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Cablegate: Mourning Becomes Mofaz

VZCZCXYZ0023
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTV #1702/01 2191536
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 061536Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7869
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS TEL AVIV 001702

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR KPAL KDEM IS
SUBJECT: MOURNING BECOMES MOFAZ

REF: Tel Aviv 1632 - "THE LIVNI CAMPAIGN MANTRA"

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED - PLEASE TREAT ACCORDINGLY.

1. (SBU) Summary: The morning after the festive Jerusalem launch
of his campaign for the leadership of the Kadima party, Transport
Minister Shaul Mofaz received lead-story status in two major Hebrew
language dailies. The August 6 headlines, however, captured a
negative storyline regarding possible campaign improprieties and
Palestinian pessimism about his candidacy. The electronic media all
but ignored the Mofaz campaign messages on security and Jerusalem,
giving him barely ten seconds of prime time news coverage to his
pledge to maintain a united Jerusalem. In fact, all four of the
presumed candidates have yet to formally announce their candidacies
within the Kadima Party - despite press appearances, political
mantras and prolific polling that suggest otherwise. Formal
registration of candidates for the Kadima primary does not begin
until August 11 - after the nine-day mourning period ("Tisha B'Av")
commemorating the destruction of the Jewish temples is over.
Candidates must present 10,000 NIS and 300 signatures to the party
before August 24 when the list formally closes, according to retired
Judge Dan Arbel, Chairman of the Kadima Elections Committee. End
Summary.

----------------------------------------
MEDIA SPINS NEGATIVE STORIES ABOUT MOFAZ
----------------------------------------

2. (U) Rather than focus on the substance of the ten-minute
prepared text he delivered to some 300 supporters at the Mount Zion
Hotel in view of the Old City walls in Jerusalem, Ha'aretz coupled
the Mofaz declaration that "If elected PM I will personally handle
negotiations with the PA" with the PA rejoinder "A Mofaz victory in
the Kadima Primaries will be disastrous for the peace process."

3. (SBU) Mass-circulation Ma'ariv, true to its tabloid format,
pictured Mofaz and FM Tzipi Livni, the front-runner in the Kadima
race, under the caption "the battle for the succession." In a giant
banner headline, Mofaz is quoted as alleging: "Livni has a team
dedicated to hunting me down but I am not fazed by it. I too can
hire someone to run a negative campaign but I don't." Livni's
office was reported this morning to have dismissed the allegations
by Mofaz as "nonsense."

4. (U) Not to be outdone, Israel's most popular newspaper, Yediot
Ahronoth, went one step further with a report that a working visit
to Eilat port by Mofaz several months ago turned into a political
rally and was attended, during working hours, by a number of Eilat
port workers who had joined Kadima. They later attended a political
event in a local city hotel - also on work time. A port worker who
had signed up colleagues for membership in Kadima is quoted by
Yediot as saying: "It's important to help Mofaz now. He will help us
later on."

--------------------------------------
THE MOFAZ CAMPAIGN - WHAT'S THE HURRY?
--------------------------------------

5. (SBU) The first nine days of the Jewish month of Av falls in
August this year, and mark a period of lamentation for the
destruction of the First and Second Temples. Mofaz referred to them
in his August 5 speech in Jerusalem: "In this place before the
walls of the Old City, whose destruction we are marking these days,
I promise to maintain a united Jerusalem as Israel's eternal
capital."

6. (U) Some commentators were mystified as to what Mofaz hoped to
achieve by lobbying Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef during
this period of Jewish mourning when he paid him a courtesy call --
presumably to seek his blessing -- shortly before making his
campaign speech. Interviewed August 6 by Israel Radio about the
meeting with the Shas leader, Mofaz had little to say except to deny
that the subjects of child allowances, welfare or other budgetary
issues related to coalition politics were raised.

7. (U) Pressed on his political action-plan if elected leader of
Kadima, Mofaz told Israel Radio he would seek to form a broad-based
government and that he believed this was preferable to elections.
Asked to name his preferred coalition partners, Mofaz was
non-committal saying all the Zionist parties would be welcome to
join but that the initial approach would be made to current
coalition members. While Mofaz was at pains last night to emphasize
his wealth of experience in the field of security -- hammering home
the word "security" some 22 times -- he is clearly betting that his
security credentials are his most effective means of compensating
for of his lack of experience in the field of coalition politics.

--------------------------
MOFAZ AND THE PALESTINIANS
--------------------------
8. (U) Anticipating Palestinian hostility to the mere notion of his
leadership of Kadima, Mofaz last night did his best to soothe the
anxieties of a Palestinian partner in future dialogue when he
declared "I want to remind people that the one who signed the Wye
Accord and carried it out was me, as head of the IDF Planning
Administration. I spent nights with them and solved security,
economic and humanitarian issues, both as chief of staff and as
defense minister...They know me...Mahmoud Abbas, Salam Fayyad and
Saeb Erekat. They'll say that everything I promised I delivered."

9. (SBU) Comment: According to polls, Mofaz lags behind Livni in
the leadership race and given Livni's relentless campaign on the
theme of transparency in governance (REFTEL), Mofaz can ill-afford
the negative press he received in the last 48 hours. Mofaz chose to
launch his Kadima primaries campaign during a period in which it is
traditional, even among Jews who are not Orthodox, to refrain from
embarking on a new project, inaugurating a new position or office,
dedicating a new institution or signing any agreement. Jumping out
ahead of the other three Kadima contenders came at the expense of
violating a tradition, a move that his other rival, Likud Party
Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, deftly avoided on August 2 when he
joined the Shas spiritual leader at a "Torah Scholarship
Conference."

MORENO

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