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Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni Announces Retirement From Politics

Feb 18, 2019
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A veteran Israeli politician and advocate for peace with Palestinians is quitting politics. Tzipi Livni served as Israel's foreign minister and chief peace negotiator. Time magazine and Newsweek once ranked her one of the world's most influential women. Now, though, she finds herself running against political headwinds, as NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Tel Aviv.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Tzipi Livni had a transformation. She grew up in a right-wing Israeli family, as she recounted in a recent speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

TZIPI LIVNI: They had a dream. And they believe in the rights of the Jewish people on the entire land.

ESTRIN: Meaning her parents believed Israel should rule over the West Bank, which Palestinians claim, and even over land in Jordan. A map of all of that land is pictured on her late parents' gravestone. But Livni eventually came to believe in something different - that Israel occupying land with a growing Palestinian population threatened Israel's character as a Jewish state.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

LIVNI: If we would keep the entire land, we will reach a moment in which we would not have a Jewish majority.

ESTRIN: Livni left the right-wing Likud Party and in 2005 joined a centrist party. She served in senior roles, including foreign minister and chief peace negotiator. She rose to the head of the party, which won the 2009 elections, but she wasn't able to build a governing coalition. Benjamin Netanyahu did instead, and he's ruled ever since.

She teamed up with the center-left Labor Party, but that didn't last. And now polls suggest she won't get enough votes in April elections to win a seat in Parliament. Today, she fought back tears as she announced her retirement from politics.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIVNI: (Foreign language spoken).

ESTRIN: She asked for forgiveness from her supporters and repeated her mantra; separating from the Palestinians is necessary to keep Israel's Jewish majority. Livni was the only candidate for elections to make peace with the Palestinians a major part of her campaign. But that has had no resonance with Israeli voters, says former Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas.

ALON PINKAS: In these elections, the Palestinian issue is of absolutely no importance or no relevance to the voting public.

ESTRIN: He says Israeli voters don't see a path forward to making peace, and low levels of Palestinian violence in recent years makes it easy for many Israelis to ignore the issue. He says Israeli voters are most concerned with regional threats to their security from around the Middle East.

PINKAS: When they look around, they don't see anyone on the center, center-left until now, at least, who could provide them with adequate assurances on those issues.

ESTRIN: The center-left Labor Party is also expected to lose support in April elections. And at least for now, polls show Netanyahu is expected to win again. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.