Gilad Schalit 248.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni convened her party's top 40 candidates for a pep talk at the party's Petah Tikva headquarters on Thursday night amid polls showing the Likud's gap over Kadima continuing to widen as the February 10 election approaches.
Kadima pollster Kalman Geyer presented the candidates with data indicating that the race was much closer than this week's surveys have indicated. The three most recent polls, published in Yisrael Hayom and broadcast on Channels 2 and 1, give the Likud a lead of eight to 12 Knesset seats.
Party strategist Lior Chorev admitted that Kadima had been hurt by a rightward shift in the public since Operation Cast Lead began on December 27. But he predicted that there was enough time before the election to reduce the impact of the war.
"Within two weeks, people will forget that there was a war," Chorev said. "We live in a country where no one even remembers that there was a terrorist attack as soon as funerals are over."
MKs at the meeting admitted that they were not as optimistic. In closed conversations they said there was only one eventuality that could turn around the election: If a Kadima-led government succeeded in bringing home kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit.
"It is not ethical to connect Gilad Schalit to politics, but [his coming home] could change the political situation," one MK said candidly.
Reports over the last two days have found that Kadima ministers have become more supportive of an exchange of Hamas prisoners for Schalit. But Livni told Army Radio on Thursday morning that any "extraneous considerations," referring to politics, were "incorrect, improper and unfit."
Instead, Kadima will try to close the gap by blasting Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu. The party will run many anti-Netanyahu negative ads when election commercials begin on Tuesday night.
In her speech to the party's candidates, Livni called Netanyahu "a terrible prime minister" and reiterated her request for a debate. She complained that the three candidates spoke separately at an economic conference in Tel Aviv on Thursday.
"If someone says [in their campaign ads that] they are strong and then avoids a debate, it means he is strong only in slogans and he is not strong enough to lead the country through its challenges," Livni said.
"At a time like this when key decisions must be made, we can't afford to have a prime minister who has failed in the past."
Kadima also made an effort to blast the Likud figure with the cleanest reputation, Dan Meridor. Channel 2 broke the story this week that Meridor accepted NIS 600,000 for representing Russian-Israeli billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak. The report showed a document detailing the deal between Meridor and Gaydamak, according to which if Meridor succeeded in clearing Gaydamak, he would be given a NIS 5 million bonus.
Meridor denied the report but declined to comment about it, citing attorney-client privilege. The head of the Kadima campaign's response team, MK Yoel Hasson, called on State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to investigate the deal. A cloud hovered over Meridor and that he owed the public an explanation, Hasson said.