From 10:01 Wednesday night, the differences between Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz, the candidates for the leadership of Kadima, will mean nothing. Whoever wins the primary and succeeds in assembling a government will have to contend with a political reality represented by the international community, not simply party functionaries and clerks.
The old ditty "Things you see from there aren't what you see from here" will again lodge itself in the public mind, as the victor joins the long line of prime ministers forced to renounce their old policies upon taking office.
It happened to the great ones: to Begin and Rabin, to Bibi and Barak, Shamir and Sharon, and it will happen to the successor of Ehud Olmert.
Mofaz's electoral problem is his lack of international credit. Livni is known and welcomed in the international arena from her current post as foreign minister. George W. Bush is even familiar with her - he calls her "Zipi."
Mofaz is known mainly from his strongman image in the media, and he will have to show much more political flexibility to be accepted in the gardens of world powers and Arab states.
Let's imagine Prime Minister Mofaz being invited to the White House. Will he dare tell Bush that last year's Annapolis Conference between Israel and the Palestinians was a study in nonsense? That we must not speak of the "core issues" and instead return to the so-called freeze on the territories and a mere "economic peace?" That all the efforts made by Bush and Condoleezza Rice were in vain?
Let's see him show such chutzpah in the Oval Office.
More likely, his ticket to Washington will ride on a public vow to continue the talks Olmert held with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and on reminding the Americans that he was defense minister when the disengagement from the Gaza Strip first took shape.
Livni will be allowed more leeway to show toughness on political issues, in light of her moderate image abroad and the series of talks she held in the past with former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia.
On the other hand, she will have to prove she is no gentle dove, but can lead the nation in times of war without appearing to be a puppet of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
Ever present is the risk of being dragged into a military adventure that looks good on paper but ends in catastrophe. Livni must remind herself daily of the disaster of the Second Lebanon War two summers ago, and to be wary of operational plans driven by public pressure. Mofaz, by contrast, can afford to be choosier when deciding which military operations to authorize.
At 10:01 tonight, a political poker game also begins between the newly-crowned head of Kadima and the leadership of Shas. The cards on both sides of the table present problems. At first glance, Kadima must only sign a check to the religious party to ensure the formation of a coalition. But too quick a consent to the financial demands of Eli Yishai and company is liable to irritate Kadima's secular electorate, Livni's base.
Shas seems to hold the key to forming an alternative government, but should it make unreasonable demands, it could see itself up against an antagonistic coalition of some 60 MKs with the Meretz faction leading the charge.
Shas will then come to the elections from the opposition position, without any achievements to present its constituents. Yishai still remembers how Ariel Sharon ostracized him from his second government, and if he forgot, his cronies will surely remind him.
Whichever candidate wins the Kadima primary will have to warm up to the position for several months before contending with Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud in the national elections. And the candidate will have to do so without sullying his or her image as incorruptible.
Both candidates will have to answer the public's doubts about their respective qualifications. Livni will have to prove she is ripe for the responsibility of occupying the prime minister's seat, and Mofaz will have to prove he has ideas beyond the security arena for dealing with the political issues facing the country.
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