The arrival of “Biberman” in Israel last week may have overshadowed the other
big story in Israeli political news: Israel’s largest party, Kadima, may
disappear come January 22. With 28 seats in the current Knesset, one recent poll
gave Kadima five seats in the next, while others place it at three seats, and at
least one recent poll gave it none.
It wasn’t that long ago, however,
that Kadima was branded the party of the future, the “pragmatic,” “centrist”
party which could bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a responsible
resolution in accordance with the supposed wishes of the majority of Israel’s
Even with all the scandals that rocked Kadima leader Ehud
Olmert – the mishandling of the Lebanon War and the corruption indictments – the
party remained Israel’s largest party. That should have been a testament to its
Yet today, the party is on the path to oblivion, with
members of Kadima fleeing wherever they can for the nearest political life-raft,
even the Likud. Those joining the Likud include Tzachi Hanegbi, Avi Dichter,
Yulia Shamolov Berkovich and Arieh Bibi.
While the list-merger agreement
with Yisrael Beytenu looks to secure Likud’s leadership for years to come, the
rapid and surprising rise and fall of Kadima may be a cautionary tale worth
considering, especially as the Likud absorbs these Kadima
KADIMA WAS a party born of betrayal of principle. Its founding
leader, Ariel Sharon, and many of its founding members had been long-time
members of the Likud. Tzachi Hanegbi, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert were Likud
“princes.” Sharon is considered a Likud founder. For years each of these
personalities stood behind the Likud’s anti-withdrawal/pro-Land of Israel
Sharon himself was called the “father of the settlements” due
to his efforts for the budding settlement enterprise as Minister of Agriculture
in the first Likud government. In 2002, for example, he eschewed a unilateral
withdrawal from Gaza saying it “would encourage terrorism and bring pressure on
us” and that “the fate of Netzarim [a Jewish town in Gaza] is the fate of Negba
[in the Negev] and Tel Aviv.” In January 2003, Sharon campaigned against Labor
candidate Amram Mitzna who proposed such a disengagement plan.
reversed – completely – on Palestinian statehood and disengagement. This caused
him considerable aggravation in the Likud. In 2002, in a rebuke to Sharon, the
Likud Central Committee almost unanimously approved a resolution against the
establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River.
the Disengagement Plan, in an internal party referendum, Likud members voted
against the plan 60%-40%. Ultimately, an opposition group of “rebels” formed
within the party and voted against the plan in the Knesset.
opposition led Sharon to depart from the party and launch Kadima. As Sharon
explained, the Disengagement presented a “historic opportunity and I will not
allow anyone [i.e., the Likud hardliners] to squander it.”
Ehud Olmert, Sharon’s right-hand man, told Newsweek
at the time that Sharon’s
departure was due to the fact that Sharon was “prepared for a major
accommodation in the territories that Likud could not accept.”
DEATH is harder to pinpoint than its birth. The party began a slow
decline in popularity beginning with the social justice protests bolstering
Labor and its new socially-conscious leader Shelly Yacimovich (Kadima dropped to
17-18 seats); continuing with Yair Lapid’s formation of another “centrist”
left-wing party, Yesh Atid (to 12-16 seats); Livni’s replacement by Shaul Mofaz
as party leader (10-12 seats); and Mofaz’s joining and then leaving the
government (4-7 seats and falling).
Certainly a lack of dynamic
leadership from Livni to Mofaz was a major factor in the party’s inability to
stay relevant. But one striking feature throughout the decline was the readiness
of Kadima’s MKs to leave the party when things turned sour.
to Mofaz, Livni left the Knesset. When Kadima joined the coalition, one of
Kadima’s founders, Haim Ramon, immediately resigned from the party. Ramon
now seeks to establish his own center-left party.
When Kadima left the
coalition, several Kadima MKs attempted to ditch the party and obtain portfolios
in the Likud-led government. Hanegbi did leave the party and joined the Likud.
Soon after, Dichter accepted a portfolio in the Likud-led government. And
Olmert’s comeback – whenever it happens – doesn’t seem set to include a return
Beyond the prospects of retaining their Knesset seats or
obtaining higher office, for many of the party’s members, there doesn’t seem to
have been a real commitment to the party. Kadima members rejected the Likud
principles for which they had stood for years, even decades, but never replaced
it with another vision for which they were willing to risk their
“Pragmatism” and “centrism” are not political philosophies.
Sharon, Olmert and Livni each had different visions or at least styles in
approaching the peace process and how to obtain their shared goal of a
Palestinian state. Nor did the party have a clear or unique philosophy with
regard to other issues. So when the going got tough for Kadima, the tough –
those concerned with political survival above all – just left. There was nothing
else for them to stay for.
The Likud on the other hand is blessed with a
history dating to Jabotinsky and the Underground, and had two ideologically
stubborn men – Menachem Begin and Yitzchak Shamir – as its first prime
ministers. The vision of these men gave many Likud members a reason to stay in
the Likud despite its dismal electoral prospects in 2006, when it received only
Netanyahu has been an able leader, but since returning to the
Prime Minister’s Office he has shifted away from the Likud’s principles with the
endorsement of Palestinian statehood at Bar-Ilan University in June 2009, the
10-month long settlement freeze, his May 2011 Knesset speech where he signaled
his willingness to relinquish sovereignty over most of Judea and Samaria, and
the abandonment of settlement policy to Ehud Barak.
never requested sanction by any Likud organ for such moves and may even consider
them mere tactical maneuvers, such actions by the Likud leader have an automatic
effect on the Likud’s character, diluting the party’s moral strength. And though
it may be hard to imagine today, the lesson of Kadima’s fall for Likud is that
if Likud does not stay true to itself, it may face a Kadima-like
The writer is a candidate for the Likud’s Knesset list.