Kadima leaders took turns Wednesday afternoon jabbing punch after verbal punch at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu - with Kadima Chair Tzipi Livni concluding the attack - during which the MKs accused Netanyahu of dealing with political rivalries instead of concentrating on securing the release of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
Kadima, together with other opposition factions, submitted a petition with 40 signatures, demanding that the prime minister appear before a plenum hearing yesterday on what they termed his "failed diplomatic policy."
The real complaint of the leading opposition party was what they saw as the prime minister's political machinations when he should have been focused on Schalit.
"On a day when the entire nation was listening to the radio, when an entire nation was waiting tensely to hear if Gilad will return, if a deal is on, what its price would be; on a day when we - as a responsible opposition - without even being asked, withdrew our no-confidence motions to allow you and your ministers to participate in meetings on such an important issue, you used the time for narrow political wheeling and dealing. I am so sorry about that," said Opposition Whip MK Dalia Itzik (Kadima).
Itzik and a number of other Kadima speakers, including MKs Yoel Hasson and Ze'ev Bielski, referred to allegations that between meetings Monday regarding Schalit, Netanyahu and his senior staff found time to meet with disgruntled Kadima members. Netanyahu's associates and even the prime minister himself spent this time offering Kadima MKs plum positions in exchange for their breaking with their party and joining the coalition.
"You know that at the moment of truth, the opposition will support every responsible act on your part, like freezing building in the settlements or your commitment to two states for two nations," Itzik added. "For that, you try to break apart Kadima? Be serious. After all, a split in Likud is expected long before you manage to break apart Kadima."
"Look at Noam and Aviva Schalit in the eyes," admonished Hasson. "What are they supposed to feel now that they know that instead of dedicating all of your time and effort to them, you chose to deal with cheap, petty politics?"
Speaking immediately before Netanyahu, coalition chairman Ze'ev Elkin (Likud) belittled Kadima's complaints.
"I naively thought that a 40-signature hearing is not a psychoanalytic couch, where you sit and begin to cry about all of the problems that you have - but I was apparently wrong," said the MK. "Mr. Prime Minister, it turns out that you are also a psychologist - our friends in Kadima have come to you to tell you about their internal problems, their splits, their problems within the faction."
"I heard that in these days," said MK Nissim Ze'ev (Shas), "the prime minister is concerned with delivering hostages. Maybe it is rescuing Kadima members who are trapped in their faction."
Netanyahu, for his part, refrained from addressing Kadima's charges and instead focused his response on Israel's foreign policy challenges, including Hamas, Iran and the aftershocks of the Goldstone Report. He concluded his speech with a call for Knesset unity in the face of such serious risks.
"Members of Knesset," Netanyahu said, "I am not asking from you more than I asked my colleagues in the opposition when I led them a short while ago. On these weighty matters regarding Israel's security and foreign policy, you have only one real option: not to confront for the sake of confrontation, not to search for all kinds of excuses in order to explain why you do not support the policy that you know is right for Israel at this time. You have one real and responsible option and that is to support the government of Israel at this time."
Speaking after Netanyahu, Livni herself concluded Kadima's onslaught, reiterating Itzik's statements that she "thought that this was the time for the opposition to enable you to come with a head clean of political matters, concentrating on the main issue at hand."
But, Livni added "to my sorrow I heard that in these two days, the prime minister and the defense minister of Israel were dealing with embarrassing politics. Conversations to convince people to split from their parties in accordance with a certain ugly law," she said, referring to the so-called Mofaz Law, designed to facilitate a split within Kadima.