United Jerusalem splits Kadima candidates

Mofaz, Livni emphasize capital's fate; activists predict endorsements for foreign minister.

mofaz good one 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
mofaz good one 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz would keep Jerusalem united if he were to become prime minister, the Kadima leadership candidate announced Tuesday in a speech in which he officially declared his candidacy at the Mount Zion Hotel in front of the capital's Old City walls. Mofaz's speech sent a message to Kadima members that his diplomatic policies would be different than those of his challenger, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads Israel's negotiating team in talks with the Palestinians - talks in which the fate of Jerusalem has been on the table. "In this place, before the walls of the Old City, whose destruction we are marking these days, I promise to maintain a united Jerusalem as Israel's eternal capital," Mofaz said, referring to the traditional mourning period at the beginning of the Hebrew month of Av in which Jerusalem's destruction is commemorated. Mofaz also said in the speech that he would seek peace, but warned of "dangerous illusions" that Israel's security threats were not pressing enough to require a leader with military experience. His strategists said the location of the speech had been chosen to indicate that protecting Jerusalem was the prime minister's responsibility, but they recognized that the choice was also seen as a thinly veiled attack on Livni. Livni also spoke about Jerusalem on Tuesday in an interview with a Russian-language radio station, saying that the continued existence of her native Tel Aviv depended on Israel's control over the Temple Mount. She said she saw Jerusalem as a Jewish issue and not just a national one. In a speech in the Druse village of Mughar on Tuesday evening, she attacked Mofaz, saying Kadima voters were "choosing who will be prime minister" and not the party's candidate for defense minister. The two remaining Kadima leadership candidates, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, attacked both front-runners in the race. "I am not ready to sell the country to form a coalition," Sheetrit told supporters at a Kiryat Malachi rally, in an attack on Mofaz, who has expressed willingness to give into Shas's budgetary demands. "I cannot be extorted. Some candidates conduct mass membership drives that brought to Kadima the unacceptable norms of the Likud, signing up people who don't believe in Kadima and won't vote for Kadima." Regarding Livni, Sheetrit said Israelis were "sick of politicians who have to learn on the job." Referring to her campaign strategy of emphasizing her clean politics, he said, "You can't just have clean hands, because everyone is supposed to have clean hands. It's easier to declare that you have clean hands when you haven't been working on the public's behalf for 38 years like me." Dichter told Israel Radio that unlike Mofaz, he would not try to register his ministry's employees for Kadima. He said Mofaz had to "do his own soul searching" regarding whether he should have registered thousands of air and sea port workers. He said that Livni's refusal to announce that she would remain in Kadima if she lost the race made her candidacy "illegitimate." Meanwhile, the Kadima activist Web site Yalla Kadima reported Tuesday that by the end of next week, Livni would receive key endorsements from Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik and MK Tzahi Hanegbi. The report said that both politicians had already made a decision in principle to support Livni and told her this personally. Both Itzik and Hanegbi denied the report. They confirmed that they would announce their decision about whom to support next week, but said they had not made up their minds and that they were still considering not making an endorsement at all. Livni's spokesman also denied the report.