Shaul Mofaz
Shaul Mofaz Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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The details aren't really important. It's not even important who the guilty party is. Likud is blaming Kadima, Kadima is blaming Likud, and the opposition is blaming them both. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is attacking Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz, and Mofaz is attacking Netanyahu. But the only important thing about Netanyahu's watered-down proposal for a new conscription law, and Kadima's decision yesterday to quit the coalition over the failure to support a more stringent one, is the historic missed opportunity.

This was the first time for years that Israel has had a coalition with a clear Zionist, secular majority, but that majority proved unable to realize its potential. It was the first time in decades that an opportunity came along to institute deep-seated change, but that chance was lost. What all this confirms is that, in this country, the cynics are always right and the hopeful are always wrong - and nothing is important enough to extricate us from this swamp.

Netanyahu made a terrible mistake when, early this month, he disbanded the Plesner committee tasked with formulating a proposal for universal conscription. It's not clear what prompted him to do so. An anxiety attack? Temporary insanity? Over the past 14 days, the prime minister has been trying to fix his fatal mistake, to no avail. Instead of leading a centrist bloc of 60 Zionist MKs, Netanyahu has once more been embraced by the Haredim and the extremists. He has stepped foot into the status quo quagmire that he finds so warm, pleasant and comfortable, even though he has a good chance of sinking down and dying.

Netanyahu appears to still be king. After all, who will replace him? The frightening leadership vacuum on the center-left makes his position more solid. But all the maneuvering that works so well in the Knesset can be deadly at the polls, just as the absence of change can help with political stability in office but cause voters to revolt on Election Day.

By failing to work harder to keep Kadima in the coalition, Netanyahu has turned the Israeli center against him and played into the hands of those who argue that he has no vision. It's too early to tell who will benefit politically from this week's fiasco, but one thing is clear: All of us have lost out. The opportunity that was missed this summer isn't going to come again any time soon.