Have we seen this before or is this just a bad dream? Before the last Knesset elections, opinion polls consistently indicated a great victory for Kadima, suggesting that a large number of Knesset seats would become available to those interested in the opportunity, even if they had no prior political experience. Ariel Sharon, and after him Ehud Olmert, had their pick of eager candidates waiting in line, and they chose those whom they thought would add luster to the Kadima list of candidates and increase the support Kadima could expect in the elections.
The result was a list of names, many with creditable backgrounds in their non-political careers, or else deserters from other parties, but who comprised a Knesset delegation that had almost no common ideological denominator, and therefore represented no coherent policy alternatives to the public. Kadima laid claim to being a center party, believing that that would be sufficient to attract large voter support.
Although Kadima received considerably fewer votes than the more optimistic polls had predicted, and some of the new recruits to the Knesset list did not receive the expected reward of a Knesset seat, the party, nonetheless, received enough votes to lead all other parties and thus to head the government coalition. It governed the country for the following two and a half years, making more than its share of serious mistakes, and now it is clear that its position as the leading political party in Israel is going to be short-lived, regardless of who wins the party's primary next week. A party that has no political identity cannot survive for long, and is destined to disappear from the political scene.
And now the Likud, which despite the defeat it suffered in the last election, stuck by its guns in the political wilderness over the next two years, seems destined to receive its just rewards from the voters in the next election, to judge from the current opinion polls. It may receive double or triple the number of Knesset seats it holds at the present time.
What an opportunity for aspiring politicians! So as one might have expected, just as was the case with Kadima some years ago, a long line of potential candidates are now making their way to the office of the Likud's chairman, seeking a chance to fill some of these available vacancies.
So far so good. It is a sign that the Likud has gained considerably in popularity, and if some of the newcomers are followers of the basic positions of the Likud, one can only wish them success in their new careers.
But if some of the newcomers who end up on the Knesset candidate list turn out to have little ideological common ground with the Likud, and are simply exploiting whatever name recognition they may enjoy, we may see a repeat of the unfortunate Kadima episode, with the Likud turning into an amorphous, incoherent political group, and eventually going the way of Kadima, into political obscurity.
The Likud is not a youth movement, and it should not close its doors to those who would like to join. However, it is important that the party's positions on important issues be clearly spelled out to the voting public. One can then rely on the primary election to weed out those candidates whose views are not consistent with the Likud mainstream. Fortunately, the Likud now has a requirement that voters in the primary must have been dues-paying Likud members for at least eighteen months prior to the vote, thus avoiding the last-minute rush of fictitious "new members" that have characterized recent primaries in the Labor Party and in Kadima.
So what are the Likud positions on the central issues facing Israel today? The Likud should be emphatic in maintaining the positions it has taken during its time in opposition. The Golan Heights are not up for sale or for rent; Jewish settlements are not to be uprooted, regardless of whatever borders are eventually negotiated in a peace agreement; and the war against terrorism must be pursued without a pause or a cease-fire.
Every one of the newcomers should be asked to declare his position on these issues. Should he differ from them, the Likud membership can be trusted not to elect him to represent the party in the Knesset. It is for this reason that no safe seats should be assigned, and that the primaries be the sole mode of selecting the Likud Knesset candidates.
The Kadima example should be avoided even if it means leaving some "illustrious" candidates off the Knesset list. This insistence on the Likud presenting the voter with clear coherent policy positions is not only consistent with the principles of honest and fair politics, but it will most likely also pay off at the polls.
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