Israel’s Kadima Party Chooses Ex-Army Head Mofaz as New Leader

Israel’s main opposition party, Kadima, elected Shaul Mofaz, a former army chief and defense minister, as its new leader over incumbent Tzipi Livni in a primary vote yesterday.

Mofaz won with 62 percent against Livni’s 37 percent, with 41 percent of the party’s membership voting, the Kadima spokesman’s office said in an e-mailed statement today.

Livni had succeeded Ehud Olmert as prime minister and Kadima head in 2008 after his resignation in a corruption scandal. Livni led Kadima in the 2009 national elections in which the group won 28 seats in parliament, the most of any party. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party took one less seat and was able to form a coalition government.

“I intend to win in general elections and turn Netanyahu out of office,” Mofaz said today on Israel Radio. He would pursue “more serious efforts to attain peace in our region,” he said.

Livni and Mofaz have criticized Netanyahu as not being flexible toward talks with the Palestinians. A poll published by the Haaretz daily on March 8 showed Likud winning 35 to 37 seats, about three times as many as Kadima under the leadership of either Livni or Mofaz. Elections must be held by November 2013.

Mofaz, 63, was born in Iran and immigrated with his family to Israel in 1957. In 1998 he become the military’s chief-of-general-staff, and in 2002 was appointed defense minister in the Likud-led government of then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

As defense minister, Mofaz oversaw the withdrawal of all troops and Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005, an operation that drew criticism from many in the Likud party. Mofaz quit Likud with Sharon later that year to establish Kadima.

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