Olmert out as Kadima falls apart

The Israeli general elections began in earnest last weekend as the parties filed their final candidate lists.

The much talked about unity between the centre-left parties failed to materialise. Instead, Hatnuah, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s new party, scored a last-minute coup when Amir Peretz, number three on Labour’s list and a former party leader and defence minister, joined her instead.

Mr Peretz explained his defection saying that, “for the first time in its history, Labour has dropped the diplomatic issues”. Many in the party, however, said he had done so because of the animosity between him and Labour leader Shelly Yachimovich, who accused Mr Peretz of “opportunism and cynicism”.

For now, Labour is sticking to its main strategy of presenting itself as a centrist party, and underlining social and economic issues.

Despite this, Ms Yachimovich seemed to heed those in her party demanding that Labour also address its traditional agenda. On Wednesday, she launched a broadside against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s handling of the diplomatic crisis with Europe, calling him “a corrupt, cynical and dangerous man dragging us to an agenda of extreme incitement.”

Meanwhile, as the largest party in the current Knesset, Kadima, crashed in the polls, only a quarter of its 28 MKs have remained on its list.

Seven MKs joined Ms Livni in Hatnuah, others joined Labour and Likud and a number announced they were retiring from national politics. One of these, former Ra’anana mayor and Jewish Agency chairman Zeev Bielski, said: “It’s sad that Kadima, which promised an end to politics as usual, managed to ruin itself so completely.”

Former prime minister and Kadima leader Ehud Olmert, who had been planning a comeback, also decided to remain on the sidelines. In a weekend interview, Mr Olmert said: “I looked at the arena and the way things are going in the bloc close to my positions, and decided I don’t want to be there.”

One party, surprisingly perhaps, has yet to launch its campaign. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, the party predicted to form the next government, has so far not released a slogan, a manifesto or any other form of political advertising. Likud insiders explain that, for now, the strategy is to let Mr Netanyahu and his ministers’ high public profile do the work instead of an overt campaign.

Last updated: 9:45pm, December 13 2012