Analyze This: A contest for Kadima's soul

There are real ideological differences between Livni, Mofaz.

livni mofaz duet 88 (photo credit: )
livni mofaz duet 88
(photo credit: )
On Monday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni chose the Knesset benches as the very public setting in which to raise objections face-to-face with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert over his handling of the negotiations with Syria. Livni surely knew their brief "private" discussion would be caught on camera and overheard by nearby MKs, and that she would later be questioned about the encounter by the media. Her subsequent comments on the matter, as well as convenient leaks to the press - such as "Haaretz has learned that during the argument, Livni said she opposed the concessions Olmert has been willing to make regarding the various matters on the agenda as part of his efforts to see direct talks between the two states" - enabled Livni to both assert her independence from the prime minister, and balance her more dovish stance toward the Palestinians with a more hawkish attitude to the Syrians. Although Livni has a reputation as a straight shooter, it's awfully hard not to view that little episode as a campaign exercise intended for Kadima members ahead of the September 17 primary. Perhaps the foreign minister was taking a page out of the playbook of her main rival, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who as IDF chief of general staff in 2002 was suspiciously "overheard" on camera urging then-prime minister Ariel Sharon to expel Yasser Arafat. If Livni is indeed looking to tack Right ahead of the primary vote on certain issues, that urge is understandable in light of Mofaz's success in partially closing the gap between them in recent polls. She has to allay concerns among Kadima supporters that it would be easier for Mofaz to form a new government after the vote, by conveying the impression she would govern from the center even while making concessions in an agreement with the Palestinians. The transport minister, conversely, will have convince the party's supporters he won't abandon the efforts to move ahead on the peace front, and instead mainly aim to serve as a defense minister in a Binyamin Netanyahu-led government (or vice-versa). However the Livni-Mofaz rivalry is not simply a personal political contest; there are real ideological differences between them that can't be fudged by either, and this race is about more than just who succeeds Olmert as party leader, and possibly prime minister. It's also a defining moment for Kadima - literally so, in the sense of defining if not once and for all then at least for the near future just what, exactly, Israel's ruling faction stands for, at least in the eyes of its membership. Kadima is an odd hybrid of a party - one resembling the laboratory-made creatures featured in a current local advertising campaign in which two very different animals are combined into one, like a tavsus (peacock-horse) or carnav (rhino-hare). Although in theory the party was billed as the latest attempt to set up a centrist faction between Labor and Likud, its mad-scientist creator Sharon brought together MKs and public figures from all over the political map, in many cases largely on the basis of personal loyalty or connection to himself. You couldn't find two better examples of this in Kadima than Livni and Mofaz. Ironically, it is the former, born and bred in the revisionist movement, who leads the party's peace camp while the latter, a career officer parachuted into the cabinet by Sharon, now comes off as the most likely to direct the party into a partnership with Likud. Thus if the two run a close race down to the finish, there is legitimate concern in the party that a defection by the loser could lead to its break-up. No wonder then that some of Kadima's front-benchers are now reportedly trying to lock down a rulebook for the upcoming vote in order to minimize the chances of that happening. While Kadima unquestionably captured the lion's share of the Israel center in the last election, a more precise ideological portrait of its actual membership has been harder to pin down. That picture will undoubtedly become clearer after the primary vote, and in addition to a new leader, will help set the party's future course - or seal its fate for good. If Kadima is to truly claim the middle ground of Israeli politics, it might help if the party elders could somehow also combine Tzipi Livni or Shaul Mofaz into a single political animal. You could call it a Shipul Lofazni or, maybe - based on its close resemblance to an already existing species - Ehud Barak. [email protected]