In a first for an Israeli political party, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Kadima has formed an internal mini-think tank of researchers to help formulate the party's policies on key issues. Skeptics would say that decisions about Olmert's policies are made in closed forums of advisers in Jerusalem and key meetings in Washington, but from now on, a group of thinkers will contribute from a small office at Kadima's headquarters in Petah Tikva.
Kadima plans future with no plan
The mini-think tank is an initiative of Kadima director-general Yohanan Plesner, who worked at a Washington-based think tank, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment, following completion of his master's degree at Harvard University. Political parties in the US and other countries have affiliated or internal think tanks.
Among the issues that the mini-think tank staff is working on are solving the problem of couples prohibited to marry due to Halacha and how to change the governmental system. Kadima had a task force, led by Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit, on the latter issue during the campaign. It recommended electing at least part of the Knesset regionally, but nothing came of the recommendation.
"No decision has been made yet in Kadima about whether a more presidential or parliamentary system should be adopted," Plesner said. "We are examining the issue and exploring the alternatives. It is critical to handle such an important issue in a serious and responsibility way."
Plesner said he believed Olmert would listen to the party when making key decisions, despite the history of his predecessor Ariel Sharon's ignoring his party's dictates.
"The party will decide the path of Kadima," Plesner said. "Just because it didn't happen before, doesn't mean it won't happen now or that it is not in the interest of the prime minister for it to happen. Ultimately politics is entrepreneurship, influencing at both the local and national level."
The mini-think tank is one of the first of several bodies being formed in Kadima as it develops into a full-fledged political party. Olmert dedicated the first of 21 party branches on Tuesday, and he will attend the first meeting since the election of Kadima's governing council next week.
The council will elect a "noted public figure" as chairman, as well as an internal comptroller and party court. Once those institutions are in place, the party will hold a well-advertised membership drive to bolster the some 15,000 people who have joined the party so far.
"If you want quality leadership in decision-making places, people shouldn't sit in their living rooms and complain when they can join and have a part in electing quality people," Plesner said.
Party officials downplayed talk of early elections. But just in case, strategists Lior Chorev and Eyal Arad are already working with the party. Chorev and Arad worked with Sharon and Olmert in the last three elections, but there was speculation that they would not continue with Olmert, who is advised by their rival Tal Zilberstein, a former adviser to former prime minister Ehud Barak.