Labor leader Shelly Yechimovich’s attempts to portray herself as an alternative candidate for prime minister suffered a severe blow on Sunday when presumptive Republican candidate Mitt Romney canceled a meeting with her at the last minute.

Romney became the third world figure to snub Yechimovich in just over a month, following Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. When Putin and Clinton violated diplomatic protocol by skipping a meeting with the then-opposition leader, Labor MKs privately blamed Yechimovich for lacking a diplomatic agenda and an international presence.

But this time, even MKs not counted among Yechimovich’s closest allies put all the blame on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who they said intervened to persuade Romney to cancel his meeting with her.

Labor officials noted recent reports about the close relationship between Romney adviser Dan Senor and Netanyahu’s senior adviser, Ron Dermer. MK Isaac Herzog, who was supposed to meet Romney with Yechimovich, noted that when Senor called less than three hours before the meeting to cancel it, he was at the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Romney was purposely misled by political officials who are worried that Shelly continues getting stronger,” Herzog said. “Someone was interested in her not being given equal footing. We were willing to be flexible with the meeting but got a firm no. We are sorry Governor Romney did not get to hear from the only viable alternative to Netanyahu on the political scene.”

Herzog said that when Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz replaced Yechimovich as opposition leader, he called Romney’s team to inform them that a meeting was no longer required by diplomatic protocol, but they insisted on keeping the meeting on the schedule.

Her associates said they were in touch with Romney’s team on Sunday morning about such details as who would stand where in the Yechimovich-Romney photo-op.

“She creates more and more fear in the Prime Minister’s Office,” Labor MK Daniel Ben-Simon said.

“Instead of exposing Israel’s opposition, he seeks to hide it. It’s not an accident that three of her meetings were canceled.”

Labor officials suggested that the meeting might have been canceled because Yechimovich refused at the last minute to have Israeli Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren take part in the meeting. One Labor official said Netanyahu did not want her to meet Romney without “a babysitter present in the room.”

A source in the Prime Minister’s Office denied intervening to cancel the meeting.

Asked why the Americans did not remove Yechimovich from the itinerary when she ceased being opposition leader, an Israeli official involved in planning Romney’s visit said he did not know and that the cancellation took him by surprise.

A meeting between Romney and Mofaz at the capital’s King David Hotel passed without incident, except one gaffe when Mofaz complimented US President Barack Obama’s commitment to preventing the nuclearization of Iran. Mofaz is seen as enamored of Obama, who joined a meeting between Mofaz and US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon in Washington last month.

“We have to be ready for all options on Iran, but the time for military operations has not yet come,” Mofaz told Romney. “This is a time to tighten the sanctions on the Iranian regime and be ready for any development which we should handle in full coordination.”

The two men also spoke about Israeli politics, regional issues, the need for Israel to mend ties with Turkey, and the importance of returning to the negotiating table with the Palestinians.

MK Danny Danon (Likud), who frequently meets with Republican politicians and pundits, called Romney a true friend of Israel, and said his visit emphasizes his commitment to the future of Israel and its people. He said Obama’s recent attempts to improve relations with Israel were “too little, too late,” and would not lead voters to forget years of giving a cold shoulder to the Jewish state.

“Obama took a stance in favor of the Palestinians whenever possible and did not visit Israel during his tenure as president, even though he visited Egypt and Saudi Arabia,” Danon said.

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.

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