With Kadima in Its Death Throes, Israeli Centrists Need a Party

Article Summary
As the centrist/liberal Kadima Party apparently nears its end, Dov Weisglass writes that many Israelis desperately need a spot on the political spectrum that will toe a more mainstream line, especially since Likud extremists are in control. He maintains that Kadima has played an essential role — a role that still must be filled.

It seems that the Israeli [centrist/liberal] political party Kadima [currently led by Shaul Mofaz] is breathing its last breaths. Division, intrigues and mudslinging are all typical of its last days, and public opinion polls too indicate that it is approaching its end. Indeed, it may well be that the brand name "Kadima" will fade away. However, we should not let the social-political phenomenon that gave birth to this brand vanish into thin air.

A very large part of the [Israeli] public who wish to reach a political arrangement and peace [with our neighbors] deserted the ruling [Likud] party, as it was devoid of any vision or purpose, and gathered together in a new political home, turning it into the largest party in Israel. This public has not gone anywhere. It is still there. It is the public that seeks a political arrangement with the Palestinians so that, among other things, the [huge] resources invested in the continued [Israeli] control over the Judea and Samaria territories would be funneled to the solution of the ever escalating domestic problems in Israel proper. It is the public that wants the millions of shekels spent in vain on the sawing of buildings in the settlements to be allocated [to promote the social and economic welfare of Israel's citizens], so that people will not be pushed to setting themselves on fire [two men immolated themselves to protest against social justice and died in July]. It is the public whose heart aches over Israel's international isolation. Even if Kadima is lost forever, this public will never be lost.

To evaluate the vital, essential role Kadima has played in Israeli politics, we should go back to the days of its inception and review the backdrop against which it was founded.

Our starting point is the year 2004. Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had just announced his unilateral disengagement plan [for withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and from four settlements in the northern West Bank]. Sharon, one of the generators of the Likud [founded in 1973 by former Israeli premier, the late Menachem Begin in alliance with several right-wing and liberal parties] and once, one of the leading advocates of Israeli settlement in all parts of the Land of Israel, became aware, albeit slowly and painfully, of the [Middle Eastern] political reality that the "Israeli Empire" was bound to acknowledge sooner or later. He realized that Israel would have no choice but to return to the [pre-Six Day War] 1967 borders, with certain commonly agreed border modifications. From the prime minister's seat Sharon saw what he could not have seen from any other position before: The absolute, virtually universal condemnation of the continued Israeli occupation of the territories and the [worldwide] objection to Israeli settlement in regions that, due to their demographic makeup, had to be included in the Palestinian state, once it was set up. Sharon listened carefully to the [Rose Garden] Speech on the [Israel-Palestine] "two-state solution" delivered [on June 24, 2002] by Israel's greatest ally of all times, [then-U.S.] President [George W.] Bush, and observed the widespread international support for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Sharon realized, sadly, that the "dream [of the Greater Land of Israel]" would never come true and that, at the end of the day, Israel would have to withdraw from the best part of the occupied territories. The Gaza Strip – that densely inhabited, poor, dismal, pitiful tract of land – had never been a part of any Israeli claim for sovereignty and its evacuation was thus a question of "when" rather than "if."

In the 2003 parliamentary election, Sharon led the Likud to its greatest triumph ever – landing it 38 Knesset seats. Regardless of the raging terror, [2002 was the most murderous year for Israel with 47 bomb attacks], the [Second] Intifada, the economic crisis and all other plights that beleaguered Israel at the time, hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens wanted to see Sharon in the prime minister's office.

However, a year later, when Sharon proposed early unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, the Likud rose against its maker [among the main Likud opponents to the withdrawal was current PM Netanyahu], [Likud] Knesset members elected by virtue of the public confidence in Sharon rather than on their own merit lashed out against him in an all-out propaganda campaign strewn with insults, lies, slander and balderdash, so that Sharon was ultimately fed up with them.

In a referendum on the issue [in May 2004], the majority of the Likud members voted against the disengagement plan, while the vast majority of the Israeli public supported it. In a public opinion poll held by the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in May 2004, 71% of the respondents voiced support for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, while only 24% were against the move. And what's even more important, 68% of those canvassed were of the opinion that the government should go ahead and implement the disengagement plan regardless of the outcome of the Likud referendum. Never before had the gap between the Likud and the Israeli public at large been so deep.

When Sharon realized that he was not going to accomplish anything with this clamorous group that appeared to be utterly alienated from reality, he left the Likud and established Kadima [in November 2005].

The present-day Likud is even worse than the Likud of those days. The Likud extremists have gained more ground in the party since and they are actually the ones in control now. (Only recently, Netanyahu was booed and jeered by his party colleagues, although he cannot be blamed for any action that is inconsistent with the Likud doctrine.) Unfortunately for the Israeli people, the incumbent Likud leader [current PM Netanyahu] has no wish and no capability to face up to the extremists in his party. He would rather let them manage the affairs as they deem fit, in light of their quite lunatic world view, and together they are going to lead us all here in Israel toward political ruin.

Kadima – under this name or another, in any organizational constellation whatsoever – is desperately needed, more so than ever before. The Israeli people must have another government and it thus has to establish a new or a different Kadima, as long as it is established, in one form or another. 

[The author is an Israeli lawyer-businessman who served as a senior adviser to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and worked on the Middle East peace process.]

Found in: settlements, politics, peace, likud, kadima, israel, benjamin netanyahu

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