August 6, 2008 - 2:27pm

Speaking at a conference of Kadima party activists six weeks ahead of the scheduled party primary, frontrunner Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz emphasized that he pledges to "keep Jerusalem united as Israel's eternal capital."

"We will keep alive the magnificent dynasty of the days of King David, who named the city as our capital 3,000 years ago," Mofaz continued.

Stepping up his campaign efforts, Mofaz went on to tell hundreds of supporters in Jerusalem that "security is the basis of our reality. It is fun sometimes to indulge in a temporary fantasy, especially at times of relative calm, that the security issues are not pressing and that they are not our top concern. This is dangerous." The former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and defense minister played up his military background, and explained that "experience and expertise in the defense realm are not only an advantage, but a necessity of the utmost importance for any prime minister in Israel."

Earlier Tuesday, Mofaz met with Shas' spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and spoke with him for 15 minutes. Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, who was also present at their meeting, told reporters that the rabbi asked Mofaz for an update regarding "defense issues." Yishai and Mofaz refused to elaborate on the meeting, but it symbolized the ongoing relationship between the transportation minister and the Shas MK, which could lead to cooperation in the event Mofaz was elected and faced with assembling a coalition.

While Mofaz spoke in Jerusalem, his main competitor for the Kadima leadership, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, met with 100 Druze party activists in Kfar Mrar in the Lower Galil. Livni, who dedicated most of her speech to security and political issues, told the activists that she is committed to joining together all the sectors of Israeli society.

"In my view, equality is not a favor that I can do for someone, to me it is a part of the natural conduct of a democratic nation and of the values of the state of Israel," Livni said.

In regard to the party primary, Livni said, "Kadima determines at the moment the identity of the next prime minister and that is its big advantage, by virtue of being the biggest party in Israel."

Addressing current peace talks with the Palestinians, Livni said that "these days negotiations are being conducted with a pragmatic group in Palestinian society, who believe in the possibility of arriving at a two-state solution while safeguarding security. Unfortunately, there are places with extremist groups that represent extremist religious views, which seize control and dictate the agenda. I respect religion, but it mustn't be allowed to become extreme."

Another candidate in the race for the party leadership, Meir Sheetrit, said that Mofaz and Livni prefer to talk about security and political issues at the expense of other matters.

"Until when will the matters of security and foreign affairs stand at the head of the ladder of preference?" Sheetrit said.

"The prime minister needs to take care of matters of education and society. Israel doesn't lack money, Israel lacks intelligence."


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