Analysis: Why Netanyahu desperately wants to pass the Mofaz Bill

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
July 29, 2009 01:08
2 minute read.

 
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When former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon formed Kadima in November 2005, he had to act quickly to find 13 MKs to join him in the new party in order to split off from the 40-MK Likud faction. There were fears that wavering Likud MKs, most notably then-defense minister Shaul Mofaz, would decide at the last minute to stay in their home party if Kadima did not draft 14 MKs immediately. That's why Sharon accepted some MKs he did not like personally, did not think fit ideologically, or had clouds of investigations hovering over them that could have hurt the party in the long run. Imagine how much easier it could have been had the so-called Mofaz bill already been on the books. Sharon would have only needed four MKs to join him and future Kadima heads Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, who were in on the secret from the start. "We would have left out some of the bottom-feeders," a Sharon confidant who was part of the process of drafting the MKs admitted Tuesday night. "We still would have brought most of them, because every MK gave us additional party funding, but we might have trimmed the list to ten in order to increase our effectiveness." Indeed Mofaz was not part of the original 14. He rejected overtures from Sharon adviser Reuven Adler and remained in Likud at first, requiring Kadima's founders to find someone else to take his place. Fast forward almost four years later. Prime Minister and Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu is expected on Monday to pass the Mofaz bill, which will allow seven MKs to break off from large factions even if they do not constitute a third of its legislators. In an often-overlooked part of the legislation, it will also cut the minimum time before a faction is allowed to split from two years to only three months. Netanyahu has been given hell by the press for the bill and its encouragement of political bribery, especially after Mofaz himself compared Israel under Netanyahu to Castro-led Cuba and left no possibility of jumping ship. Analysts have noted that when Kadima was founded, Sharon had the decency to immediately initiate an election to ask for the public's support for his break-off party. So why is Netanyahu still so gung-ho for the bill? The answer lies in all the problems he has had over the past week in passing other key electoral and land reforms that he initiated. Ministers like Moshe Ya'alon and Michael Eitan, backbench MKs like Tzipi Hotovely and even former MK Nisan Slomiansky drove him crazy and forced him to deal with parliamentary minutiae when he needed to prepare for the visits of four senior American officials. Once the Mofaz bill becomes law, every party in the coalition and every rebellious MK becomes expendable. Netanyahu can always claim he has seven MKs ready to pounce into the coalition and replace the rebels. A source close to Netanyahu said the bill was aimed at breaking up Kadima, but it has become more important than that in recent days. "We knew we are taking a risk and that the bill could be used against us, but Bibi had to make a point and prove that he is still the leader," the source said. "Once it passes, everything else will be easier."

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