Kadima's Decision / Livni Still Standing

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has emerged from the current round of his ongoing war on Kadima with growing criticism from senior members of his own party, senior staffers accusing each other of political amateurism and exactly one Kadima defector - Eli Aflalo.

Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni, for her part, has emerged wounded and humiliated. Peace has been temporarily restored to her party, but it is a forced and fragile peace. And the next test is only a matter of time: Netanyahu will certainly not stop trying to tear off chunks of Kadima and pull the carpet from under Livni's feet. But next time, he will not have the advantage of surprise.

Netanyahu started with five or six potential defectors in his pocket - people who had already signed letters of resignation from Kadima. But yesterday the entire faction, except Aflalo, voted to turn down his hasty and insulting offer to Livni to join the government.

It was not the most determined "no" in the world, but it was still a victory for Livni: Before yesterday morning's faction meeting, no one would have bet that the faction would reject the offer unanimously. Credit goes mainly to deputy faction chairman MK Yohanan Plesner, who managed to do the impossible by bringing together Livni and her embittered number two, Shaul Mofaz, as well as other mortal enemies such as MKs Roni Bar-On and Otniel Schneller.

Something went wrong for Netanyahu and his fellow architects of the bid to split Kadima, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and the prime minister's political advisor, Shalom Shlomo. They have been working on this move for weeks, but were unable to pull it off. Perhaps its premature publication, or the premature victory celebrations in Netanyahu's bureau, scared people off.

As for Livni, she can celebrate a victory, even if temporary, over the three strongest men in Israel's political system today - Netanyahu, Labor chairman Ehud Barak and Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman. All three wanted to finish her off, but she is still standing.

Over the past week she has completed a crash course in leadership. She had to beat her breast and confess her sins. But the incident has served as a wake-up call - an alarm warning her that if she does not quickly mend her ways, she will be pushed out in favor of someone else, even before the current Knesset ends its term.