Itzik, Hanegbi favored in Kadima primary

Sheetrit, Dichter, Aflalo, Edri, Boim also expected to grab prominent spots on list.

Kadima's 80,000 members will select the party's Knesset slate on Wednesday in a primary whose top prize will be the third slot behind party leader Tzipi Livni and her number two, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who have the top two slots reserved. The winner of the primary will likely be a senior minister in the next government no matter who wins the February 10 general election, because all three candidates for prime minister have expressed interest in forming a national-unity government. The victor will also be in a good position to compete for the Kadima chairmanship in the party's next leadership race. A consensus of Kadima insiders said Sunday that the candidates with the best chance of winning the primary were Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi, who are both seen as statesmanlike figures who have taken steps to unify Kadima and mediate between it and other parties. Itzik has used her position as Knesset speaker and a year as interim president to improve her stature and build an image as the "responsible adult" of Israeli politics. She has often called for the establishment of a national-unity government and acted behind the scenes to try to bring the Likud into Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition. Hanegbi has mediated between Livni and Mofaz and between Kadima and Labor. He negotiated Kadima's coalition agreement with Labor two months ago that could have led to a government led by Livni. Before that, he brokered a deal with Labor that kept the party in the government and initiated the Kadima primary that ousted Olmert. "I have worked over the last few years to unify the party, and I am sure the Kadima voters appreciate that," Hanegbi said. "I hope it has a positive impact that could help me achieve a high place on the list. People like unity. We will see if it pays off." Hanegbi's equivalent in the Likud, MK Reuven Rivlin, succeeded in winning the fourth slot on his party's list last week, up from 37th two elections ago. Rivlin mediated between Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and his party rival, MK Silvan Shalom, and persuaded former minister Bennie Begin to return to the Likud. One disadvantage facing Hanegbi is that he has not been able to spend money on a campaign, because he must devote so much of his income to legal fees to defend himself in an ongoing investigation into his past political appointments. Besides Itzik and Hanegbi, other candidates expected to win places at the top of the Kadima list include ministers Meir Sheetrit, Avi Dichter, Eli Aflalo and Ya'acov Edri. Aflalo has a large camp in Kadima made up of residents of the North. He has compared himself in his role as kingmaker with National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer in Labor. Kadima insiders said that Construction and Housing Minister Ze'ev Boim will also fare well, because he is on the recommended lists of all the camps in Kadima. Besides Mofaz and Livni, Boim also has the support of Olmert, who has actively campaigned for Boim, his childhood friend, despite a promise to stay out of politics. Olmert has called top activists in Kadima and asked them to support Boim, MKs Yohanan Plesner and Ronit Tirosh, and his former advisers Shlomo Yitzhak and Avi Widerman. Widerman hosted a pre-primary party at a Tel Aviv night club on Saturday night that was attended by MKs Yoel Hason, Otniel Schneller and Shlomo Mula and candidates Ze'ev Bielski, Nehemia Raybee, Dmitry Rosinsky, and Orit Zuaretz. Livni was invited, but could not attend due to security reasons.