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Kadima in the Wings

Tzipi Livni.

Whether or not Benjamin Netanyahu accedes to American pressure for a renewal of the construction freeze in West Bank settlements, the prospect has created roiling dissension within the prime minister's Likud party and raised the possibility of a split—or, to be more accurate, another split.

Relevant Links
Bringing Kadima In?  Lilach Weissman, Globes. Netanyahu’s preference is to co-opt Livni without dropping Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.  
Tzipi Livni Speaks  David Kenner, Foreign Policy. In a March 2010 interview, the former foreign minister asserts that she conceded no more to the Palestinians than any Israeli prime minister would have done for peace.
Looking for a Leader  Leslie Susser, Jerusalem Report. The failings of individual politicians are part of a much larger leadership vacuum in Israel.  

The previous Likud schism occurred in November 2005 when Likud members rejected Ariel Sharon's plan for a unilateral Israeli pullout from Gaza and Sharon founded the Kadima party as a political workaround. After Sharon became incapacitated by a stroke, Kadima under Ehud Olmert won its 2006 election bid by campaigning for a second unilateral separation, this time from the Palestinians in the West Bank.

Subsequent aggression from both Gaza and Lebanon—where, in 2000, Israel had unilaterally withdrawn from its security zone—undermined the attraction of unilateralism to the point where the policy was silently discarded. And yet, despite having lost not only its charismatic founder in Sharon but also its philosophical underpinning, Kadima succeeded in consolidating itself as a viable "third-way" alignment of pragmatists. As such, it has continued to attract political candidates away from Likud, Labor, and beyond; its current Knesset lineup includes a West Bank settler and a Peace Now proponent.   

The party's reputation for pragmatism—in the New York Times, it has been variously described as "center-Right" and "center-Left"—no doubt accounts for its foreign appeal as well. It is widely understood that President Barack Obama would have preferred Israel's 2009 elections to have yielded a Kadima-led government, with Tzipi Livni, formerly of Likud, at the helm. Washington is reportedly now pressing Netanyahu to jettison his right-wing coalition partners (Yisrael Beitenu and Habayit Hayehudi) and replace them with Kadima.  Presumably, the purpose is to make Israel's negotiating stance more malleable—though the previous Kadima government, led by Olmert and Livni, failed conspicuously to close a deal with Mahmoud Abbas, who pronounced its unprecedented territorial concessions to be still insufficient.

Other contradictions may be noted. For one thing, Kadima is hardly a bastion of good-government reformists. Although Livni's personal integrity is not at issue, Sharon was investigated for wrongdoing on multiple occasions; Olmert is now on trial for corruption; policy chairman Haim Ramon was convicted of indecent behavior; Avraham Hirchson, a finance minister, went to prison for corruption; and in the latest incident, Tzahi Hanegbi, a party powerbroker, was forced to quit the Knesset on morals charges.

Nor is that the end of the party's leadership problems. Livni, though photogenic, has not emerged as a strong presence in her role of opposition leader, furthering a long-established reputation for indecisiveness. Last year, even though Kadima won one more Knesset seat than Likud, she failed to form a government. Livni is now being challenged by Shaul Mofaz, a former top general, whom she barely defeated for the party leadership in 2008.

In spite of all this, and in spite of its failure to articulate a coherent platform to replace unilateralism, Kadima continues to run neck and neck with Likud in public-opinion surveys. Unlike other third-way Israeli parties that have come and gone, it has demonstrated remarkable staying power. Partly, no doubt, this is because its arrival on the scene coincided with the evolution of a post-intifada domestic consensus that ending the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs was a vital national interest even if it resulted in the establishment of a "Palestine" alongside Israel. Partly it is also because its leaders are no political novices.

Mostly, however, Kadima's success reflects the diminished expectations Israelis have of their elected officials. Ideological consistency, adherence to solemn campaign pledges, upstanding ethical behavior, even leadership excellence is no longer paramount. What seems to matter most is what Kadima purports to offer: "pragmatism," whatever that may mean to any particular bloc of disgruntled voters at any particular time.

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Kenneth Besig on November 17, 2010 at 7:46 am (Reply)
This government is not going to fall, the Likud is not going to split, the Kadima party is going to continue to wait in the wings.
I know this is going to be hard to believe but the Nationalist and Religious Israeli political parties have matured a lot over the past 15 years. The Nationalist parties now realize that bringing down their government is a gamble, and not necessarily a toss of the dice in their favor. The Religious parties also realize that while they can blackmail any government to pay them off, most of their voters prefer to extort from a Nationalist government.
Israeli voters have also matured and no longer are they so easily swayed by a Left wing Peace Now media ever since both Rabin's Oslo Accords and Sharon's Disengagement from Gaza turned out so horrifically deadly.
Yonatan Silver on November 17, 2010 at 8:24 am (Reply)
Could Kadima's staying power be partially due to the demise of the previous second party, and (which may be related) to a shift rightwards of many who previously voted left but wouldn't/couldn't (yet) go so far as to vote Likud?
Independent Patriot on November 17, 2010 at 8:27 am (Reply)
Interestingly any mention of Kadima has to come with the obligatory picture of Livni. If the truth were told and she were the person behind Kadima it really would not have been such a bad thing to have her in office. She is after all the daughter of Irguniks and she herself is a former Mossad agent. Her life has revolved around creating a secure Israel. The problem I see, is that somewhere along the line, Kadima became beholden to the US peace movement/leftist Jews that cares nothing about Israel's survival only their own paradigm. In fact in order to drum up support for her program Livni came to speak here in NY. As I wrote then, the people she needs to convince are the voters in Israel, not the upper west side Jews of NYC. It shows how the Israeli populace does not trust her. What she needs to do is channel her parents' strength and the strength she had as a Mossad agent, throw out the lefties and create a true party of might and reason. Something that would have happened if Sharon had remained at the helm in stead of that milquetoast Olmert.
Kenneth Besig on November 17, 2010 at 8:51 am (Reply)
Tzipi Livni is a follower, not a leader. As such she is an opportunist of the worst kind, willing to hitch her rather paultry political and family wagon to whichever leader or policy seems the most popular at any given moment. Indeed, if not for her family protectzia, it is unlikely that Tzipi would have any serious role in Israeli politics at all. In this sense she is typical of the renegades who now populate the Kadima party. Many Kadima Knesset members come from what we here call the "royal families", pre State fighters or pre State movers and shakers, and have only their family protectzia to recommend them. Among the rest of the Kadima members are third rate hacks with no real political or even Jewish principles to guide them, but who once enjoyed some short- lived media popularity and will say or do anything to gain power. Kadima is thus a party with no principles except gaining power.
Jeff Gilbert on November 17, 2010 at 11:22 am (Reply)
A really well-written article - giving the reader a full insight into what makes Kadima the party it is - in my view not one that is electable to government in the foreseeable future.
LT COL HOWARD on November 17, 2010 at 5:52 pm (Reply)
As usual, a very intelligent article and very intelligent posting comments. Let me warn that Livini is dangerous. Any Israeli politician or public figure that comes to the United States and urges tough love on Israel or who urges American Jews or the US government to undercut the existing Israeli government is guilty of helping to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. The policy of AIPAC of supporting whatever administration is in power is in in Israel is the only correct one for an American Jew. If one disagrees one has adequate back channel approaches to state their case. It is presumptuous of Livni to assume that she has the whole truth and that she can violate the democratic processes of Israel to press her views on the US government so that the US will blackjack Israel. The sooner Israel realizes: freewheeling political discussion is seen by Israel's enemies as a dangerous disunity and as an invitation to further actions to delegitimize Israel and eventually destroy it.
Alain Shriber on November 18, 2010 at 4:41 pm (Reply)
The Likud is slowly crawling back to its original place in the spectrum of Israeli parties.

A party led by Begin, son, will have to wait as long as his father (when he headed the Herut) waited for his new Herut Party to gain power.

An Ideal scenario would be a sharing of power between Kadima, what's left of Likud and Labor.

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