The morning after MK Eli Aflalo submitted his official request to part ways with Kadima, speculation ran high in his party's ranks Wednesday as to how Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni would respond to his petition for a political divorce.
Many within the party took it for granted that Livni would accede to Aflalo's request, in order to be rid of at least one of a number of potentially divisive individuals in her fractured party. But some Kadima activists expressed their hope that Livni would refuse to accede to Aflalo's request to have an Aflalo-Kadima split gain official recognition.
One party activist said that they hoped that a refusal by Livni to recognize Aflalo's split would push the veteran politician to "return his mandate" and resign his Knesset seat. Rumors that Aflalo is considering retirement have been circulating since the previous Knesset, and the party activist noted that "it wasn't, after all, as if the voters voted for Aflalo. They voted for Kadima, and if he isn't going to support Kadima, he needs to return his mandate."
If Aflalo splits from Kadima without the faction's consent, he will face a series of weighty sanctions in the Knesset that will effectively block his ability to function as an MK or to run for a slot in the next Knesset elections.
Livni could also find an advantage in quickly approving Aflalo's departure - if he leaves now, any other MKs to split later from Kadima would be considered a separate faction from Aflalo, and so seven rather than six rebels would now need to be enlisted to form a splinter faction. If she does agree to a split with Aflalo, two possible paths lie before the former Afula city council head. He could either join the ranks of the Likud faction, fixing the current situation in which the governing party is not the biggest in the Knesset, or he could function as an "individual faction."
Individual factions were once more common in the Knesset, when the percent of the electorate needed to enter the Knesset constituted one Knesset seat alone. One of the best-known MKs to enter under those conditions was Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach faction garnered one lone Knesset seat in the 1984 elections.
As an "individual faction" Aflalo would enjoy state funds estimated to total between NIS 1.5 and 2 million per year. Factions are subsidized according to their number of MKs, plus one - bringing the total number, in Aflalo's case, to two. As a faction, Aflalo would be entitled - in addition to his parliamentary staff - to a faction manager, a position that costs the state approximately NIS 140,000 per year, as well as a faction office, phone lines, and office equipment.
But in terms of legislative work, functioning as an individual faction could quickly tie Aflalo's hands. In plenum debates divided on the basis of faction, Aflalo would have no speaking privileges, rendering him only able to participate in "general debates" on the Knesset floor. Furthermore, he would rely on the good graces of Likud to arrange committee seats for him, and without faction sponsorship, he would be entitled to introduce one piece of private members' legislation per Knesset session.
Beyond the parliamentary threats, if and when Aflalo officially leaves the faction, he will also lose his experienced parliamentary aide, Tzvi "Tziki" Avisar. The aide is also editor of the Yalla Kadima Web site and has let it be known that he plans to split with Aflalo and stay with the party.
Aflalo would, however, benefit from the law submitted this week by MK Carmel Shama (Likud) already beginning to be nicknamed the "Aflalo Law." The bill, an amendment to the Mofaz Law, would enable six MKs to join any single-MK-faction over the course of a year after that MK split, and still allow that group to be recognized as the seven necessary to form a faction. The bill would also allow additional MKs to join the newly-formed faction throughout the first year after the group split from its parent faction.