The Likud-Kadima agreement to form a unity government and cancel the early election makes all the sense in the world for Kadima. It’s arguably the smartest move by any Israeli peace advocate in a long time.
Newly minted Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, who ousted Tzipi Livni in a primary upset just two weeks ago, inherited a party with 28 seats Knesset seats. It’s the largest bloc in the current house - one seat more than the Likud in the 120-seat legislature. But Kadima was headed for a crash in the coming snap elections. Polls showed Mofaz winning just 11 seats in September, the same as center-liberal newcomer Yair Lapid. Labor Party leader Sheli Yacimovich was polling at 18 seats (up from the 13 Labor won in the last election, which dropped to 8 after Ehud Barak’s defection). Thus the total center-left bloc was headed for 40 seats. Netanyahu was polling at a commanding 30 seats, and with Avigdor Lieberman pulling 15, plus assorted religious and far-right factions, Bibi was headed for a second term that would take him through 2016 essentially unchallenged.
By joining a unity coalition, Mofaz gives himself another year to build up a following and establish himself as an alternative to Bibi. From his perspective, his two rivals for leadership of the center-left, Yacimovich and Lapid, are not serious candidates. Both are former television journalists with little to no leadership experience and only the fuzziest familiarity with foreign and security policy. Mofaz is a former army chief of staff and former defense minister, active in civilian politics since 2003, highly regarded as a team leader, manager and policy wonk on domestic and security affairs. There have been talks in recent days about bringing the three together to form a joint list to oppose Bibi, but no agreement as to who would lead.
What specifically does tonight’s deal gain for Mofaz and Kadima?
First of all, gives Mofaz a seat in the inner security cabinet, which gives him a voice in shaping policy toward both Iran and the Palestinians. If you haven’t been following, Mofaz has been defending Meir Dagan and Yuval Diskin in their criticisms of Netanyahu’s policies over the past year. He’s outspokenly opposed to attacking Iran at this stage. His own Palestinian plan, announced in 2009 and lately gaining increasing favor among fellow security types, calls for immediate recognition of a Palestinian state with provisional borders, controlling 60% of the West Bank for now, followed promptly by state-to-state negotiations toward a final-status agreement. To allay Palestinian suspicions that the provisional borders would be the final ones, Israel would deposit a pledge with the United States that the final borders will be based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps.
He’s also been promised chairmanship of the Knesset Economic Committee, which allows him take a lead role in social policy, where his views lean social-democratic. And, not incidentally, he denies Bibi the opportunity to win a near-certain mandate this September for four more years.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).