Former Israeli defense chief seeks premiership (AP) Associated Press) By AMY TEIBEL JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 03/27/12 6:56 pm ET)
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JERUSALEM – Israel´s Iranian-born former military chief and defense
minister Shaul Mofaz has been waiting more than three years for
another chance to take the helm of the centrist Kadima Party.
After accomplishing that mission in Tuesday´s primary, he now faces
an uphill battle in leading Kadima back to power.
Mofaz defeated the current party leader, Tzipi Livni, in Tuesday´s
primary by a wide margin.
Preliminary results showed Mofaz soundly defeating Livni. With 95
percent of the votes counted, Mofaz held a lead early Wednesday of 62
percent to 38 percent for Livni.
Official results are only expected in Wednesday morning, but Israeli
TV stations have declared Mofaz the winner after building an
insurmountable lead over Livni.
But his campaign slogan, "Mofaz. Prime Minister," belies the sorry
state of Israel´s largest party, which polls show would be headed for
a drubbing if national elections were held today.
Mofaz is best known to international audiences for tough tactics he
adopted as military chief and defense minister during the Palestinian
uprising last decade. Four years ago, he briefly rattled global oil
markets by saying Israel would attack Iran as a last resort if it
didn´t abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program.
But in recent years, he has tried to remake his image in a more
statesmanlike mold, proposing the immediate establishment of a
provisional Palestinian state and addressing socio-economic issues
and women´s rights.
Livni, who just a few years ago was among the country´s most popular
politicians and who routinely shows up on lists of the world´s most
influential women, has faced heavy criticism for what is widely seen
as an ineffective term as opposition leader.
For the first time, a recent poll predicted Mofaz would bring Kadima
more votes in a national election than Livni, a former foreign
minister who had been Israel´s top negotiator with the Palestinians.
Kadima, currently the largest faction in the 120-member parliament
with 28 seats, has been hemorrhaging support to the Labor Party and
dovish Meretz. It would also be expected to lose seats in a national
election to television personality Yair Lapid who has not yet formed
a political party.
Mofaz, however, may be able to reverse the damage. Thanks to his
security credentials and Iranian descent, he may be able to steal
away votes from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu´s Likud Party. The
hardline Likud appeals to hawkish voters, many of whom are Jewish
Israelis of Sephardic, or Middle Eastern, heritage.
Polls currently suggest Netanyahu and his hawkish and ultra-Orthodox
allies would together capture more than 70 seats. Kadima would take
12 seats with Mofaz at the top and 10 with Livni as leader.
Elections aren´t scheduled until October 2013, though many analysts
believe Netanyahu will push the date forward, possibly to later this
Mofaz´s military credentials are his main attraction to a nationwide
audience, especially at a time when Israel is warning of a possible
military strike against Iran´s nuclear program and feels threatened
by ferment in the Arab world.
Mofaz was praised by many here for his response to the Palestinian
uprising — harsh military offensives and arrest raids, assassination
of militant leaders and the isolation of the late Palestinian leader
Yasser Arafat in his West Bank compound until his death in 2004.
Since entering politics, Mofaz has reinvented himself. In late 2009,
he surprised many by announcing a new proposal to jump-start stalled
Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. The plan called for the immediate
establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders in 60
percent of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip, in tandem with
talks on a final accord. Jerusalem would remain united as Israel´s
The Palestinians oppose a provisional state, afraid its borders will
become permanent. They claim east Jerusalem as their capital
They also claim the eastern sector of Jerusalem, which Israel
captured along with the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, as part of their
hoped-for state. When Mofaz was defense minister, Israel evacuated
Gaza in 2005, though it still restricts access by land and sea.
Mofaz joined other Likud defectors in late 2005 to join then-Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon in forming Kadima. His first attempt at the
leadership race in 2008 saw a razor-thin loss to Livni.
The centrist party emerged from February 2009 balloting as the
country´s largest. Under Israel´s proportional representation system,
the leader of the largest party usually becomes prime minister.
But Livni was unable to put together a majority coalition of like-
minded factions, and the premiership went to Netanyahu, whose Likud
placed second but enjoyed the support of an array of smaller,
hardline parties. (© 2012 The Associated Press 03/27/12)
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