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Livni to Run in Israel Election in Challenge to Netanyahu

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Nov. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said she will run in Israel’s Jan. 22 election at the head of a new party, challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a rematch of their contest almost four years ago.

“I’m here to fight,” Livni said today at a Tel Aviv news conference. “I’ve decided to provide an answer for those who say there’s no one to vote for.”

While Livni’s Kadima party won the most parliamentary seats in the 2009 election, Netanyahu persuaded other factions to join a coalition led by his Likud party and went on to form a new government.

Livni, 54, who resigned in May as opposition leader and head of Kadima, said her new party will be called “The Movement.” Her announcement followed reports that the Labor Party and others tried to recruit her.

Primaries held by Netanyahu’s Likud, which were held this week, may boost Livni’s chances. According to results posted on the Likud website, moderate Netanyahu allies such as Minister of Intelligence & Atomic Energy Dan Meridor and Minister of Government Services Michael Eitan didn’t make it to the party list.

Instead, vocal supporters of Jewish settlements in the West Bank such as Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin took spots in the top 20. The results, along with the decision to merge Likud with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu, shift Netanyahu’s party further from the center ground, said Shmuel Sandler, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University.

Big Choice

“Netanyahu came out of the primaries a loser,” Sandler said. “I don’t think he needed such a right-wing list. The center vote of the Likud may move now and they have a big choice now: Yair Lapid, Tzipi Livni or Shelly Yecimovich.”

A survey published on Nov. 23 in the daily Ma’ariv newspaper, before Livni’s announcement and the Likud primaries, gave Livni eight seats in the 120-member parliament if she decided to run, five to Lapid’s Yesh Atid and 19 to Yecimovich’s Labor. Likud Beitenu, the joint Netanyahu-Liberman list, got 37 seats in the poll.

The changes in the political scene are “a kind of reshuffling of the political deck,” said Yoram Meital, chairman of Ben Gurion University’s Herzog Center for Middle East Studies in Beersheva. Much of the impact will depend on who Livni runs with, he added. Livni said she will make her list public within the next 10 days.

‘Strong List’

“If Livni builds a strong and attractive list in the next week, this will determine very much the fate not just of her own list but also the success of the Likud,” Meital said in a phone interview.

Under Israel’s political system, prime ministers have had to cobble together several parties to attain a majority in the Knesset. In 2009, Livni, who won more seats than Netanyahu, failed to build a government after she refused to give in to budget demands made by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. Netanyahu succeeded and became premier.

The result relegated Livni, who has served as foreign minister and chief peace negotiator with the Palestinians, to opposition leader.

“I have come to fight for peace, a sober peace and I will not allow to let the word peace become an obscenity,” Livni said today.

Livni, the country’s most powerful female politician since Golda Meir, left the Likud party with former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005 to found Kadima.

To contact the reporters on this story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at gackerman@bloomberg.net; Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv at jferziger@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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