Shaul Mofaz at the Western Wall 370.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
There can be little doubt that Shaul Mofaz, the newly elected leader of the
centrist Kadima party, is an excellent tactician, not only militarily, but also
The former chief of staff of Israel’s armed forces bided his
time as the second-in-command of Kadima’s disparate membership and worked
discreetly to topple its overconfident leader, Tzipi Livni, in Tuesday’s
high-profile primary election. He won two out of every three votes
This victory immediately transformed Mofaz into a would-be heir
apparent to incumbent Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who holds the post to
which the Iranian-born, soldier-turned politician aspires. Until now, Bibi has
had no rival during his current term in office and could anticipate yet another
term regardless of whether he scheduled the next national election for this fall
or early next year.
Unexpectedly, Mofaz emerged from the Kadima party
primary as a charismatic figure whose enthusiastic supporters evidently believe
he really means what he says, above all insofar as the long-overdue changes in
the state’s domestic priorities are concerned.
They also are excited by
his advocacy of economic reforms designed to wipe out extreme poverty and
curtail excessive wealth.
One step in this direction could be to team up
with the left-of-center Labor party whose chairman, Shelly Yacimovich, has
indicated that she is willing to cooperate with him.
But that might not
give Kadima the number of Knesset seats necessary for a viable coalition
It was Livni who forfeited Kadima’s opportunity to govern
despite the fact that it out-polled all of its rivals in the last election. She
did this by refusing to include any of the Orthodox-oriented religious parties
in the coalition government that she would head.
She did not want to be
subject to their political dictates or blackmail and not not to be an accomplice
to the likes of incumbent Interior Minister Eli Yishai of the Orthodox Shas
party who has no moral or psychological compunctions about deporting African
asylum-seekers, regardless of whether their children were born in Israel,
attended Israeli schools and speak Hebrew like Sabras. Without at least some of
the Orthodox religious parties, she was unable to muster a Knesset majority and
therefore had to give way to Netanyahu, the runner- up, who
Netanyahu’s goal was to take power even if this required
controversial compromises on his own and his Likud party’s part.
that the religious parties always want to maintain their grip on the government
ministries that deal with the matters that concern them most, including
maintenance of the so-called status quo on religious issues especially insofar
as the prerequisites of Jewish identity are concerned.
One of Mofaz’s
biggest problems as Kadima’s leader will be the ideological diversity of its
Kadima is composed of defectors from the right-wing Likud and
the left-of-center Labor party many of whom might now consider returning to
their previous political frameworks respectively if prospects of serving in a
Kadima-led government or in a government in which Kadima is a key partner
It is important to bear in mind the fact that Kadima was
launched by former prime minister Ariel Sharon shortly after he deviated from
the then-incumbent Likud government’s emphasis on retaining most if not all of
the territory taken in the Six Day War (especially in the West Bank and Gaza
Strip). He implemented a unilateral and unconditional withdrawal from the Gaza
Strip, an act that ran counter to international norms (Nations that win wars do
not relinquish conquered territory unless they are assured that the recipients
will not use it as a staging ground or springboard for hostile military
When the Palestinian gun crews that are allowed if not
encouraged by Hamas to launch missiles at Israel brought civilian life in the
South to a virtual standstill earlier this month forcing a million citizens –
men, women and children – to be confined to air raid shelters or just stay at
home and off the streets, neither Livni personally nor the party she then led
admitted that the pullout may have been too hasty or simply a tragic
She reduced the importance of this issue to the lowest level
On the other hand, she and her party failed to stress the need
for reforms even when a grassroots movement that dramatized it filled Israel’s
cities with makeshift tent colonies. If Mofaz keeps his word and tries to close
the gap between rich and poor, Kadima may gain more adherents under his
leadership. However, that will require a genuine personal and political
commitment far beyond the predictable rhetoric suitable for a speech prompted by
his success in the party primary.
Incidentally, a recent report on the
distribution of income in the international community found that there are only
four countries in which it the gap between rich and poor is wider than in
Israel! Mofaz also will have to clarify his and his party’s attitude toward the
existing and proposed Jewish settlements in the West Bank. They have been the
beneficiaries of government funding far beyond the general public’s knowledge.
This issue is linked to the prospects of a two-state solution to the ongoing
dispute with the Palestinian Authority over the future status of the West Bank
and Gaza Strip.
Does Mofaz want Kadima to turn against this US-supported
scheme? Do he and his backers support it albeit with the proviso that it will
not be feasible until the Hamas regime in Gaza is removed and the Palestinian
Authority regains control there – something that may never happen.
may crucial problems will have to be faced head-on before the voters will be
able to decide whether he and his Kadima party can or should replace Netanyahu
and his Likud incumbents.
Hopefully, that process will be completed
during the run-up to the next national election – unless Bibi deliberately calls
it before Kadima has had enough time to make up its mind.The writer is a
veteran foreign correspondent.