Mofaz: I'd opt for a broad coalition

Transportation minister confident of Kadima win; Sheetrit: If chosen I'd push for general election.

netanyahu sheetrit laugh (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
netanyahu sheetrit laugh
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In the wake of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's dramatic announcement that he intends to resign following the Kadima primary, one of the two front-runners for succeeding him, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, said that if elected he would act to establish a broad national unity government. In interviews Thursday morning, Mofaz, currently in Washington, said that a broad coalition would circumvent the possibility of a general election, which, he claimed, would be detrimental to Israel's current interests. "The chances of a coalition being assembled are pretty good," he told Army Radio. "The members of the current coalition wish to preserve it, and I think that under my leadership more members will join. I wish to assemble a national unity government and a national emergency government; as broad as possible." Citing the urgency of the Iranian threat, Mofaz went on to say that the challenges Israel faces pertain mainly to matters of security and defense, the field he has been immersed in for 40 years. He assessed that he had a good chance of winning the Kadima vote. "I hope that Kadima members will know to choose the right man to face the challenges and lead the State of Israel," Mofaz told Army Radio. "They have been tasked with a grave responsibility - to choose Israel's next prime minister." If elected, one of Mofaz's challenges in establishing a broad coalition will be convincing Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu to join the bandwagon. The incumbent opposition leader, however, confident of Likud's chances of winning a general election, said Thursday that Israelis must go to the polls to choose a new government. Netanyahu stated that he would not stand in any government led by Kadima, claiming that all of the party's Cabinet ministers had contributed to a "string of failures." Contrary to Mofaz, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, who is also running for the Kadima leadership, announced that if elected, rather than form a new coalition, he would push for a general election. "Assembling such a government," he told Army Radio, "will serve many interests in the Knesset, but not the interests of the country. The current government is dysfunctional; its make-up is wrong, the coalition is unstable, people are undisciplined and there is utter anarchy in votes." Citing 36 years of political experience, Sheetrit claimed that he was the best suited candidate to lead the country. "I was minister of finance, housing, transportation and the interior. The public can judge us according to our record, according to our actions." Sheetrit brushed aside recent opinion polls that put Mofaz and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni neck and neck, well clear of Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and himself, saying, "I believe the polls can be changed." Meanwhile, Vice Premier Haim Ramon told Army Radio that the chances of a new Kadima leader forming a new coalition following the September 17 primary were slim. "I believe the political field has gone into a dramatic tailspin and will be very difficult to stabilize," he said. Ramon told Israel Radio that his advice had precipitated Olmert's announcement that he would not run in the primaries. He added, however, that in electing to resign immediately following the Kadima primaries, the prime minister was acting contrary to his recommendation. If no new government is established, however, Olmert, despite having formally tendered his resignation, could remain prime minister until after a general election that would likely be held in spring 2009. Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.