Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni quits politics

Tzipi Livni retires from politics, ending 20-year career of a politician who was once a contender for prime minister.

    Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warns 'democracy is in danger' [Ammar Awad/Reuters]
    Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warns 'democracy is in danger' [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

    One of Israel's most prominent politicians, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, said on Monday she was leaving politics after two decades and warned "democracy is in danger".

    A former peace negotiator with the Palestinians, Livni won recognition abroad for her part in the United States-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

    Negotiations collapsed in 2014. In recent years, Livni's career has foundered.

    The US plans to present a new peace plan after Israel's April 9 election, although expectations of a breakthrough are low.

    "I am leaving politics but I will not let Israel abandon the hope for peace," a tearful Livni told a televised news conference in Tel Aviv.

    "These past years have been hard for me and for the things I believed in ... peace became a dirty word, and democracy is in danger," she said, citing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's criticism of legal authorities conducting corruption probes against him and attacks he has made on the local media.

    Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.

    Opinion polls have shown that Livni's centrist Hatnua party was not expected to win any seats in parliament in an election in which the right wing, led by Netanyahu's Likud party, looks likely to prevail.

    Hatnua had been part of the biggest left-wing faction in parliament, the Zionist Union, together with the Israeli Labor Party.

    But in January, the alliance, which led the opposition, ended after Labor head Avi Gabbay dumped Livni on live television as he announced he was dissolving the partnership.

    Political positions held

    Livni, now 60, served as foreign minister from 2006 to 2009. A former junior officer in the Mossad intelligence agency, she has been a member of several parties and coalition governments since entering politics in 1999 and has quit politics before only to return.

    She joined the centrist Kadima Party in 2005, and held a number of senior cabinet posts over the years. Under then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's tenure, she served as foreign minister and chief peace negotiator.

    Livni forged a strong relationship with her then-US counterpart, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as well as with the Palestinian Authority.

    Her legacy was tarnished by her role in an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip in 2008 and 2009 that killed hundreds of civilians. Yet she remained popular on an international level, and appeared on lists of the world's most influential women compiled by publications like the Time and the Newsweek.

    Lack of interest in Palestinian issue

    While Livni's downfall was due in part to her aloof personality and clashes with other political figures, it also reflected the lack of interest in the Palestinian issue among Israeli voters.

    Netanyahu has largely ignored the Palestinians during his decade in power, focussing instead on countering Iran's influence across the region. Centrist and left-wing parties, while paying lip service to the Palestinian issue, have focussed more on domestic concerns like the cost of living.

    Netanyahu is likely to remain prime minister after the elections, polls consistently show, despite a series of corruption investigations into his affairs.

    The attorney general is however expected to announce in the coming weeks whether he intends to indict Netanyahu, and an announcement before the elections could shake up the campaign.

    The right-wing prime minister's main challenger is seen as former military chief of staff Benny Gantz and his centrist Israel Resilience Party.

    SOURCE: News agencies