Livni steers clear of Olmert in Paris

FM, top Kadima officials decide not to try to expedite Olmert's departure; Mofaz hires political strategist Arthur Finkelstein.

Livni 224.88 (photo credit: GPO)
Livni 224.88
(photo credit: GPO)
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made a point of keeping her distance from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday during French President Nicholas Sarkozy's conference of Mediterranean countries in Paris. After the State Attorney's Office accused Olmert on Friday of asking several charities and institutions to pay for the same work-related trips abroad, Olmert's associates said they had decided to prevent the prime minister from seeing the bad press he got on Sunday. Livni and other top Kadima officials decided not to try to expedite Olmert's departure from politics due to the new scandal. Instead, it appears, they will wait patiently for the mid-September Kadima primary. In between meetings with her counterparts from Europe and the Arab world on Sunday, Livni told reporters that change in Kadima was under way. "If anyone still has any doubt about my position, I laid it out before the recent revelations [in the Olmert case]," Livni said. "I didn't need the new episode to determine my position. As you know, we have already started taking action, and the changes are beginning." However, Olmert's associates lashed out at Livni for commenting on internal Israeli politics while representing Israel at a high-profile conference abroad. Late Saturday night, Livni's main competition in the Kadima leadership race, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, convened 100 top party activists at his Kohav Yair home. Mofaz made no mention of the scandals surrounding Olmert in his speech at the event, but he did say that he would try to form a new government if he won the race. "The country does not need a general election now," Mofaz said. "They only do damage. We in Kadima are electing a new prime minister for the country just like Labor chose a new defense minister for the country in their primary last year." Mofaz has hired American political strategist Arthur Finkelstein, who has previously run successful campaigns for former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman. In his first criticism of Olmert since the primary began, Mofaz said in a speech in Netivot Sunday that he was "worried" about what message Olmert's investigations "broadcast to our enemies." Meanwhile, Meretz youth activists protested outside the Prime Minister's Office on Sunday, distributing copies of plane tickets to mock Olmert. "If Olmert had invested the same amount of time and care in planning for the Second Lebanon War as he spent managing his account at the travel agency, we wouldn't have been forced to mark two years since the failed misadventure in Lebanon," Meretz faction chairwoman Zehava Gal-On said. Herb Keinon in Paris contributed to this report.