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(photo credit: AP [file])
The Likud and Kadima parties intensified their attacks against each other on Sunday after the cease-fire took effect in the Gaza Strip, formally ending Operation Cast Lead and restarting the election campaign.
The first polls taken after the cease-fire took effect indicated that the Right in general and the Likud in particular had been helped by the war.
A Channel 2/Ma'agar Mohot poll predicted that the Right-Center bloc would win 65 seats and the Left-Center bloc 55. A Channel 10/Dialog poll put the divide at 64-56. The first poll predicted a 31-23 Likud victory over Kadima, while the latter said Likud would win 29-26.
The Channel 2 poll found that 36 percent of Israelis wanted Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu to become prime minister, 21% preferred Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and 14% Labor chairman Ehud Barak.
In an effort to build on its lead, the Likud announced Sunday night that it would begin a new campaign under the slogan, "Netanyahu: Strong on security, strong on the economy." The party will make a decision in upcoming days about whether to also renew its negative campaign with the slogan "Tzipi Livni: Out of her league."
But the Likud has already restarted its attacks on Livni on the airwaves.
MKs and other party spokesmen were instructed to praise the IDF's military victory while accusing Livni of leading a diplomatic failure as foreign minister.
"The military delivered the goods, but it was a missed opportunity diplomatically," Likud Knesset candidate Moshe Ya'alon said in a typical interview with Army Radio. "We restored our deterrence in the first week, but since then, two weeks were wasted. We didn't need a war to reach a deal with the US against smuggling into Gaza." Due to his experience as a chief of the IDF General Staff, Ya'alon will be featured in the Likud's campaign.
On a visit to Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, Netanyahu was careful to offer veiled criticism of the cease-fire while extolling the virtues of the IDF.
"We have a strong people and a strong military that dealt a harsh blow to the Hamas, but unfortunately the work is still not done," Netanyahu said. "The Hamas still controls Gaza and will still try to smuggle weapons into Gaza via the Philadelphi Corridor. We cannot show weakness against Hamas and its Iranian supporters. We need a strong, unwavering, persistent hand until the threat is eliminated."
In Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert praised Netanyahu for his "responsible and statesmanlike behavior" during the war, but warned that "no politician will do anything to erode the accomplishments of the operation."
"I cannot entertain the notion that any Israeli would tell the Hamas that they basically won," Olmert said. "If someone does this, I will face off against him with full force."
In coming days, Kadima will highlight Livni's diplomatic accomplishments, including the memorandum of understanding with the United States against weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip, Sunday's meeting of European leaders at Olmert's residence, and holding off international pressure against the operation for three weeks.
Kadima will accuse Netanyahu of wanting Hamas to win the war in order to help his campaign. They will also remind the public that as prime minister, Netanyahu released Hamas mentor Sheikh Ahmed Yassin from jail and missed an opportunity to assassinate Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal.
The Labor Party will focus on Barak in its campaign and try to build on his popularity since the operation began while joining the Likud's attacks on Livni.
The head of Kadima's response team, MK Yoel Hasson, lashed out at Likud and Labor, accusing them of joining forces in a "dirty political deal" out of fear of "Livni's brave leadership."