Here be dragons – Ya’alon’s new political voyage fraught with danger

Ya’alon’s decision to start up his own political vehicle is an unsurprising and obvious move.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Moshe Ya’alon’s announcement on Sunday that he was leaving the Likud party to form his own political outfit follows a long line of former Likud politicians who have left the party fold to strike out on new political voyages of their own.
But despite the allure for such politicians of being captain of their own ship, many such journeys have ended in political maelstroms with the new party eventually dashed to pieces on the unforgiving rocks of the Israeli political landscape.
For the most part, the motivation behind such departures have been a falling out with long-term leader and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with or without Netanyahu’s attendant suspicions of the loyalty of the politician in question; or a breach over matters of policy or on ideological grounds.
Ya’alon’s departure was to some extent caused by a combination of these factors.
Before he was unceremoniously booted from his job, the former defense minister had been engaged in something of a spat with Netanyahu over two public matters of concern, the case of the so-called “Hebron shooter” or the Elor Azaria case, and comments made by Maj.Gen Yair Golan who warned in a speech about radicalization in Israel, while also comparing the country to 1930s Germany.
Netanyahu came out strongly in opposition to Golan’s comments, and eventually gave strong backing to Azaria, having initially criticized his actions, while Ya’alon took the exact opposite position: giving his full backing to Golan and denouncing Azaria.
Having essentially been fired, and never offered compensation as foreign minister, Ya’alon quit the Knesset and has been a vociferous critic of Netanyahu ever since he left.
His decision to start up his own political vehicle is an unsurprising and obvious move, but he would be well-advised to take on board the lessons of history for aspiring centrist parties.
The most famous departure from the Likud came of course when the late prime minister Ariel Sharon did not so much leave the party as he did tear it asunder over his disengagement from Gaza in 2005.
Facing intense opposition within the Likud party to the evacuation and destruction of the settlements in Gaza which he himself had helped build, Sharon formed Kadima and took with him several of Likud’s political heavyweights including future prime minister Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz, Tzachi Hanegbi, and Meir Sheetrit.
Kadima of course went on to handsomely beat Likud in the 2006 elections after the disengagement had been carried out, winning 29 Knesset seats and decimating Likud to a rump party of just 12 MKs.
Ultimately however, the Likud regained its former ascendancy, while Kadima totally disintegrated as a functioning political party.
Sharon was struck down by a stroke in January 2006 which put him in a coma for the rest of his life, while the radicalization and eventual capture of Gaza by Hamas, the Second Lebanon War, and the criminal investigations into Olmert brought about a collapse in public support for the then-prime minister, and eventually led to his resignation in 2008 due to pending indictments which were filed against him in 2009.
Livni took over the reins from Olmert after winning Kadima’s leadership election in 2008, but was unable to form a government after Olmert stood down and had to go to elections in 2009, in which she managed to beat the Likud capturing 28 Knesset seats to Likud’s 27.
She was, however, once again unable to form a government, and Netanyahu was able to create a coalition restoring Likud to power after a tumultuous three-year absence.
In 2012 Livni lost the Kadima leadership election to her fellow Likud renegade Shaul Mofaz and, smarting from the defeat, left the party to form her own called Hatnua, or The Movement, winning six seats in the 2013 election.
Kadima with Mofaz at the helm garnered just two seats in the 2013 elections, and failed to even contest the 2015 elections.
Livni took her party into the Likudled government in March 2013, serving as Justice Minister, but was fired by Netanyahu, along with Yesh Atid leader and then Treasury Minister Yair Lapid in December 2014. Netanyahu accused them of scheming to overthrow him.
Hatnua joined forces with Labor to form the joint Knesset slate of Zionist Union for the 2015 elections, in which Hatnua won five Knesset seats among the umbrella faction’s 24, putting it into the opposition.
A more recent high-profile defector from the Likud was Moshe Kahlon, a one-time darling of the party who left in 2012 for a break from politics, but formed his own party instead of returning to the Likud in 2015.
Kahlon rose quickly in the Likud Knesset faction, first elected as an MK in 2003, and then gaining the number two spot in the Likud’s electoral list for the 2006 election and sixth place for the 2009 elections.
He won plaudits for bringing real competition to the country’s cellphone network market thereby making real savings for the average Israeli during his tenure as Communications Minister from 2009 to 2013.
Kahlon’s reasons for leaving before the 2013 elections were never made clear, but it is thought he likely had a falling out with Netanyahu, perhaps viewing his chances of serious promotion as scant under the prime minister, especially elevation to the position of Finance Minister which he coveted.
His new center-right party Kulanu was the breakthrough surprise of the 2015 elections, garnering 10 Knesset seats and making him something of a king-maker in the coalition negotiations, in which he managed to wangle the position of Finance Minister for himself, as Kulanu became the largest coalition ally for Likud.
Life in government and as head of the Treasury has proved tougher than the election campaign however, and the slow, arduous task of reducing property prices, a key campaign promise, has taken its toll on Kahlon’s popularity and Kulanu’s standing in the opinion polls.
The party has slid down to a projected six or seven mandates, and may struggle even further if it faces competition from a new party headed by Ya’alon, or if other players such as former IDF chiefs of Staff Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi enter the political center either in an existing party or a new one of their own.
Indeed, the fate of Kadima will always be a haunting specter and cautionary tale for any former Likudnik who dares to leave the party and strike out on their own.
And Kadima is not the only such historical warning. Yitzhak Mordechai, a prominent IDF general and commander was appointed defense minister by Netanyahu during the latter’s first term as prime minister back in 1996, but was fired three years later after Netanyahu believed Mordechai was planning to topple him.
Mordechai subsequently set up the not-so-imaginatively named Center Party, which took six seats in the 1999 elections and joined Ehud Barak’s coalition, in which Mordechai became transport minister and deputy prime minister.
The party rapidly crumbled, however, with several MKs jumping ship back to the Likud or other parties, and the party took a dismal 0.06% of the vote in the 2003 elections, crashing out of the Knesset and into the history books in one fell swoop.