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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Anyone who was hoping to see prime ministerial candidates Ehud Olmert, Binyamin Netanyahu and Amir Peretz battle it out in a televised debate will be sorely disappointed.
The Likud's public relations campaign chairman, MK Gideon Sa'ar, wrote his counterpart in Kadima, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, asking for a debate among the three candidates.
Peretz said he was chomping at the bit to face off against the two finance ministers he blames for the country's woes, but Kadima answered with a resounding no.
"Kadima will not be a partner to Sa'ar's attempt to save the Likud from the worst-run political campaign in Israel's history," a Kadima spokesman said. "Kadima is busy running the country and will not be part of Peretz and Bibi's circus."
A Likud spokesman responded by accusing Olmert of being afraid of debating Netanyahu, because "he doesn't feel confident enough to put his positions and his character to the test."
Without a formal debate, the candidates will have to rely on election commercials and television interviews to attack their rivals.
The Likud unveiled its first election commercial in a Tel Aviv press conference on Wednesday. The fear-provoking commercial highlights Olmert's decision to continue funding the Palestinian Authority after Hamas's victory and warns that Hamas will use the money to kill more Israelis.
In an interview with Channel 2 on Tuesday, Olmert accused Netanyahu of being a "right-wing extremist" who is too "impotent" to be prime minister. Kadima officials denied reports of a rift in the party over Olmert's hints in the interview about a possible unilateral withdrawal in the West Bank.
"I support everything Olmert said without exception, including the fact that without a partner we may have to consider unilateral steps," Kadima's most right-wing candidate, Minister-without-Portfolio Tzahi Hanegbi told The Jerusalem Post. "But I think we should first wait for the international pressure on the Palestinians to do its part so we can see if we can negotiate with them."
In a ceremony marking the opening of Kadima's Jerusalem branch, Hanegbi said that under a Kadima-led government, "Israel will not be stuck doing nothing for four years... We're here to set Israel's borders and that's why Kadima gives people hope."
Education Minister Meir Sheetrit and Knesset candidates Dahlia Itzik, Rachel Adato and Ze'ev Elkin were among the attendees at the packed event that was held in an office. Kadima's Jerusalem branch is the first of 45 opening across the country this week and 35 next week - altogether, one in every city of at least 10,000 people.
Sheetrit said he would soon release Kadima's platform on socioeconomic issues, which he promised would be "unlike the empty promises and fantasies offered by Likud and Labor." He mocked Netanyahu for "suddenly believing the government has money to spend.
"In election time, even the walls talk with empty promises," Sheetrit said. "After elections, you talk to the wall."
On Thursday night, in an attempt to reach out to young voters and gain their support for Kadima, 82-year-old former prime minister Shimon Peres will tour Jerusalem night clubs.