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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who vowed to run a completely positive campaign for the Kadima leadership in an interview with The Jerusalem Post last month, changed his strategy and attacked Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Thursday night.
"I am not doing a negative campaign against Tzipi Livni," Mofaz said in a story published July 17. "My strategy is to be positive about myself. All the candidates are fitting, and Kadima will have to decide between them. Why should I do a negative campaign when at the end all the candidates will have to work under me as a team? I have no intention of doing it. I didn't do it in the past, and I don't think I will do it in the future."
That strategy changed Thursday, however, when Mofaz's campaign released a statement in reaction to Livni's positive comments in a meeting with the foreign press about her negotiations with the Palestinians.
"Livni illustrated clearly what Kadima members are deciding in this primary," the campaign said in the statement. "Who do you trust to negotiate with the Palestinians? A strong and experienced leader like Mofaz, or a weak and inexperienced political figure with a history of poor decision-making like Livni?"
Mofaz continued the attack on Livni in a speech to some 800 supporters at a rally outside his campaign headquarters in Givatayim.
"We have been negotiating with the Palestinians for more than two years, and we haven't achieved anything," Mofaz said without mentioning Livni, who heads the negotiations with the Palestinians, by name. "Israel is following a path of concessions without getting anything in return. This is dangerous; it weakens us and it strengthens our enemies.
"Kadima members, like all of the people of Israel, want a strong leader and not a leader who is weak, unclear and hesitant. They don't want a leader who doesn't have an answer to the challenges facing Israel, especially on socioeconomic issues."
Mofaz added that "peace would not come from making concessions" and criticized ministers who voted in favor of releasing 199 Palestinian prisoners without bringing home kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
George Birnbaum, who along with Arthur Finkelstein serves as Mofaz's strategist, denied that there had been any change in campaign strategy.
"Attacking someone's record is not negative campaigning," Birnbaum said. "It's not attacking her character or her family. Highlighting her inexperience has always been part of our strategy."
Livni responded to Mofaz's attacks Thursday night at an event in Lod by pledging to keep her campaign positive.
"Kadima is important enough to me to speak only about how I would run Kadima and the country and about myself," Livni said. "I understand that it is tempting for others to attack, but I won't give into the temptation to respond to everything."
A Ma'agar Mohot poll broadcast on Israel Radio on Thursday found that Livni would beat Mofaz in a four-candidate primary by 10 percent and in a head-to-head race by 5%. But the poll did have good news for Mofaz.
Asked who they would prefer to lead Israel in a security crisis, Kadima members preferred Mofaz over Livni 38% to 28%. Mofaz was deemed the likelier candidate to form a coalition, 36% to 19% over Livni.
Surprisingly, the poll found that Arab members of Kadima overwhelmingly support Mofaz in the primary race. He was favored by 71% of Arab Kadima members, followed by Public Security Minister Avi Dichter with 19%, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit with 6%, and Livni, who leads the Israeli negotiating teams in peace talks with the Palestinians, only 4%.
Livni expressed confidence that she would win the race in her speech to the foreign press on Thursday. She said her statement was supported by data from the polls, which she insisted were a true reflection of the mood of the voters even though she cautioned that poll results had not always proved to be accurate.
She said her preference was to form a national-unity government or keep the current coalition intact, but in the likely event that neither is possible, she would be ready for general elections.
"It looks like Kadima is going to win in elections if I am the leader and the head of Kadima," Livni said "The good news is that I can do both, be the prime minister in this coalition and talk about going to elections."
Livni campaigned on Thursday in Ramle and Lod, while Sheetrit toured the South and held a rally in Ofakim. Sheetrit said at the event that if he becomes prime minister, he would keep the Education portfolio for himself. Dichter explained why he decided to run in an interview with Channel 2.
"It was not at this stage my original intent to run for the Kadima leadership, but the current situation created a new set of circumstances," Dichter said. "When I looked to my left and to my right, I didn't see a candidate who was any better than I am to lead, and so I decided to run."
Tovah Lazaroff and Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.
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