After Three Weeks of Gains, Sharon's Kadima Starts Sliding

After three weeks of an unfettered rise in the polls, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Kadima party is changing direction and beginning to slide backward.

A Haaretz-Channel 10 poll carried out last night by Dialog, under the supervision of Prof. Camil Fuchs, found that if elections were held now, Kadima would win 35 seats, four seats fewer than last week, and Labor would win two more seats, bringing it to 24. The Likud stayed stable at 12 seats.

Sharon associates said the loss is a slightly belated result of the "Hanegbi-Mofaz effect," a reference to two senior Likud officials - Tzachi Hanegbi and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz - who switched their allegiance to Kadima last week and apparently deterred some Labor voters who had been willing to support Sharon's party.

The poll, which is based on the responses of 500 people, appears to indicate that Labor's gain came at Kadima's expense. However, it is not just voters who usually align themselves with Labor who are leaving Kadima.

The poll shows that some 20 percent of Likud voters who switched to Kadima shortly after Sharon founded it have left in the last few days. Those voters did not return to the Likud, choosing instead to disperse their votes among other parties. On the other hand, Labor voters who were apparently deterred by the presence of Hanegbi and Mofaz on Kadima's ticket have returned home, to Labor and its chairman, Amir Peretz.

Last night's poll was conducted the day after the publication of the Newsweek article that included comments by Kadima pollster Kalman Gayer, who said Sharon would be willing to compromise on Jerusalem and give the Palestinians a state on 90 percent of West Bank territory.

When asked who they believe more, Gayer or Sharon, who denied the plans attributed to him, 47 percent of the respondents said they believe Gayer and 28 percent said they believe the prime minister. This is particularly bad for Sharon, whose credibility has been highly rated in many polls.

In light of reports of the "Iranian threat," the poll asked respondents who they think would be best able to contend with the threat posed to Israel. Sharon heads the list at 43 percent, followed by Netanyahu, Peretz and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

On this issue, 42 percent of Labor voters picked Sharon, and only 17 percent chose Peretz.