A casual visitor landing in Israel and looking at the media coverage for Kadima's leadership race would find it hard to believe that this party is the largest faction in the Knesset. The outsider would find it difficult to imagine that Kadima was a party that actually ran the country at one time and was born to govern.
It is also a party with pretentions to return to power, but the Kadima primary has been marked by apathy, a collective shrug of sorts. The two less-than-exciting candidates for the leadership, Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz, gave us platitudes. She babbled on endlessly. He, on the other hand, went underground. So what distinguishes Livni from Mofaz when it comes to matters of foreign affairs, defense, social and economic policy, and constitutional issues? Who knows. Between you and me, I would say not much does, and it's probably not very important anyway. Furthermore, the candidates didn't even provide us with a decent dose of mudslinging.
The process may have been a bore, but the results of the Kadima leadership race could have a dramatic impact on the face of Israeli politics. If the primaries are followed by a revitalized party that can again garner more than 20 seats in the next Knesset, the Israeli voter will be able to be entertained by the prospect of an alternative party to lead the country. At least Kadima would then provide the prospect of a strong coalition partner that would be in a position to influence the next Likud-led government.
If the election of a party leader doesn't inject oxygen back into a party that, according to the polls, has lost half of its electoral support and has become an irrelevant shadow of its former self, the next Knesset elections won't center around who the next prime minister will be. Instead, they will come down to which of the small- and medium-sized parties Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chooses as coalition partners for his third term as premier.
And yet there be no doubt: Whether it's Livni or Mofaz at the helm of Kadima, the party will be in the next governing coalition. It has had its fill after three years in opposition. A trauma like the one it suffered can only be healed in government.
On Monday, Livni's campaign came out with a new slogan: "Turn out. We will win. Without Tzipi, there is no Kadima." Since the statement "L'etat, c'est moi" ("I am the state" ) attributed to Louis XIV, no slogan has reflected such megalomania. The Labor Party has survived the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the departure of Shimon Peres, and Likud is still with us after the death of Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon's stroke. Yet none of these storied leaders ran for election saying that without them, there was no party.
Is it just Kadima that is dependent for its existence on one person, however skilled and full of virtues as he or she might be? And there is also a hidden threat in the slogan. If Livni doesn't win the primary, she won't stick around with the party - because a Kadima headed by Mofaz is just not Kadima. The slogan also implies that Livni doesn't really view Kadima as a real party that is rooted in Israeli society. In that regard, maybe she's right.
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