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.
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
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
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.
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.