Analysis: Out-Kadima-ing Kadima

With the foreign policy rug pulled out from under her by Netanyahu and Barak, Livni needs to find a way to remain relevant.

Livni 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Livni 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
It could be the plot of a romance movie: two washed-up players, former adversaries both believed to be dead in the water, fall in love and together return to relevance. Meanwhile, the new, hot player on the field is bested by the comeback kids and sinks into obscurity. But this love story is entirely political - with Prime Minister and Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister and Labor chairman Ehud Barak exchanging pats on the back and statements of support while Kadima leader and would-be premier Tzipi Livni is left trying to assert her relevance as opposition leader. This is a difficult task these days; the public has discovered that Right (Likud) plus Left (Labor) equals something similar to Kadima's centrist approach. On the diplomatic level, the apparent goals of the current administration, or even the interim steps it is likely to take, are barely distinguishable from those of the previous one. Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor) was quick to take credit for that situation Sunday, when he emphasized that it was Labor, the fourth-largest party in the Knesset and third-largest in the coalition, that had enabled Netanyahu to take steps to renew active negotiations with the Palestinians. But with Labor out-Kadima-ing Kadima from the Left, and Netanyahu and the majority of Likud MKs out-Kadima-ing it from the Right, how can Livni and her 27 MKs reaffirm the relevance of their party? Livni ran on a relatively dovish platform, advocating renewed dialogue with the Palestinians and the two-state solution, but in the three months since Netanyahu's Bar Ilan speech, it seems as if the foreign policy carpet has been pulled from under her feet. Kadima cannot - and has not, in recent months - presented a different foreign policy vision from that of Labor and Likud. In fact, on a number of occasions - regarding Iran as well as negotiations with the Palestinians - Kadima officials, including Livni, have expressed willingness to serve as a "loyal opposition." Nevertheless, opposition is as opposition does, and as such, Kadima must find a way to criticize a foreign policy platform practically identical to its own. To date, its answer can be summarized in one word: initiative. Kadima has not attempted to oppose to the government's end goals, or even the steps taken on the way, but the way the government manages the process. Over and over, Kadima's leadership has blasted Netanyahu as being "pulled" or "afraid" rather than taking initiative. Kadima talking points have emphasized that Netanyahu - through his own stubbornness and fear - gives in to others' proposals rather than initiating a coherent Israeli proposal. "You are a prime minister who represents a consensus of fear, and we represent a consensus of hope," summarized Livni during a Knesset speech this summer. "Most importantly, it is sad that you made statements from a position of weakness, under pressure - how did you explain it to the Likud? That the world pressured me? - and not out of belief that they were in Israel's interest. And this is the deep difference between us." Weeks later, Kadima MK Ronnie Bar-On blasted "a government that does not initiate, but responds to pressure. If Netanyahu is really interested in advancing the principle of two states, he must lead, and not be led in a state of last resort." In the weeks after the holidays, as the Knesset goes back into session and Israel most likely heads to direct talks with the Palestinians, Livni and company will be tested. In the previous session, they concentrated their opposition on the budget, without delving too deeply into diplomatic issues on the Knesset floor, save on state occasions. But now, after a few test-spins, Livni will have to explain to the Israeli public what the difference is between initiating and being pushed, if the final results are likely to be the same.