A Party Is Just a Name

Kadima, Labor and Likud are names, or brands, more than they are political organizations with clearly recognizable features and distinct diplomatic and social platforms.

The Israeli public's situation recalls that of a platoon of raw recruits, sweaty from two weeks of exhausting exercises, whose sergeant finally tells them that they will be able to change their underwear and uniforms. Granted, no new supplies have arrived, but they can all switch clothes with teach other.

Following its leadership primary, Kadima has reached the stage of forming a new government. But the parties that comprise the current coalition are in no hurry to unite behind Tzipi Livni. Instead, they prefer to threaten the public with new elections, as if these held out a promise of new tidings.

Kadima, Labor and Likud are names, or brands, more than they are political organizations with clearly recognizable features and distinct diplomatic and social platforms. This diagnosis is obvious when one looks at Kadima, but it is also valid for its two rivals.

There is no need to elaborate regarding Kadima: It was established as an end-of-season sale designed to reap a profit from a passing public mood. It took people from all over the political map into its ranks, hastily formulated a platform and raced to the ballot box to reap the fruits, borne on the wings of longing for Ariel Sharon and media special effects by Reuven Adler and Co. Kadima is a random collection of people who have absolutely nothing in common - except for having exploited the chance that arose in 2006 to become part of the state's leadership.

At first glance, Labor and Likud are in a different situation. They are both political movements with deep roots in Israeli history and society. Their worldviews are derived from coherent diplomatic and social doctrines that existed even before the state was founded and have been revised and updated over its 60 years of existence. But the process of adapting their ideologies to reality brought both of them to the same place, whence they now offer the public identical political merchandise.

Not only do each of these two parties encompass varying approaches within their own ranks, not only do their leaderships include people who chose to join their ranks purely due to chance circumstances, but at the moment of truth their leaders respond to the constraints of reality in the same way. Thus the supposedly right-wing Benjamin Netanyahu found himself compelled to sign the Hebron and Wye agreements when he was prime minister, and asdefense minister Amir Peretz, who represents Labor's left flank, carried out an aggressive security policy against the Palestinians that contradicted his true attitudes toward them. Ehud Barak, who is located in his party's center-right, was on the verge of signing the Taba agreement when he was prime minister, while senior Likud members supported the decision by their leader, Ariel Sharon, to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and destroy the Jewish settlements that had been established there.

Kadima, Labor and Likud are all parties that, while they were in power, were forced to abandon their commitment to their fundamental beliefs. Yet none of the three ever mustered the strength to rescue Israel from the trap in which it has been stuck since the Six-Day War: Each in turn became reconciled to the occupation. Kadima's leaders, first Ehud Olmert and now Tzipi Livni, talked and still talk like people who understand that severing Israel from the territories is the only cure for its ills, but during their years in power they were afraid to translate this understanding into deeds.

The heads of the Labor Party behaved similarly: When Barak had opportunities to cut the Gordian knot (at the Camp David summit and the Shepherdstown talks), he did not do so. Likud's leaders, including Netanyahu, continued to proclaim their loyalty to the West Bank and the Golan Heights and their refusal to see the Palestinians and Syrians as credible interlocutors, but nevertheless demonstrated willingness to abandon these stances (the secret talks with Damascus, the negotiations with Yasser Arafat). However, they never translated this willingness into practical steps.

Thus all three parties implement the same policies in the military and peace negotiations realms (the key factors in shaping Israel's reality): When they are in power, they make do with day-to-day management of the state's affairs and perpetuate the status quo. They lack the boldness to effect a fundamental change in the situation. Therefore, the "political blather" (to quote Livni) of the last few days is superfluous, and merely serves to make the public even more disgusted with politics. There is no need for new Knesset elections, because regardless of who wins, it is almost certain that the policies will be the same policies, the conduct in practice will be the same conduct, and the results will be the same results.