kadima, with Livni as its
head, won 28 seats in the Knesset, or parliament, more than any other
party. Today, polls predict Kadima would get 10 to 17 seats.
Critics such as Mofaz blame Livni for the decline, saying she lacks
the drive to rebuild Kadima and that her message has failed to
resonate with voters. Livni supporters, in turn, blame party
infighting, fueled by Mofaz.
Most observers agree that the primary will be close and that Mofaz, a
former defense minister, may have a slight edge thanks to his
organizing skills and a campaign to build backing from many party
"This is a real test for Tzipi," said Kadima lawmaker Doron Avital, a
Livni supporter. "I think she can do it, but she´s facing the first
political crisis of her career."
He said he thinks the current challenge is greater than the one Livni
faced in 2009, when she was unable to cobble together a center-left
coalition to take the prime ministership, even though her party won
the most votes. Instead, right-wing parties, led by Netanyahu, took
power, leaving Kadima in the unfamiliar role of opposition party.
It was the second time Livni had missed the chance to become prime
minister. In 2008, she failed to form a coalition that would have
allowed her to take over from former Prime Minister and Kadima chief
Ehud Olmert, who was stepping down amid corruption allegations.
Critics within Kadima say Livni squandered her chance and now it´s
time for fresh blood to revitalize the party. Also challenging her in
the primary is Avi Dichter, former director of Shin Bet, Israel´s
security agency, who is appealing to Kadima´s conservative faction.
Political analysts say Livni failed to present voters with a broader
agenda that distinguished her party from others, particularly Likud.
Upon taking office, Netanyahu, under heavy U.S. pressure, publicly
endorsed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Though some question whether Likud is truly committed to creating a
Palestinian state, the move effectively co-opted what had been the
main issue distinguishing Likud and Kadima.
"Kadima never shaped itself as a party," said Tamar Hermann, a
political scientist at the Open University of Israel. "It´s an empty
brand name. They failed to formulate or put forth a comprehensive
worldview. Livni dealt mostly with attacking the prime minister
without ever backing it up with an alternative agenda."
On a personal level, Livni has also struggled to impress Israelis as
someone who could assume the role of prime minister, polls show.
"Her performance and personality lacks what it takes," Hermann said.
Livni declined to be interviewed.
Livni is also facing new challenges from the left. A revitalized
Labor Party, under new leader Shelly Yachimovich, is performing
better than Kadima in many recent polls, bolstered by last year´s
social protests against Israel´s rising cost of living. (Likud leads
in the polls.)
"One of Livni´s cardinal mistakes was dropping the ball on the social
protests," said political strategist Merav Parsi-Zadok, who said
Livni could have done more to tap the public frustration that led to
massive street protests and sit-ins. "She was absent at this key
But lawmaker Avital predicted that if Livni is reelected, she´ll work
harder to redefine the party. He predicted that public support for
more liberal alternatives such as Labor will evaporate because voters
will perceive them to be too radical.
"Once this campaign is settled, Kadima will climb up again as the
leader of center-left," he said. "This is a party that is trying to
find a position in the middle. It´s really a party in the making."
Batsheva Sobelman of The Times´ Jerusalem bureau contributed to this
report. (Copyright © 2012 Los Angeles Times 03/17/12)
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