Ex-military chief to lead Israel’s Kadima

Ex-military chief to lead Israel’s Kadima

Ex-military chief to lead Israel’s Kadima

Israeli ex-PM Ariel Sharon (R) speaks to ex-military chief Mofaz in this 2002 photo. AP photo

Final results released yesterday in the leadership race for Israel’s largest opposition party give a former defense and military chief a resounding victory over the incumbent, a former lead negotiator with the Palestinians.

Shaul Mofaz won 62 percent of the votes, trouncing Tzipi Livni, who took 37 percent. Going into March 27’s race, Mofaz spoke confidently of replacing Benjamin Netanyahu when Israelis next go to national elections, currently scheduled for October 2013. Mofaz vowed to “lead a new social order” to fight for the nation’s poor, seek a renewal of moribund Middle East diplomacy and “campaign for Israel’s image and its future.”

“I called Shaul Mofaz and wished him good luck. These are the results,” Livni said in a rushed statement at her Tel Aviv headquarters, conceding the poll of Kadima’s 100,000 members.

The Iranian-born Mofaz is best known for tough tactics he adopted as military chief and defense minister during the Palestinian uprising of the last decade. Four years ago, he briefly rattled global oil markets by saying Israel would attack Iran as a last resort if Tehran didn’t abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program.

But in recent years, he has adopted a more statesmanlike approach, proposing the immediate establishment of a provisional Palestinian state and addressing socio-economic issues and women’s rights. Livni, who just a few years ago was among the country’s most popular politicians and who routinely shows up on lists of the world’s most influential women, has faced heavy criticism for what is widely seen as an ineffective term as opposition leader.

Fall of popularity

Kadima was founded in November 2005 by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who defected from the Likud Party with many of its top officials, including Livni and Mofaz, in an effort to move forward more boldly on peacemaking than some party members wanted.

Sharon suffered an incapacitating stroke shortly after that, and though peacemaking resumed under his successor, Ehud Olmert, it stalled at the end of Olmert’s term and remains moribund.

Recent opinion polls showed Kadima was on course to lose more than half its seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament and could end up with just 12 seats, down from 28 now. Commentators said it seemed possible that Kadima would split in the wake of the primary, with Livni either leading supporters to a new party or even choosing to retire from politics altogether.

Compiled from Reuters, AP and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.