Barak, Livni in favor of election debate, Likud head yet to decide.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu's advisers responded Tuesday to Kadima Leader Tzipi Livni's debate challenge by saying that he had not made up his mind yet about whether to agree to a debate, but that he was "not afraid" to face off against her.
Labor chairman Ehud Barak challenged both Netanyahu and Livni to a series of debates on October 27. Livni called for an impromptu debate at an economic conference in Tel Aviv attended by the three of them on Monday night.
"I am in favor that all of us explain our policies in a debate and answer tough questions," Livni said at the event.
Netanyahu's advisers mocked Livni for issuing the challenge, saying that she lacked clear enough policies on key issues for a serious debate. They noted that when Livni's strategists worked for former prime minister Ariel Sharon, they had advised him against debating or taking a clear stand on any issue.
"Bibi's not afraid of a debate with anybody," a source close to Netanyahu said. "Israelis know that Bibi is one of the best debaters in the country. But she just wants a debate for showmanship, because she's losing ground in the polls. She's doing it as political theater, and we're not here to give into demands for political theater."
Netanyahu adviser Ron Dermer said that Netanyahu had a set platform on education, crime, security and the economy, but he had no idea where Livni stood on such issues.
"Before someone comes with a debate demand, they have to have policies on the issues," Dermer said. "So far, the only platform we have seen from her is that she is in favor of giving up the entire West Bank and east Jerusalem."
There has not been a formal debate among Israeli prime ministerial candidates or contestants for the leadership of a party since 1999, mainly due to the opposition of the front-runner in every race.
Front-runner Ehud Barak boycotted the 1999 debate, allowing Center Party candidate Yitzhak Mordechai to insult Netanyahu on his own, challenging him to "look into my eyes."
The last time all of the for prime minister participated in a debte was in the 1996 election when Netanyahu faced-off against then-incumbent Labor Party prime minister Shimon Peres.
The Labor Party issued a statement calling Livni's debate challenge a "shallow, transparent and childish political maneuver."
A Kadima spokesman accused Netanyahu of trying to avoid a debate. The spokesman noted that Netanyahu canceled his participation at a conference in the Galilee on Tuesday in which Livni participated.
"Bibi is afraid of Tzipi," the spokesman said. "His advisers are trying to hide him and his extremist views from the public. This proves that Bibi is the same Bibi."
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