Politics: The ex-vice premier justifies his leap

Shaul Mofaz tells the ‘Post’ that the public will understand Kadima defending its principles.

Shaul Mofaz and Hillary Clinton in Washington 370 (photo credit: US State Department)
Shaul Mofaz and Hillary Clinton in Washington 370
(photo credit: US State Department)
The first question for Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz was going to be how he would feel when Israel made a big decision on Iran and he was not there. Then came the assassinations in Syria. And then the terrorist attack took place in Bulgaria. And he wasn’t there.
Mofaz’s resignation only took effect on Thursday night. But he already stopped functioning as vice premier on Monday when he decided to remove his Kadima Party from the coalition.
The Kadima leader turned down an invitation from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to join him and his deputies at a meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday night, and he started planning his departure.
Mofaz’s first step was to postpone Kadima’s faction meeting from Monday to Tuesday because he did not want to have to play politics while Clinton was in town.
“I met with Hillary in Washington last month,” he said. “I didn’t want to put on a show by coming at night and quitting the following day. I already knew I was leaving, and I didn't want to show Hillary disrespect.”
What Mofaz neglected to say was that by not coming, he avoided a meeting with Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon when Clinton left. He would have come under enormous pressure to cancel his departure plans, and his mind was already made up.
As opposition leader, Mofaz will be entitled to meetings with visiting dignitaries even though Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin defied protocol and avoided convening with Labor leader Shelly Yechimovich when she held the post.
In an interview in the waning hours of his vice premiership, Mofaz did not sound too troubled about losing his influence or about not being there when key decisions will be made.
Don’t you feel odd not being called in for consultations with Netanyahu now on Bulgaria?
Yes, but things happen.
At such times, do you regret leaving?
There are red lines you cannot cross. We gave the prime minister a coalition he could have used to make historic decisions. When the time came for those decisions, he retreated. A prime minister with such a wide coalition would be expected to draft a new covenant with the Israeli public and bring the haredim and Arabs to the heart of Israeli society. Israel lost out because he didn’t.
Kadima did not ask for ministries when we joined. We asked to advance our banners of equalizing the burden of IDF service, passing a budget that could help bridge socioeconomic gaps, stabilizing the electoral system and advancing the peace process. When Netanyahu stopped step one, there was no point in continuing the partnership. There were two weeks left to reach a compromise.
Why did you give up so fast?
We could have left when Netanyahu dispersed the Plesner Committee. Then he and the Likud adopted the recommendations and then he retreated again. Netanyahu’s last proposal would not have satisfied the public that serves in the IDF, and it would not have satisfied the Supreme Court either. He still thought haredi army service could start at 23 and civil service at 26. That’s nothing but a bad joke.
Weren’t you close to reaching a compromise?
We tried, but when we got closer, Ya’alon met with haredim and people in his party and retreated from commitments he made. We shifted the negotiations from politicians to lawyers but we still disagreed on the obligation to serve, at what age, and issues of personal responsibility and criminal sanctions. When the time came for Netanyahu to decide between Zionist taxpayers who serve and draft evaders, he picked the evaders. For three and a half years under Tzipi Livni’s leadership, no one understood what we stood for. Now it is clear.
What happens when it is time for a key decision on Iran?
I will be there as head of opposition. I will have something to say. The law requires the prime minister to update the opposition leader. On Iran, my view is that the United States should lead the way. I heard Obama a month ago tell me three times “I am committed to preventing Iran from becoming nuclear.” He made clear his strategy is prevention, not containment. That says it all. There is time for sanctions to end Iran’s nuclear program. I want to warn that an early strike by Israel can create a harsh reality. I will be there to give this warning. I assure you that I will have something to say.
Can the diplomatic process with the Palestinians be advanced without Kadima in the coalition?
I didn’t get the impression that Netanyahu is poised for that. He had an opportunity to advance the talks, but he didn’t. I don’t know if he was the one who blocked me from meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. I can still meet him as opposition leader.
A few weeks before you joined the government, you were quoted saying you would lead this summer’s socioeconomic protests. Will you do that now?
The protests are not led by politicians. But I will help the protests in any way possible and I would have in the government as well. The same is true of the protests for equalizing the burden of service. Kadima will have something to say.
Will Kadima remain united? There are MKs who still want to leave.
The stories of a split in Kadima have been reported for four years, but the only party that split was Labor. Every party has voices that disagree. We had 25 MKs out of 28 vote in favor of leaving the coalition. That can’t be underestimated. Such votes are the true test of unity.
How do you avoid efforts to initiate another Kadima leadership race?
Kadima has bylaws about such things. The results of the primary I won were clear. There is no doubt I am the leader. People see where Livni led Kadima for three and a half years in which we lacked an identity. Now the public knows why we joined the government and why we left. I brought Kadima back to center stage on the issues that matter and we will keep fighting for them in the opposition.