JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Thursday secured key spots for moderates who back peace talks with Palestinians as candidates for her party in February’s parliamentary election.
The more votes Kadima gets, the more of her allied candidates would enter parliament and potentially make up the cabinet if it formed a government and she became prime minister. However, some analysts say Kadima’s list may be too lacklustre fullstop to give Livni, 50, a significant boost over Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the hawkish former premier and current frontrunner.
Party results showed Livni, a one-time lawyer and Mossad agent, won more spots on the candidate list for her allies than Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, who she defeated in September in a leadership contest for the centrist Kadima.
Livni, who would be Israel’s first woman prime minister since Golda Meir in the 1970s, said the party had chosen “a winning team”. The slate is dominated by centrists who support her diplomatic steps to peace with the Palestinians. “It’s a team that can govern Israel and restore it,” she told party faithful at a Tel Aviv headquarters before dawn.
The party, founded by former prime minister Ariel Sharon in a rupture with the right-wing Likud over his decision to pull out of the Gaza Strip, has been in government at the head of a coalition since its inception in 2005. But Livni failed to build a new coalition in October to take over the reins from outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and had to accept an early election that polls show will be hard to win.
As foreign minister, Livni headed U.S.-backed negotiations with the Palestinians, which failed to achieve agreement on key issues in the past year, but which she has pledged to pursue if elected prime minister.
Political analyst Hanan Crystal told Israel Radio that “Livni was the big winner” in the Kadima poll. “She got the list she wanted,” including allies in 10 of the top 12 slots.
Others thought Kadima’s slate would likely make little difference in the national poll, in that few candidates besides Livni herself were attractive to voters. “She hasn’t really gained anything from the list,” said Jonathan Rhynold of Bar-Ilan University. The greatest success of the slate that was chosen was that it did not undermine Livni’s position, he said.
It also did not alter what may be Livni’s main electoral drawback against rivals Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who heads the left-wing Labour Party: she is the only one never to have served as Israel’s prime minister.
Gadi Wolfsfeld, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said Livni may have averted a potential disaster by keeping her allies near the top of the list. But come election day “I don’t think they will increase the party’s appeal”, he said.
Livni became Kadima’s leader in September after Olmert quit in the shadows of a corruption probe. He remains in office until a new government is formed after the Israeli election.