Centrist Party Takes Shape

By Mitchell Bard

The Israeli election campaign continues to heat up as a new centrist party, which still has no name, gained a new leader with the defection of Yitzhak Mordechai from the Likud Party. Mordecai, a highly respected politician and war hero, served as Defense Minister in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He was fired from the job after it became clear he was about to join the new party, which was formed by another Likud defector, Dan Meridor.

Mordechai's decision to join the party solved a potentially difficult problem of choosing a party leader between Meridor and Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. Though his political views were largely unknown, early public opinion polls indicated Lipkin-Shahak was the country's most popular leader. Due to his lack of experience in government, however, questions were raised about this suitability for the top slot on the party's ticket. Moreover, Meridor was interested in running for Prime Minister.

Because of both his experience and popularity, both Lipkin-Shahak and Meridor endorsed Mordechai as their party's candidate once he decided to join them. Though it is too early to predict the impact on the election, this triumvirate is very appealing to a large number of Israeli voters and could weaken the prospects of the Labor Party's candidate, Ehud Barak.