Burning Issues #13: Kadima?

livni kadima rally  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
livni kadima rally
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Burning Issues brings our best opinion writers to one podium, where they respond, in brief and in real time, to a question about one of the hottest news topics on the agenda. Our aim is also to get you, our readers, involved, by sharing your opinions with the JPost community, or if you wish, by responding to any specific posting. Burning Issues 1-12: The Future of US Jewry, US midterm elections, Saddam on death row, the Lieberman factor, Gaza mess, Katsav scandal, North Korea, system of government, Abbas vs. Hamas, talks with Syria, Bush vs. Ahmadinejad, pope remarks.

Question #13

Exactly one year ago former prime minister Ariel Sharon announced that he was quitting the Likud and forming a new political party - Kadima (forward in Hebrew). Despite Sharon's stroke, Ehud Olmert still led Kadima to victory in the elections by winning 29 mandates. One year later, the future of Kadima is uncertain. Olmert's popularity is at an all-time low. Will the party fade into oblivion or continue to play a major role in Israeli politics? Contributions by Elliot Jager, Amotz Asa-El, MJ Rosenberg, Isi Leibler and Daniel Pipes. Elliot Jager: Kadima is a disappointment - no question. But more important than whether Kadima survives is whether a genuine centrist party can function within the Israeli political system. Such a party should be pragmatic on security issues, "third way" on economics, and basically libertarian on social/religious issues. I'm not ready to say Kadima is beyond salvation. But if it does not pursue centrist policies - it has no reason to battle on. We already have Likud (and the parties to its Right) and Labor (and the parties to its Left). Most Israelis want practical solutions to the problems that confront us - not warmed over rhetoric and stale ideologies. Say 'yes' to the 'hudna' Amotz Asa-El Kadima won just under one-in-four of the votes cast in an election where a record-low 60 percent of the electorate participated. In other words, fewer than 15 percent of eligible Israeli voters actually voted Kadima. The fact that this support-base sufficed for victory reflects not Kadima's success, but the political system's crisis. Still, Kadima was indeed handed a moment that, if seized, could have heralded a new era of consensus and reform at home, and pragmatism and resolve abroad. Yet Kadima squandered the moment. Olmert proved to lack any commitment to any reform, certainly not one that would be his own, just like his West Bank retreat "plan" proved to lack even the most basic professional preparation or even just party consultations. Israel has had many centrist misadventures, from the Third Way to Shinui, but none were so shamelessly devoid of ideas, plans and shared convictions as Kadima, which like French Gaullism and Argentinean Peronism revolved around an individual rather than a thought. Add to this the summer's failed war in Lebanon, Olmert's directionless coalition of opposites, and the corruption allegations plaguing key Kadima leaders from Tzahi Hanegbi to Avigdor Yitzhaki, and you get the twilight zone at which the Jewish state has arrived under the leadership of a party whose abrupt loss of its founder exposed it as what it really is: an accidental assemblage of opportunists with no common spirit, goal or even just glue, other than personal gain. Asa-El's Israel: The field trip MJ Rosenberg: Kadima has a future if Prime Minister Olmert succeeds in improving Israel's security situation. The unilateralism envisioned by Ariel Sharon is dead. The Gaza withdrawal should have been negotiated with the Palestinians for many reasons - including the simple fact that without coordination, there is no obligation by the other side to do, or refrain from doing, anything. I don't see much of a future for Kadima unless Olmert is successful in arranging negotiations with the Palestinians that will (1) end the violence emanating from Gaza and (2) lead to further negotiations toward a resolution of the conflict. Israel needs to focus on countering the Iran/Hizbullah alliance and the Iranian nuclear program in particular. This is why Yitzhak Rabin (z''l) went to Oslo in the first place. His goal was not peace with the Palestinians simply because peace is nice but because resolving the conflict with them would allow Israel to focus on what he considered to be the real sources of danger: Iran and Iraq. Nothing has changed since except the threat from Iran has dramatically increased. I don't know what Israel should do about it. But I do know that allowing the future of West Bank settlements to prevent Israel from cutting a solid deal with the Palestinians that would eliminate the Palestinian question as a pretext for attacks on Israel makes no sense at all. I believe that Olmert is eager to resume negotiations with the Palestinians and that, following the release of the Baker-Hamilton report here in the United States, he will be urged to do so by President Bush. Should those negotiations bear fruit - as I think they would - both Olmert and Kadima would benefit mightily. Without movement toward peace, I don't see much of a future for Kadima. In Washington: My hopes for the 110th Congress Daniel Pipes: A year ago, I placed Kadima in the tradition of Israeli third-way parties such as Dash, Center, Yisrael Acheret, Shinui, and Ha'olam Hazeh - parties that flare and then disappear almost without a trace. I predicted that Kadima would "(1) fall about as abruptly as it has arisen and (2) leave behind a meager legacy." When Ariel Sharon physically collapsed in early January, I jumped the gun, writing that "If Sharon's career is now over, so is Kadima's." In fact, Olmert impressively kept the party going. With Kadima's electoral success in late March, I acknowledged that it held together "significantly better than I expected," adding that "I continue to see it as a transient party." In early September, I hazarded that "Kadima's name will not be on the ballot when the next Israeli national elections take place." My views remain in this mode: Kadima remains a basically self-contradictory personal vehicle its founder, Ariel Sharon, and therefore will not last long. That this incoherent party now heads an incoherent coalition will not permit it to escape this fate. A devastating thesis Isi Leibler: Sharon created Kadima as a vehicle to promote his personal agenda. His handpicked entourage comprised of politicians from disparate sections of the political mainstream ranging from octogenarian Shimon Peres to Tzachi Hanegbi. A few of them deluded themselves into believing that they were creating a genuine centrist party. What most of them held in common was a desire to promote their individual political ambitions in return for which they committed themselves to act as an "amen" chorus to Sharon. Aside from the disastrous unilateral disengagement, Sharon refused to outline Kadima's political intentions until after the elections. Adopting a secular messianic approach, Israelis mesmerized themselves into believing that the strong leader would lead them out of the wilderness. When Sharon left the scene and was succeeded by Ehud Olmert, the party began to implode. However it was not until the Lebanon war that Kadima was exposed in all its nakedness as an empty vessel. Today, with opinion polls showing that the loss of confidence in leadership has reached an all time low, the writing is on the wall. Should an election take place, the party will in all probability suffer the same fate as Shinui. The saga of Kadima will be recorded as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the Jewish state: A period in which corruption, incompetence, failed leadership and national decay reached their nadir. Irrespective of whoever assumes the mantle of government, the sooner Kadima disappears the better it will be for Israel.