Homefront Defense Minister Avi Dichter announced Saturday that he would run for a spot on the Likud list in the upcoming party primaries ahead of Jan. 22 general elections.
Dichter left Kadima and resigned from the Knesset three months ago after twice failing to gain the party’s top spot, losing out to both Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz in primary races.
Dichter, who joined Kadima after serving as head of the Shin Bet security service, hopes his defense credentials will earn him a spot on the Likud list, in what is expected to be a tight race. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed him to the post of homefront defense minister in August based on his professional background as Shin Bet head and as a former public security minister. Dichter, like Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, is a veteran of the IDF’s elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal.
Dichter was reportedly among several Kadima MKs who considered forming a break-away party that would remain in the coalition with Likud after Mofaz decided to remove the party from the governing coalition in July less than three months after joining it.
Dichter will likely face an uphill battle in his attempt to guarantee a realistic spot in the Likud’s slate, a list that is already packed with current ministers and MKs competing for a limited number of spots against political newcomers. There is also the question of whether Likud voters would cast their ballot for a former Kadima member.
According to recent polls, Likud is set to win 29 seats in the next Knesset.
Among his rivals will be another Kadima defector, former minister Tzachi Hanegbi.
Dichter reportedly turned down an offer from Labor leader Shelly Yachimovich to join the left-wing party as a “defense specialist.”
On Thursday, Kadima chairman Mofaz was said to be willing to stand aside as Kadima party head in favor of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, if Olmert decides to mount a comeback to contest the elections.
Olmert met Thursday with several political figures, including Mofaz, who is all but urging Olmert to make a comeback, Channel 2 reported, and would certainly step aside for him, given the pitiful showing of Kadima in opinion polls.
Under Tzipi Livni’s leadership, Kadima won 28 seats in the February 2009 elections, to become the biggest party in the outgoing parliament, followed by Netanyahu’s Likud with 27 seats. A poll in Maariv on Thursday, by contrast, showed Kadima heading for six seats in January’s elections under Mofaz’s leadership, while a Haaretz survey gave it seven seats.
The Maariv poll indicated that a party led by Olmert and/or Livni would win 10 seats in the elections, but it was not clear whether respondents were asked about Olmert leading Kadima into the elections. Olmert has reportedly commissioned several surveys to assess whether a comeback was worthwhile. He was said to be awaiting further statistics before making a decision, and was also assessing potential legal hurdles to a comeback.
Olmert is also said to have had discussions in recent days with Livni, and to have met with the previous chief of the General Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi. His internal surveys, especially in a potential alliance with Livni and Mofaz in a revived Kadima, “unsurprisingly” predict rather better results than the published polls for Olmert should he run, Channel 2 said.
Olmert was forced to resign as prime minister to battle a series of corruption allegations — prompting the elections that brought Netanyahu to power. Olmert was convicted of breach of trust in July, and given a suspended jail term last month, but that punishment was not so severe as to bar him from a return to the Knesset. He is still on trial in a real estate corruption case, could face an appeal from the state attorney in two major fraud cases for which he was acquitted, and may face legal challenges to any attempt at a political return.