Kadima set to implode as defeat looms

By Anshel Pfeffer, February 5, 2009

In the last frantic days before the elections on Tuesday, the ruling party, Kadima, is already in disarray over what is expected to be its defeat at the hands of Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu.

Kadima leader Tzipi Livni is being attacked for the campaign she ran and plans are already being made to mount a leadership challenge immediately after the elections.

Less than a week before Israel decides, all the polls have the Likud leading Kadima by a margin of between four and 10 Knesset seats. This would give Mr Netanyahu various options to form a ruling coalition, since the right-wing and religious blocs together are, according to the polls, going to win an overall majority.

The knives are out for Ms Livni with supporters of her main rival, Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, already calling for her resignation.

“Tzipi promised that Shaul would be an integral part of the campaign,” said one Mofaz supporter. “But she is still appearing almost entirely on her own and all the posters have only her picture.”

Kadima’s political advisors are also beginning to apportion the blame.

“We advised Livni to highlight her team, because it was clear that Netanyahu would push forward all the ‘stars’ he brought in to Likud,” says one Kadima PR adviser. “But Livni and her personal advisers thought that her clean image would be enough. Now, after the Gaza operation, when the voters are looking for a strong military-type, Livni is being seen as irrelevant. If Mofaz had been a central part of the campaign, Kadima could have reminded everyone that its number two leader is a former IDF chief-of-staff. Now it’s too late.”

For now, Mr Mofaz is remaining quiet but his supporters are planning to call for new leadership primaries after the elections.

The Kadima bickering is also intruding into the strategic debate over how Israel should respond to the continued firing of mortar bombs and Kassam and Grad missiles from the Gaza Strip into Israel. Ministers have repeatedly insisted throughout the Gaza operation and in its aftermath that political considerations take no part in the deliberations over the IDF’s operations. But senior politicians both in Kadima and Likud have been blaming Mr Barak for opposing a more drastic military reaction; he is, they say, worried that an escalation will cause a political backlash against him if the elections take place while civilians are being hit by Hamas missiles.

Mr Barak’s supporters are insisting that he is only interested in helping the talks in Cairo over a ceasefire and that Ms Livni and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would not mind an escalation that would force a postponement of the elections.

Within Labour, there is also unrest over what is seen as Ehud Barak’s insistence as serving as defence minister in any coalition.

Last updated: 3:42pm, February 5 2009