Kadima, Led by Livni, Would Beat Likud

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would lead Kadima to victory over Likud if elections were held today, according to a special poll conducted by Dialog yesterday on behalf of Haaretz.

The results of the poll are expected to have a dramatic effect on Livni's standing inside Kadima and on her race with Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz for the party's leadership.

For all the bitter struggle between Livni and Mofaz, yesterday's poll, conducted a day after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that he would not seek reelection as Kadima's leader, shows that the foreign minister is the only politician who currently has enough public support to defeat Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu.

The poll of 503 Israelis, which has a margin of error of 4.1 percent, showed that in national elections, Kadima headed by Livni would win 26 seats in the Knesset, compared to 25 for Likud under Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has consistently led in the polls for the past two years, but yesterday's survey seems to indicate that the political arena is changing.

The poll, supervised by Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University's Statistics Department, suggests that the three main political parties - Kadima, Likud and Labor - are nearly tied in the number of seats they will command in parliament after the next election. However, Livni seems to be the only Kadima candidate who could keep the party in the leading role and compete with Likud for votes on the right.

With Mofaz at the head of Kadima, Likud does much better, even though the transportation minister is perceived as a rightist who might even defect to Likud after the elections in exchange for the Defense Ministry.

If Livni's current popularity continues, the impact on the political system may be substantial. For example, Labor will not rush toward national elections as long as polls suggest that it would only win 17 seats in parliament and that its leader, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, enjoys a mere eight percent support as a candidate for prime minister. Livni, in contrast, receives 22 percent support, and Netanyahu 29 percent.

Another possible impact of this poll is that Barak and Netanyahu may seek to help Mofaz be elected as head of Kadima - a choice that would serve them both well.