Israeli politics hit its moment of grace three years ago. After repulsing terrorism but withdrawing from Gaza as well, then prime minister Ariel Sharon enjoyed unprecedented political power. He became tired of the right but was also deterred by the left, and so Sharon was determined to establish a centrist party. When Sharon's power was combined with his determination, an opportunity arose to bring about a "big bang." In November-December 2005 an elderly and popular prime minister was granted a privilege that had not been granted to any of his predecessors: an opportunity to redefine Israeli politics, to get rid of extremism, to get rid of wheeling and dealing and to offer Israel a sane and high-quality party of hope.
The original name of the new party was Ahrayut Leumit (National Responsibility). It was supposed to express the desire of the clear-thinking Israeli majority, which wanted to leave the territories in spite of the fact that it doesn't trust the Palestinians. It was supposed to give voice to the moderate Zionist majority, which wants to live in a Jewish, democratic, Western and progressive state. It was supposed to eliminate the obstructions that caused the Knesset, the government and politics to be totally divorced from the strength of Israeli society, the Israeli economy and the Israeli way of life.
The electoral potential of Ahrayut Leumit was 50 Knesset seats. Since the new party did not have institutions, commitments and rebels, everything was open. The party constitution gave Sharon unlimited power. He could have brought in the best people. He could have brought in at least 20 professors, CEOs, educators and community and business leaders of the first rank.
Sharon was capable of consolidating a high-quality leadership that was committed to statesmanlike responsibility rather than partisan politics. He was capable of translating the gut feeling into an overall worldview of a third way. Sharon had the power to create a synthesis between the insights of the left and those of the right, to put together an Israeli work plan and to turn Ahrayut Leumit into the Mapai of the 21st century (Mapai, the forerunner of Labor, was the dominant party during the first three decades of the state).
But Sharon didn't do all those things. Perhaps he didn't want to, perhaps he didn't have time. Very soon Ahrayut Leumit turned into Kadima. When Sharon collapsed, Ehud Olmert did what Ehud Olmert knows how to do: He filled the new party with friends. Reuven Adler did what Reuven Adler knows how to do: He marketed the new party with excellent graphics and spin.
The party that was supposed to renew politics afresh turned into a show of political games. Kadima became a party corporation without principles, without values and without a path. Kadima became a marketing initiative that gave Israeli democracy what "Big Brother" gave to Channel 2: empty ratings.
In the three years of its existence, Kadima has failed and failed and failed. It promised to evacuate about 70,000 settlers by 2010, and has not evacuated a single settler. It promised a smashing victory in the Second Lebanon War, and endured a stinging defeat. It made a vow in the name of clean politics, and implemented dirty politics. It trampled the very rule of law it had declared its loyalty to. It demonstrated amateur economic management despite boasting it would do the opposite. Instead of turning Israel into a progressive and high-quality country, it turned it into a country whose national leadership is unsuccessful and corrupt.
And, nevertheless, the Israeli majority still has difficulty abandoning the promise of Ahrayut Leumit. It still wants what it wanted when it supported Sharon and the big bang. Many people are still nostalgic about party chair Tzipi Livni and are waiting for the promise of Kadima to overcome the disappointment that Kadima has become. A substantial percentage of the Israeli public is willing to forgive the party of Olmert for the Olmert years, as long as it offers a real proposal for the post-Olmert era.
However, the proposal is slow in coming. As of now, Kadima's campaign is hollow. The centrist party is not succeeding in making a genuine statement to the nation. It has not confronted its failures over the past three years and it has not indicated a clear path for the next three. Even the strange primaries held yesterday strengthen the feeling that there is almost no connection between the national responsibility that Kadima promised and the national lawlessness that it implemented.
The task awaiting the chair of Kadima this morning is a huge one. If she does not come to her senses, does not define a message and does not consolidate an outstanding economic/political team, Livni will not be able to slow the decline. Many Israelis still want the hope embodied in the moral and sane Livni, but their tolerance for the cynicism surrounding her is gradually coming to an end.
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