Kadima Day

The question after the Winograd report will be whether Kadima is a party of the Zionist center, or the cynical center.

The public-moral pressure on Ehud Bark in recent weeks is understandable: On January 30 the defense minister will be forced to end his short-lived partnership with the prime minister. He will have to do so because he promised, and because it is the right thing to do.

Barak will be forced to bring the Olmert era to an end both because he knows that Ehud Olmert bears responsibility for the failure in 2006 and that Olmert's behavior since then continues to be irresponsible. Barak knows that history will not forgive him if he allows the trickery to continue to deceive the State of Israel and lead it to the abyss.

But those pressuring Barak can calm down. When the Winograd report is published at the end of the month, the Labor Party head will take action. We can reasonably assume that he won't resign from the government immediately. Instead of resigning, Barak will place a gun on Kadima's table: Replace Olmert, or elections; an internal revolt, or suicide. After that the ball will be back in the ruling party's court.

Barak will not be the one tested during the first week of February; it will be Tzipi Livni and Roni Bar-On, Dalia Itzik and Shaul Mofaz, Meir Sheetrit, Tzachi Hanegbi and Avi Dichter. The question to be tested is whether Kadima is a party of the Zionist center, or the cynical center.

The need for Kadima's existence is a profound Israeli need. For years many Israelis yearned for a third-way party that would combine the basic insight of the left (the occupation is a catastrophe) with the basic insight of the right (peace now is impossible). A party that would not be under the mistaken illusion of an end to the conflict, but would withdraw Israel to a border that would allow it to withstand the continuation of the conflict. A party that would cautiously leave the territories, but demonstrate strength in the face of enemies. One that would faithfully represent reasonable, practical and non-messianic Israelis and liberate them from the rule of dreamers on the left and zealots on the right.

Because of the strong desire for a sane center, Kadima's establishment in late 2005 was a moment of great promise. Ariel Sharon's "big bang" guaranteed that a ruling party would be established to follow his path, that the sober Israeli majority would finally get a government in its own image.

Sharon's collapse disrupted the plans. Under Olmert's leadership the Kadima government became entangled in a war that Sharon would have avoided. It committed itself to an imaginary peace process that contradicts everything in which Sharon believed. Instead of a being a people's party, Olmert's Kadima turned into a political corporation representing the Israeli oligarchy. Not a party of hope, but a party of shady deals. Not a third-way party, but a party that has lost its way.

Senior Kadima members know the truth. Mofaz knows how Olmert ran the war. Livni knows that Olmert sent forces into battle even after the United Nations cease-fire agreement had been drawn up. Dichter knows that Olmert failed in running the campaign against Hamas. Bar-On knows that the way Olmert is running the affairs of state is irresponsible.

Itzik, Sheetrit and Hanegbi know exactly from what material the man who is still leading their party and government is molded. Kadima's leadership knows that Olmert is a gifted politician and dangerous statesman, that he is cut off from the Israeli public, the Middle Eastern reality and Sharon's legacy.

So the day after Winograd will be Kadima Day. If the party recovers, rebels and replaces its leader, it will get a new lease on life. It will have a good chance to regain the trust of the Israeli majority that longs for a practical and responsible center party. But if Kadima once again surrenders to Olmert's manipulative rule it will doom itself to destruction. It will put Barak's gun to its head with its own hands.