If Tzipi Livni’s defeat in the Kadima leadership contest results in her diminution in Israeli public life, then Shaul Mofaz’s victory will prove to be entirely Pyrrhic. If Livni merely heads towards the door marked exit and retires from public life, Israel’s domestic scene and the international community will be all the poorer for it, for Livni is a first-rate politician whose intellect and vision for her country is equal only to her striking beauty and grace.
It is not unreasonable to place her philosophically in a line of Israeli leaders which runs from David Ben-Gurion through Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon, who came to the necessary conclusion that in order to secure a Jewish and democratic state for future generations, Israel would have to relinquish lands gained in war beyond the Green Line, and forge some kind of peace with the Palestinian leadership.
“The dispute,” Livni remarked on the anniversary of Rabin’s assassination, “is around the question of whether you can have it both ways – maintaining Israel as a Jewish state and keeping the entire Land of Israel”. The answer, she concluded, is that you can’t.
Her flaw, and what may indeed have resulted in her defeat to Mofaz, is that once the decision was made to take Kadima into opposition as opposed to coalition with Likud in 2009, she appeared lacking when it came to articulating a powerful and gripping counter-narrative to the more hard-line stance Benjamin Netanyahu has adopted towards both the Palestinians and Iran. Whilst Livni remains popular amongst the international community and in particular within the U.S. State Department, at home recent polling data before the primary showed that though Likud would stand to gain seats in the next election, Kadima under Livni would see their chunk of seats in the Knesset slashed in half.
And what of Kadima, the party she has left behind? Aluf Benn writing in Ha’aretz has expressed the hope, since the day after the 2009 elections almost, that Kadima would in some form join forces with Likud and Atzmaut — the party of Ehud Barak — in order to form a broad, populist bloc which in its dominance might resemble the old Mapai party. Benn argued most recently in June 2011 that the consensus between Netanyahu, Livni, and Barak is “much greater than the consensus between Netanyahu and the right-wing branch of his own Likud party”. Such a coalition would in turn free Likud and Israel by extension from “threats posed by settlers and the extreme right.”
This mentality, however, overestimates Netanyahu, Likud, and Kadima, all the while compounding the very problem Israel suffers from most of all: the absence of a legitimate opposition force to the current government and their stance on peace. On Netanyahu, whilst he has indeed articulated his approval of the creation of a Palestinian state, he has done little if anything to inculcate a situation where this might at least be possible. He has placed conditions on the Palestinian Authority — including the permanent stationing of troops along the Jordan River, and calling Ariel in the West Bank the “integral, inseparable part of Israel” — that, as his father Benzion noted, he must know “they will never accept.”
Yet Benn’s thesis also assumes that Kadima is a useful or valuable political institution, when the evidence suggests otherwise. For too long, Kadima has been a gangrenous limb, infected and hanging limply off the body politic. Too hawkish to make the case for peace affirmatively, yet too impotent and incompetent to be effective, this ersatz party has been floundering without purpose or gumption from the moment it fulfilled its initial and only purpose of executing the unilateral disengagement of Gaza in 2005.
In the aftermath of Sharon’s untimely slump into a permanent vegetative state in January 2006, Kadima succeeded only in involving Israel in two wars on two fronts — first in the Lebanon, then in Gaza — which while being necessary did not bring about the benefits the country so badly needed and desired, in terms of ridding borderlands of Islamic terror cells, and halting altogether rocket attacks on Israeli soil.
Under Ehud Olmert, in spite of some concessions from the Palestinian leadership including “the biggest Yerushalayim in history,” the peace process stalled following the Hamas-Fatah split. His post-premiership years have been marked by corruption allegations concerning cash for favors and double-billing for overseas trips, as well as insinuations that millions of dollars changed hands illegally to facilitate a series of property deals pertaining to the Holyland development in Jerusalem.
Rather, Israeli politics would benefit tremendously if the accession of Mofaz resulted in Kadima’s rapid descent into obscurity. In such an instance, its membership would drift naturally back towards their original homes, and with any luck, Labor would assume the role it should have had to begin with (had it not been for its own ineptitude) of Israel’s natural dissident voice, campaigning against those who seek to stymie the peace process or oppose the notion altogether.