When Kadima, Israel’s ruling party, was established in 2005, it had two main selling points: Ariel Sharon and unilateral withdrawal. Sharon had bought into Haim Ramon’s “big bang” theory about Israeli politics – namely, that a major realignment of the electorate had taken place on the issues of war, peace, and security. The theory rested on the twin assumptions that both camps in the argument on peace, war and security got it right on some issues and wrong on other issues.
The Right was wrong to assume that it could hold on to Judea and Samaria forever, but it was right about the true intentions of Israel’s Palestinian “partners”: Their commitment to peace was predicated upon the so-called “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and the ultimate transformation of Israel into a second Palestinian state, only one with a large Jewish minority. The Left therefore was right about the need for territorial concessions, but plainly wrong about the viability of the “land-for-peace” equation. Israel might concede territory — even all territories conquered in 1967 — and that may serve some Israeli interests. But peace would not ensue.
The second Intifada had proven both camps wrong and forever defeated the ideologies of both Peace Now and Greater Israel. What came after was the idea of unilateralism – withdrawal for Israel’s own sake, but in the absence of peace.
What made Israelis buy into this notion? First, the relative quiet that had characterized the northern border with Lebanon since May 2000, when the first instance of Israeli unilateralism had been carried out. Second, the demographic argument that made relinquishing the Gaza Strip a logical conclusion. And third, the personality of Ariel Sharon, whom Israelis felt — after he had vanquished the Palestinian Second Intifadah — they could blindly trust on security.
Elections are now looming in Israel, and in 2009 Kadima will have to reinvent itself to win — after all, Sharon is no longer there and unilateralism is no longer attractive, after it begat thousands of Kassam rockets from Gaza and a full-fledged war in the North. So what will Kadima offer?
In a verbal contretemps between outgoing Prime minister, Ehud Olmert and his designated successor, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Livni has reportedly said, “You can’t just throw the key to the other side and hope for the best, especially not in Judea and Samaria.” Quite. But isn’t it exactly what Kadima did in Gaza in August 2005? Isn’t it exactly the founding idea of Kadima — that given who’s on the other side, there is no hope for peace and therefore Israel might as well “throw the key to the other side”? And if this means that Livni is de facto repudiating the bedrock of Kadima’s founding appeal, what’s left there that would motivate voters to support her?