Kadima, unvarnished

The candidates would do well to publish substantive position papers instead of snipping at each other.

Kadima candidates 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Kadima candidates 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
With Prime Minister Ehud Olmert set to step down as party leader, the spotlight focuses on Kadima's September primary race - the assumption being that the victor will form a new coalition. Will Olmert be replaced by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter or Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit? Moreover, what does the process say about the health of our political system, about Kadima itself and about whether democracy would be best served by simply advancing the general elections scheduled for March 2010? THERE IS no denying that the system has taken its lumps since the election of the 17th Knesset in March 2006. President Moshe Katsav has been driven from office in disgrace. Olmert is set to step down - not, as this newspaper urged, because of his mishandling of the Second Lebanon War, but because the multiple corruption investigations hanging over his head have left him politically impotent. The vice premier, Haim Ramon, has been rehabilitated after a 2006 conviction for committing an indecent act. Former finance minister Avraham Hirchson is on trial for stealing, and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Tzahi Hanegbi, is being tried for fraud. Former MK Shlomo Benizri has been convicted of bribery. Former MK Azmi Bishara fled the country under suspicion of being an enemy spy. KADIMA was founded as a political vehicle by former prime minister Ariel Sharon - originally elected as Likud head - following the 2005 Gaza Disengagement plan. Absent Sharon, Kadima has neither evolved into a bona fide Third Way party nor inspired a genuine grass-roots following. The polls show Livni as being highly popular with the general electorate, though Mofaz appears to have the stronger party campaign apparatus. She won't promise to remain in Kadima if defeated or, if victorious, to appoint him as her number two. The stability of Israel's political system has always depended on which party leader can muster 61 Knesset seats - and not on how she or he got to be party leader. Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Shamir all originally came to power by becoming party leaders. John Major became British prime minister when the Conservatives dumped Margaret Thatcher. Even in the US, Republican House minority leader Gerald Ford served as an unelected president, replacing Richard Nixon. Of course, what Israel really needs is an overhaul of the electoral system - perhaps some creative combination of direct election by district and proportional representation, with a relatively high threshold. Were general elections held under the present system, polls show Binyamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party emerging victorious. He would probably then have to turn to Kadima and Labor to form a broad-based coalition. At least on the Palestinian issue, the three parties are in broad agreement - or, perhaps, equally clueless. Since 2006, Likud has reluctantly accepted the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state as the outcome of negotiations based on reciprocity. Labor has been offering a state since 2000, having set the stage in 1993 with Oslo. And in his December 2003 Herzliya Conference speech, Kadima founder Ariel Sharon declared that Israel wanted the Palestinians to govern themselves. The Palestinians are, nevertheless, electioneering against Mofaz on the grounds that he would be too tough a negotiating partner. Which begs the question: Why, after eight months of bargaining with Livni, have they been unable to come to an agreement? Perhaps the answer is the Palestinian side's obduracy and not the personality of the Israeli negotiator. Observing an Israeli political party select its leader is a bit like peeking behind the scenes in a (kosher) sausage factory. The end result could produce a marketable product, but the process isn't pretty. With polls showing that 53 percent of Israelis want new elections, it is too bad that Kadima's 72,000-strong "membership" - many of whom were just signed up by the competing camps - will likely decide who becomes Israel's next prime minister. At the very least, however, Livni, Mofaz, Dichter and Sheetrit would do the country a service by publishing substantive position papers instead of snipping at each other.