Defiant Mofaz Vows to Beat Frontrunner Livni in Kadima Race

Haaretz poll: Kadima led by FM would garner 26 Knesset seats, compared to 25 for Netanyahu-led Likud.

Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is locked in what is widely acknowledged to be a two-person race for the Kadima chairmanship against Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, said on Friday that the latest poll numbers indicating an advantage in favor of his rival are bound to change.

"I wouldn't advise anyone to base the future on polls," Mofaz, who is holding discussions in the United States with Bush administration officials over Iran's nuclear program, said on Friday. "[The polls] are a mood, and this will change. I'm sure that I will win the primaries."

Livni would lead Kadima to victory over Likud if elections were held today, according to a special poll conducted by Dialog on Thursday 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 Mofaz for the party's leadership.

Mofaz said Friday that were he to emerge victorious, he would immediately move to form a unity government. "A unity government is important," he said. "If the Likud won't want to join, there are other parties in the Knesset and I believe that they will join a coalition headed by myself. My ability to form such a government, a government of national emergency, is second to none."

The former defense minister and IDF chief of staff added that a number of factions have already approached him on the subject. "I intend to put together as broad a coalition as possible, one that will ensure government stability because the state of Israel is faced with significant, existential security challenges," Mofaz said. "I have the experience and the capability to make decisions and to lead Israel to a safer path."

Mofaz also called for further peace talks with Syria, saying the talks "should continue, without preconditions," after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert steps down.

For all the bitter struggle between Livni and Mofaz, Thursday's poll, conducted a day after 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.