Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz dared opposition leader Tzipi Livni on Thursday to advance the next Kadima leadership race, which The Jerusalem Post reported first that she was considering on Wednesday.
Livni's advisers recommended that she do to Mofaz what Binyamin Netanyahu did to his Likud rival Silvan Shalom when he decided to hold a super-fast Likud leadership in August 2008, a race that Shalom ultimately decided to boycott.
Mofaz called her bluff and demanded an immediate meeting with Livni on Thursday to discuss advancing the primary. But her office responded to him that she was not dealing with the matter at the present time and was not available to meet with him.
"Livni is afraid of Mofaz's power, so she is refusing to meet with him and set a date for a Kadima primary," a Mofaz associate said. "Livni's hesitancy and lack of leadership led to a rift in Kadima. Instead of unifying the party by initiating a primary, she won't even meet with Mofaz."
Mofaz said the fact that Kadima came so close to splitting this week was proof that Livni's leadership had failed.
"Less than a year after the election, half the faction negotiated with another party [the Likud]," a Mofaz associate said. "Let the public choose between the weakness and arrogance of Livni and the leadership of Mofaz."
Livni's office responded that she was not willing to engage in a war of words with Mofaz, but she will make a decision soon about whether to begin the process of advancing the primary.
Army Radio reported on Thursday that key Mofaz supporters in the faction and top party activists had defected to Livni's camp. The report said Mofaz turned off many of his supporters when he tried to use the crisis in Kadima for his own political gain.
"When your house is shaking, you don't throw in a grenade," a top Kadima activist who had previously been loyal to Mofaz was quoted as saying.
Mofaz met with some 40 former Livni backers in Modi'in on Thursday night. His associates said he would continue to seek support for advancing the Kadima leadership race.
Former Kadima leadership candidate MK Avi Dichter told Israel Radio on Thursday morning that he supported advancing the primary from its current date of three months before the next general election (currently scheduled for fall 2013) to within two years of the last election, which was held on February 10.
Israel Radio political analyst Hanan Crystal revealed on Thursday evening that Dichter had been offered the post of minister-without-portfolio in the Defense Ministry if he defected from Kadima to Labor, but he turned it down.
A Shvakim Panorama poll broadcast on Israel Radio in the morning found that the near split in Kadima had caused great damage to the party and especially to Livni.
The poll found that if an election was held now, Kadima would fall from 28 seats to 22, Likud would rise from 27 to 29, and Israel Beiteinu, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Habayit Hayehudi, the National Union, Meretz, and the Arab parties would all make modest gains. Labor would fall from its current 13 seats to nine.
Asked about the leadership abilities of Netanyahu and Livni, 54 percent said Netanyahu was fit to be prime minister and 36% said he was not. Just 29% said Livni was fit to lead the country while 60% said she was not.
A large majority of respondents supported the offer Netanyahu made to Kadima to join a national-unity government and said Livni should have accepted the proposal.