Israel’s ruling Kadima Party has revealed its new team to the public. The choice before Israeli voters now becomes clearer. Over the next couple of weeks, all three parties – Likud, Kadima, Labor – vying for control of the next coalition will reposition themselves. Kadima, with its new list, lies at the heart of this repositioning.
Kadima was formed as a centrist party, but with Ariel Sharon as the founding father and with most of the members coming originally from the Likud party, it was more a center-right than squarely center. Sharon had a unique appeal in that he could pursue a dovish policy and still be seen by most voters as a hawkish-enough leader. Criticizing Sharon for dovishness was not a sustainable political strategy. It seemed absurd. This was a part of Kadima’s success.
But things became much different with Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni at the helm. Those leaders, with no Sharon-like credentials for fighting terrorism and building settlements, could be more easily portrayed as born-again doves. Olmert might even be one, having made dovish comments that no Israeli Prime Minister before him dared to make (or believed to be correct). Livni is more complicated: she seems to have some hawkish instincts, but in the position of Foreign Minister she was highly attuned to the voices coming from the “international community,” and to what she believes is Israel’s need to sometimes accommodate such voices. Making Olmert, and now Livni look dovish is less complicated – and this is exactly what the Likud Party was doing. A vote for Kadima, it argues, is a vote for the Left.
For the Labor Party, this means disaster: if Kadima represents the center-left (and Meretz is the far-left), there’s no role, or reason, left for Labor. So the Labor Party pushed back, and will now double its effort to do so. Labor speakers, reacting to the Kadima primaries, have emphasized the fact that Kadima’s list contains a fair number of former Likud-members. They also claimed, not without merit, that it is not at all clear whether Livni has real control over her party, and raised time and again a familiar speculative scenario according to which some members of Kadima might be ready to abandon ship as soon as Election Day is over. This scenario assumes that former Defense-Minister Shaul Mofaz – both more hawkish than Livni and still disappointed by the fact that he was defeated in his attempt to be Kadima’s leader – is ready to cut a deal with Likud’s Netanyahu and join his coalition. To do such a thing, Mofaz will need a third of Kadima’s newly elected members to follow him (that’s the law), rather than stick with Livni. So both the press and Labor speakers were busy yesterday, counting the possible deserters – not an easy task, as Mofaz was not very successful in trying to have more of his people on the list.
But while Labor was pushing Kadima to the Right, the speakers of the Likud Party were pushing Kadima to the Left. And they also had some effective tools. For example: the fact that Dalya Itzik, formerly a Labor member, was elected first in the primaries (Livni and Mofaz were secured as number one and number two without the need to run again). For another example: the fact that all orthodox members of Kadima have been pushed to the bottom of the list and will most-probably not have a chance to serve again in the Knesset.
Kadima may find being pushed from both sides is beneficial – as it gives its leaders the pretext to argue that Kadima is, truly, at the center. But is the center – the exact center – really where they want to be? One might think that this will make them more vulnerable to claims from both sides: They will lose the center-left voters to Labor, because those voters want the Party that will not join a right-of-center coalition. And they will lose the center-right voters to Likud, assuming those voters want to make sure there’s no Kadima-Labor-Meretz in the making.
For Kadima, repositioning is a dangerous game it will try to avoid. Instead of this ideology contest, they will proceed with a workable strategy: presenting Kadima as the only way to prevent Netanyahu from becoming Israel’s best Prime Minister, and hoping that the number of people wary about Netanyahu is large enough to give them the boost they need in the polls. Of course, Kadima’s tendency to focus on the anything-but-Netanyahu argument – and avoid the more ideological debate – will expose the party to other allegations, made against them mostly by Labor speakers: Kadima is not the party of “anything but Netanyahu” – but rather the party of “anything”, namely “nothing”.