ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Kadima’s Non-Victory

Kadima’s Non-Victory

4 May 2006

By Yisrael Ne’eman

It is difficult to claim that PM Ehud Olmert’s Kadima faction won Israel’s March 28 elections, rather both Left and Right lost. For Kadima to truly claim victory they needed to poll 35-40 seats, not a woeful 29. Yet they are the senior coalition partner in a government which officially slated to continue for 4 years and 9 months. Most do not expect the Kadima coalition with Labor (19), the pensioner Gil party (7) and the Sephardi ultra-orthodox Shas (12), to last more than half the allotted tenure even if the coalition comprises 67 out of 120 Knesset members.

This government is a strange mix and as such there are few expectations. First and foremost most are not sure what Kadima represents. Only on the “Consolidation” plan was Olmert specific about keeping settlement blocs close to the 1949-67 armistice lines and include them in Israel’s permanent boundaries. Even the status of the strategically important Jordan Rift Valley security zone, so necessary for defense against a possible Eastern Front is not clear. Other areas in the central West Bank (Judea and Samaria) are to be cleared of some 60,000 Jewish residents who will be on the eastern side of the security fence being established not far from the 1967 line.

Although the separation from the Palestinians and fence were the up-front issues Kadima was willing to place the defense ministry in the hands of Labor leader Amir Peretz who has no security background of note. Peretz ran on a socio-economic platform of social democracy and demanded the treasury – Olmert held firm and the former Histadrut labor union boss ended up with the “coveted” defense ministry as the PM’s ultimate fall back position. Had anyone heard of such a projected scenario a year ago they would have rolled on the floor with laughter in disbelief or thought to rename the Jewish State “Chelm” or do both.

The key is in defining Kadima’s ultimate aims. The question of what is attainable or not, is paramount. Furthermore who are the central players who really hold power? Most believe Kadima is made up of moderate Likud types and a few Laborites who believe their party shifted too far to the left, hence they built a pragmatic center. That was true until the moment the government was assembled. A better understanding of interests is formulated by what portfolios are taken by each party. Kadima advocates a capital incentive economy coupled with some form of a social welfare state. The latter is not done from ideological conviction but from practical political and economic necessity. Pragmatism is neither an ideology or final objective but rather an everyday tactic for slow step by step national development and lifestyle improvement.

Kadima members can no longer be considered either Likud or Labor but rather a throw back to the old General Zionists who were essentially “Statists” seeking the best way to build and maintain the Jewish State. Most were capitalists and sought some sort of reasonable solution to the Arab-Israel conflict without much in the way of ideological constraints. Devoid of an ideological challenge (or a founder-hero such as Ariel Sharon) it was and is difficult to get an enthusiastic response from the public. The GZ were never coalition builders but junior partners. They also split into two factions over whether to go liberal or conservative on foreign policy. In the end most were absorbed into the Likud and the minority into Labor.

The ultimate GZ (or Liberal faction in the Likud from 1977 - 92) demands culminated in the finance ministry and economic portfolios. Kadima fared less well due to the election results, getting finance, transportation, housing and the Negev/Galilee development ministries. Most importantly, Kadima’s Finance Minister Avraham Hirshzon holds the purse strings.

Although Labor took tourism, infrastructure and agriculture the big defense ministry “prize” is not what they wanted. Unless he has an exceptional learning curve, Peretz will not get a grip on defense issues for a long time and will be dependent on the IDF top brass to run the show. The power of Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and his generals will be enhanced until the novice Peretz comes to grips with a particularly sensitive, complicated and at times overwhelming task. Devoid of the finance ministry and neutralized of an effective defense minister Labor may very well suffer a double loss. In defense matters Peretz will be politically dependent on PM Olmert or his own Labor generals with whom he clashed during and after the election campaign. In essence, Kadima hopes to run the defense ministry from behind the scenes.

At best expectations must be repressed. On policy implementation towards the Palestinians the army and police will be expected to contain terrorism. As for the “Consolidation” it will barely happen, as no right wing or religious parties will agree to unilateralism.

On the other hand, should personal security be assured, the economy will grow and the trickle down effect will reach the lower classes. It is here that Kadima hopes to reap the benefits and institutionalize a centrist, pragmatic political entity. Their real victory or defeat will only be in the next elections.