Analysis: Poaching from Kadima

Analysis Poaching from

In 1955 a local Jerusalem politician named Rahamim Kalanter, elected to the Jerusalem city council on a National Religious Party slate, remained inside the coalition after his party bolted in exchange for an appointment as deputy mayor in charge of religious affairs and sanitation. And thus was born the Hebrew term "Kalanterism," a word referring to politicians who switch political parties in return for tangible benefits. Forty-five years later, Kalanterism is alive and well, with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the verge of enticing at least seven Kadima MKs from their party in exchange, in most cases, for deputy ministry appointments. Is it aesthetic? Obviously not. But does it make good political sense for the prime minister? Clearly. And not only does it make good sense for Netanyahu, but also for Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Over the last few months the two have shown how they have been able to work together on diplomatic issues. That cooperation has now spilled over into the political realm. Whether or not the maneuver comes to fruition, it already has had one consequence - Kadima head Tzipi Livni is now, for apparently the first time since the coalition was established, seriously entertaining the idea of joining the government. When looking at Netanyahu's move to poach from Kadima, it is important to keep a couple of things in mind. First of all, this is not some new whimsy that has just now overcome the prime minister. He set this as a goal for months, and it was the reason he pushed for the passage of the so-called Mofaz Law, reducing to seven the number of MKs needed to split off from a party and form an independent Knesset faction. That was in the summer, before Netanyahu came up against dissension inside the Likud for his decision to freeze for 10 months new housing starts in the settlements. Obviously back then he had a sense of where things were going diplomatically. Yet there was something else involved in Netanyahu's efforts. It is always good to strengthen the coalition wherever possible, and looking at Kadima, a list that itself pilfered members from the Likud and Labor, Netanyahu could see there were natural allies inside the party who were very close to him in ideology. Luring Kadima MKs serves him in two ways. First of all it strengthens the "moderate" wing inside his own party and coalition. Getting the likes of Eli Aflalo, Ronit Tirosh, Shai Hermesh, Otniel Schneller, Arieh Bibi, Yulia Shamalov Berkovich, Ze'ev Boim and possibly Yisrael Hasson to defect would more than counter the Danny Danons, Tzipi Hotovelys, Silvan Shaloms and even - if he moves toward considerable concession toward the Palestinians - the Bennie Begins and Moshe Ya'alons who could cause him political problems from within. Netanyahu realized that he may be on track for future confrontations both with the US and the settlers, and he doesn't want to be dependent on his right wing for survival. He would like to avoid a situation where he is hamstrung in his diplomatic maneuverability by those on his party's right, and winning over these Kadima Mks would help him do just that. Second, and this is where Netanyahu's interests dovetail with those of Barak, it is also in his political interest to lead to the deterioration of Kadima. If Kadima falters and eventually fails, its 29-mandates worth of voters will "return home," some to the Likud, some to Labor. Even if Livni decides to join the government as the only way to stave off a mass defection, Netanyahu will have weakened the party, since it will have to struggle mightily in the next election to convince the voters that there is a real difference between it and the Likud. The move to poach from Kadima also strengthens the coalition's left-wing flank in the eventuality that there is a split inside Labor and six of its MKs leave to start their own faction. In this case the addition of another seven Kadima MKs, or perhaps even the entire Kadima party, would serve the coalition as a shock absorber. Barak, meanwhile, is helped if a few Kadima MKs defect, but less so if the whole party joins the coalition. No fool, Barak realizes that his position as defense minister is secure as long as the government is stable. If this government falls, his political career may well be over. Incorporating seven Kadima MKs will breathe more stability into the coalition, and even possibly protect his position in the likelihood of a Labor party split. But if Kadima as a whole joins the coalition, he may end up losing his job to Shaul Mofaz. It is also significant to look at whom Netanyahu and Barak have pegged as possible defectors. Of the eight names listed as most possible, five of them are at the very bottom of the Kadima faction list - Shamalov-Berkovich is No. 29 on the 29-person list, and Hermesh, Hasson, Bibi and Schneller hold the 24th, 25th, 26th and 27th spots, respectively. This is obviously no coincidence, as these Knesset members are looking at the party's slipping popularity, and probably thinking that the only way to ensure their own political future - Kadima will be extremely hard-pressed to win 29 seats in the next election - is to bolt the party and hook up with someone else. Livni also very clearly realizes this, which is why she must be thinking that the only way to save her party right now is to join up with the Likud.