Ex-army chief to lead Israel's Kadima Party

March 28, 2012 - 7:36 AM
Mideast Israel Palestinians Politics

Head of Israel's parliamentary opposition Tzipi Livni leaves the poling station after casting her vote for the Kadima party primary elections in Tel Aviv, Israel,Tuesday, March 27, 2012. Israel's largest party, relegated to the opposition after 2009 national elections, is to choose its leader on Tuesday in a rematch between Livni, a former peace negotiator and Shaul Mofaz, a one-time defense chief who directed Israel's tough response to the last Palestinian uprising.(AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Final results released Wednesday in the leadership race for Israel's largest political party showed a former defense and military chief winning a resounding victory over the incumbent, a former lead negotiator with the Palestinians.

Shaul Mofaz captured 62 percent of the votes in Tuesday's race for Kadima Party chief, trouncing Tzipi Livni, who took 37 percent. Early Wednesday, Mofaz spoke confidently of ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel's next national elections, currently scheduled for October 2013.

"We will win the political and national battles we face," he told a cheering crowd. "In the general elections we will replace Netanyahu's government."

Polls show that toppling Netanyahu would be an uphill battle the centrist Kadima and that the party, currently the largest faction in parliament, is losing support to the centrist Labor Party and the dovish Meretz. Kadima would also be expected to lose seats to television personality Yair Lapid, who has not yet formed a political party.

Mofaz is best known for the tough tactics he adopted as military chief and defense minister during the four-year Palestinian uprising that ended in 2004. In 2008, 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.

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 Likud 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.