An unprecedented phenomenon will take place in January during Israel’s general
elections, something that has never happened in the political history of the
only Middle Eastern democracy: The largest contemporary party in the Knesset –
Kadima – will disappear.
The competition to form a government will be as
it was in the past; between the Right and the Left, Likud and Labor. The concept
of a popular centrist party in Israeli politics, which was the purpose of Kadima
founder Ariel Sharon, has failed.
In 2005, Sharon, the then-popular prime
minister, decided to leave Likud, his political home for decades, to form a new
party, Kadima. The reason for this move was the opposition within the Likud to
Sharon’s 2005 Gaza Disengagement plan.
Dominant Likud MKs such as Ehud
Olmert and Tzipi Livni, together with Labor MKs such as Shimon Peres, joined
Sharon to form the new party. The purpose of this party was to be the new voice
of the political Center and to create a political platform that would enable
Sharon to make major changes in Israeli policy concerning fundamental questions
of national security, borders and the country’s relationship with the
As things turned out, a stroke left Sharon unable to lead
his newborn party in the general elections in 2006. Nonetheless, Kadima, under
the leadership of the much less popular acting prime minister Ehud Olmert, won
those elections and became the largest party in the Knesset with 29 seats,
almost a quarter of the seats in the Knesset.
Kadima’s victory in the
general elections in 2006 was a first. All previous attempts to create a
sustainable centrist party in Israel had failed.
Since the foundation of
the state, only parties with strong pre-state roots had made it into
Kadima was therefore not only the first “new party” but also
the first centrist party to win an election.
MOST ATTRIBUTE the failure
of Kadima to the bad leadership and policy failures Kadima suffered from in
recent years. However, for a deeper understanding of the political phenomenon we
have to ask: What was this new, centrist party’s main message? The word “Kadima”
itself gives us the answer. The party is about looking and moving forward.
Sharon wanted a revolution in Israeli politics.
He suggested a new
perspective on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority; that
it wasn’t about the security of Israel anymore, but rather about saving the
Jewish majority in the Jewish state.
This was his incentive for promoting
the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and this was the logic of the disengagement
from Judea and Samaria proposed in 2006 by prime minister
According to this view, the debate was no longer between the
traditional Right and Left in Israel but between the “sane center” and the
extremists on both sides.
This revolution in Israeli politics is in fact
a rejection of the politics of the past 100 years of Zionism. This is not to say
Kadima is an anti-Zionist party, but rather that its spirit contradicts
One of the dominant Kadima members, then-minister
Meir Sheetrit, was quoted by Ynet as arguing in a speech after the party’s 2006
victory that, “We disengaged from all kinds of ideologies. Here are sitting
former members of the Labor party, former members of the Likud, and members who
were in no other parties beforehand. We no longer have bags with the legacy of
Ze’ev Jabotinsky or Berl Katznelson on our back. We look only to the
Sharon’s successor, prime minister Olmert, has also expressed
this “detachment” from ideology. Facing the growing dissatisfaction of his
government, Olmert defined anew the role of Prime Minister of Israel – not an
inspirational leader but merely manager of the country. The prime minister, he
said, has to be a good manager of the country rather than a leader driven by an
If Kadima represents detachment from traditional Israeli
politics, then the end of Kadima must represent the restoration of traditional
politics – the will to deal with the fundamentals not through the lens of a new
and detached political discourse but rather through the enduring, interconnected
questions in philosophy, economics, politics and religion.
of Kadima’s “new politics” demonstrates a need to acknowledge the fundamental
disagreements in Israel regarding the country’s policies on national security,
negotiation with the Palestinians, economics and religion and
Israel will become stronger only through serious debate on its
real problems and challenges, and choosing the paths toward solutions. Kadima
turned out, in the end, to be a dodge.
Benjamin Schvarcz is a Hebrew
University political science student and a fellow at the Tikva Fund in New York.