Kadima two years later: Future riding on US parley

Most promises kept, but not to immigrants.

kadima 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
kadima 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert symbolically marked the two-year anniversary of the founding of Kadima by meeting with members of the party's young guard on Wednesday, but it was what he did the rest of the day that will really decide the party's future. Olmert convened the security cabinet and held other meetings preparing for Tuesday's diplomatic conference in Annapolis. The summit and the negotiations that follow could lead to the party's establishing itself as a force that will change Israel's history - or it could lead to a split in the party, and Kadima will be history. While most of the political pressure on Olmert ahead of Annapolis has come from outside Kadima, the battles inside the party will heat up if negotiations intensify and an agreement is reached with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. MK Ze'ev Elkin, an Olmert critic inside Kadima, said that when Abbas demanded the division of Jerusalem, the prime minister would have to decide between his negotiating partner and his political partners. "The negotiations will force a choice between our platform, which rules out dividing Jerusalem, and reaching a final status agreement," Elkin said. "I don't think a majority in our faction would agree to divide Jerusalem. If the prime minister tries by force to divide Jerusalem, I see a difficult disagreement ensuing that could threaten the party's future." Elkin said he believed Olmert would ultimately realize that he did not have enough political support to implement such an agreement and would initiate elections. Olmert's other opponents in Kadima agreed that any deal dividing the land of Israel could result in Olmert splitting his party. Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner - the party's former director-general, who is close to Olmert - said he did not believe Annapolis and the subsequent negotiations could threaten Kadima's future. "Our platform said we would make every effort to maximize our diplomatic options, and that is exactly what we have done," Plesner said. "Kadima won't split on issues like that. Likud and Labor have their own divisions, and not every disagreement leads to a split." Supporters and opponents of Olmert in Kadima agreed that two years after its formation, the party was on its way to fulfilling most of its political promises. They agreed that the promise furthest away from being fulfilled was finding a solution to help the thousands of Israelis - mostly immigrants from the former Soviet Union - who cannot get married in the country under the rules of the Orthodox rabbinate. Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann has begun the process of legislating changes to help at least some of the people forbidden to marry, but his associates said the issue was still being worked on in behind-the-scenes meetings between Justice Ministry officials and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar. "We promised to find a solution for the people who cannot get married, and we failed," Elkin said. "We gave a veto to Shas on the wording, and as a result it got stuck." Two other promises that former prime minister Ariel Sharon made shortly after founding Kadima that were broken by Olmert were the appointment of Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center president Uriel Reichman as education minister and of MK Marina Solodkin as a minister. The latter decision turned off many new immigrants to the party. The two major promises that Kadima has kept are the attempt to set the final borders of Israel and to change the electoral system. When Olmert returns from Annapolis, he will have to embark on negotiations not only with Abbas, but also with his coalition partners about far-reaching electoral reforms initiated by Knesset Law Committee chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima). Ben-Sasson said his committee was ready to vote on the reforms, but he was waiting for Olmert to return from Annapolis to help pass them. Kadima officials said that regardless of what happened with the electoral reform package, they had already improved the political system by ending the era when the Likud central committee had enormous power. They pointed out that Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu had taken away the committee's power to elect MKs and had started talking about bringing in quality candidates from outside politics as Kadima did. "People don't appreciate what we have done," a Kadima official said. "A new standard of politics has arisen that no longer tolerates political hacks. There are no more middlemen between party members and the MKs. People forget how bad it was when the Likud central committee ran the country. Those days are over."