Shortly after the assassination in Tel Aviv's Malchei Yisrael Square, high-ranking members of the Labor Party implored Shimon Peres, the heir pro tem, to call new elections as soon as possible. Nissim Zvili, party secretary at the time, told Michael Bar-Zohar that Peres had turned them away. "I don't want to be seen as having being elected on [Yitzhak] Rabin's blood," he said. Benjamin Netanyahu, the winner in that election, told the author of a new Peres biography that if Peres had run in that election on the waves of sympathy for the late Rabin, he would have easily beaten Netanyahu. "When he didn't do it," Netanyahu recalled, "I told my wife: He lost the election."
Peres seems to have learned something from the 1996 election. And he isn't the only one. His new party is running in the current election on the waves of veneration for the ailing Ariel Sharon. It is no wonder that reports of an opposition initiative to postpone the election caused a stir in Kadima's ranks. Reuven Adler had good reason to propose placing Sharon at the head of the list. It is hard to imagine that it is mere coincidence that all of the party's spokesmen have adopted the mantra "Sharon's way" (what is that anyway?). How many seats would Kadima win if the elections were held on the originally scheduled date, 11 months from now? How would Ehud Olmert be doing in the polls if he hadn't sat down on the still-warm seat of the prime minister who has been stricken by a long-term "temporary inability to fulfill his duties" - a mortal who almost became a saint in his own lifetime?
The advantage of Sharon and his "heritage" lies not in his diplomatic and security vision. His unique virtue may not be found in the socioeconomic doctrine he left behind. No, his great merit was the prevailing belief that he was the only person who, by dint of charisma, could enlist broad public support for a disengagement from the Palestinians. Does anyone remember that the Labor, Shinui and Meretz parties rescued his unilateral disengagement from defeat in Knesset? Be that as it may, the withdrawal from Gush Katif drove home the point that when a government decides and a parliament approves, the Israel Defense Forces will not refuse the order. In those terms, Sharon did what he had to do, and others can follow in his path.
In terms of individual ability, Kadima's all-star team is as qualified as the new Likud list and as the top ranks of Labor. But elections are not "A Star is Born" or some other reality show. In elections, the public is called upon to choose the party closest to its world view, primarily with respect to the issue of the violent conflict with the Palestinian neighbor. Once again, the voter is being asked to accept or to reject the 38-year-old formula of territories for peace. Those who lack confidence in peace and prefer to hold onto territories should vote Likud and rightward. Those prepared to concede territories in exchange for an end to the conflict should vote Labor and leftward. There is no Third Way.
A normal society does not place its fate in the hands of a party whose only merchandise is a new way that has not proved itself. This is testified to by the Qassams that have landed in the northwest Negev since the pullout from the Gaza Strip, and by the blows dealt by Hamas to the pragmatic stream in the Palestinian Authority election campaign. If you thoroughly analyze the disengagement, and overlook the halo around Sharon, you arrive at a collection of people who, aside from the title they have given themselves - "centrist party" - have more differences than common ground between them.
Leaders of Kadima claim they are filling the large void between right and left, both of which have lost relevancy. Twenty years ago, political science professor Asher Arian wrote in his book "Politics and Regime in Israel" about Rafi (a circa-1965 breakaway party from Mapai) and Dash (the Democratic Movement for Change), that both tried "to fill the political and ideological middle ground between what they viewed as a sinking left and an irresponsible right detached from reality."
Those who do not remember what lay in store for Rafi and Dash - or where the Third Way and the Center Party disappeared - ought to take a look what has now happened to Shinui.
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