Israeli politicians form party rival to Netanyahu

Israeli politicians form party rival to Netanyahu

Israeli politicians form party rival to Netanyahu

Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (L) and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are seen in the Knesset in this 2008 photo. AP photo

A new center-left party, whose leader will be determined Oct. 22, will be a tough rival to Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will have until Oct. 22 to decide whether he will make a political comeback and lead the new party. On Oct. 18 he met with Israel’s former Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, whom he may present as his candidate for defense minister, Israeli daily Jerusalem Post reported Oct. 19. Olmert is coordinating his decision with his successor as Kadima leader, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, as well as former Kadima council chairman Haim Ramon.

If Olmert decides not to run, Livni has said she is leaning toward running himself. “I have not used the words ‘no comment’ very often, but this time I will,” Livni said at a meeting in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18 when asked about her future. Ramon has said the new party must unite with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, but Lapid has repeatedly ruled out such a move. “We won’t run together. Yesh Atid will run on its own,” Lapid said referring to Olmert.

“The media says there is no alternative to Netanyahu, but I totally disagree,” Kadima’s Chairman Shaul Mofaz said. “There are better, more suitable people than him,” he said, listing Olmert, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, Ashkenazi and Livni as examples. He added that Kadima would kick off its election campaign on Oct. 21.

Meanwhile, a poll shows that if the new party is formed, it could win more seats in the Jan. 22 parliamentary election than Netanyahu’s governing Likud party, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Dialog survey, released Oct. 18, said a party with Olmert, Livni and charismatic former TV personality Lapid could win 25 seats in the 120-seat assembly, compared to Likud’s 24.

However, that lineup would not necessarily cost Netanyahu his job.