Middle Israel: Kadima’s contribution to history

Even if it soon vanishes, the party will be recalled for ending the debate over Greater Israel.

Shaul Mofaz, new Kadima leader (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Shaul Mofaz, new Kadima leader
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
‘Politicians are all the same,” Nikita Khrushchev once said, “they will promise to build a bridge even where there is no river.”
Listening to new Opposition Leader Shaul Mofaz you have to admit the Soviet leader had a point. The retired general’s vow to lead the social protest, as if its energetic leaders need someone to bridge between them and the public, may have been forgivable morally, but politically it was laughable. And the new party leader’s broadsides at ultra- Orthodoxy’s failure to serve “even one day while my own children serve five years” were clearly sincere, but still left people suspecting this man has neither the tools nor the intention to bridge between the draft and its dodgers.
And yet Kadima’s primary election is for now the year’s main political event. Not because the Knesset’s largest party has changed leaders – Kadima does that every 18 months on average – but because of its result’s swiftness. This was one thing few predicted.
Though much is being said about the way it was achieved, it makes of Mofaz a political force to reckon with, for the first time since he joined politics a decade ago.
Stocky, ineloquent, cumbersome and politically unoriginal, Mofaz has yet to demonstrate an ability to do as a politician what he did as a soldier. In the military, he showed courage already as a sergeant who, while faced with a terrorist infiltration across the Jordan, split his squadron of several foot soldiers, assigning some to snipe at the infiltrators while he and another soldier crawled the other way, stormed the terrorists and killed them.
That performance got him into officers’ school after having previously been repeatedly rejected, a turning point later followed by his leadership roles in the Entebbe raid as Yoni Netanyahu’s deputy and in the war on Hamas as chief of staff.
Understandably, then, many now suspect that the underestimated sergeant who rose to lieutenant-general and then defense minister, may yet emerge as the improbable prime minister he insists he will ultimately become.
Well, don’t hold your breath.
MOFAZ HAS won Kadima’s primary not because of who he is but because of who his rival was not. As discussed here last year (“Happy birthday, Kadima,” December 2), Tzipi Livni was not up to the task assigned her by several advertising executives who thought this politician’s feminine elegance could substitute for her woeful lack of ideas, charisma and inspiration.
In this regard, Mofaz brings Kadima one thing it urgently needs: fighting spirit. Say what you will about this career soldier, he is battle hungry. And unlike his namesake, the biblical King Saul, he does not need to be convinced to assume power; he craves it. Alas, besides fighting spirit Kadima also needs an agenda.
Mofaz of course knows this, and he also knows that the agenda as Livni saw it – a deal with the Palestinians as soon as possible – is passé. Having been among the founders of the West Bank community of Elkana, Mofaz did not undergo Livni’s leftist conversion to begin with, and he also realizes she made a grand mistake in failing to prepare for, or at least seriously respond to, the public’s transition to a social agenda.
While he does not pass for historian Max Weber’s model of the charismatic leader whom people follow regardless of office, in his intuitions Mofaz is at least more attentive to the people’s will.
But that is also where his advantages over Livni end.
Mofaz will find it difficult to come forth with an economic statement that will sound either theoretically original or politically genuine. The beauty of Israel’s emerging political configuration is that next year’s general election will pit against each other two wellestablished schools of thought whose debate promises to be serious, deep and sincere.
In the one corner will be the conservative Binyamin Netanyahu and Yuval Steinitz, whose record now includes, besides structural reforms, macro-economic growth and monetary stability, also several social overtures, most notably the extension of compulsory free education from age three. In the other corner will be Labor’s neo-socialist Shelly Yacimovich and her shadow finance minister Prof. Avishay Braverman.
Mofaz is in no position to challenge either of these alternatives.
Any time he tries to attack Netanyahu’s economics people will wonder how it is that Mofaz carries with him Meir Sheetrit, who was finance minister Netanyahu’s righthand man and full partner when they drastically cut social spending in 2003- 2005.
Mofaz will also fail to reconcile his hostility to Netanyahu’s economics with the presence on his ticket of Ronnie Bar-On, who as finance minister during last decade’s global meltdown upheld all of Netanyahu’s reforms, and maintained the very tight fiscal policy that today’s social protesters condemn.
Mofaz’s chances of competing with Labor’s economic team are even worse, because this pair brings to the table Yacimovich’s impressive record of social legislation, and Braverman’s impeccable credentials as a World Bank economist and Ben-Gurion University president.
There may likely be some formations on these two economic alternatives’ flanks, Meretz from the Left and possibly Yair Lapid on the Right, but there will be no room for anything coherent to emerge in between them.
KADIMA’S LAST CHANCE to survive as a potential ruling party is that something will go seriously wrong for the current government. In the Middle East, this grim prospect can never be ruled out; a military blunder, an economic downturn, a terror upswing, who knows.
In this regard, Mofaz did right when he made his views on the Iranian issue plain, saying Israel should insist this is not an exclusively Israeli problem, but an international one whose treatment should be led by America.
This statement served as a refreshing reminder that in Kadima there is a set of rational and experienced people who, if circumstances somehow land them in that position, can do a reasonable job leading Israel. However, as things currently stand Kadima is over the hill and chances are it will emerge from the next election as someone else’s fifth wheel, like the Third Way, Tzomet, the Center Party, Shinui and the Pensioners Party before it.
Even so, unlike all previous centrist alternatives, Kadima has already earned its rightful place in history. The party established by the humbled prophets of Greater Israel and Land for Peace has ended the futile debate over the future of the territories.
With Netanyahu following Ariel Sharon’s example and adopting the two-state solution, and with Labor’s leader discussing nothing but economics, Kadima’s emergence has changed the focus of Israel’s political discourse from foreign to domestic issues. In fact, the debate has proven so lively and so well-attended that there is no room left in it for Kadima, whether under this leader or that.
The writer is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute.