Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Shaul Mofaz decisively beats Tzipi Livni in Kadima Primary

At about midnight Israel time this morning with about 90 percent of the vote returned, challenger Shaul Mofaz had beaten incumbent leader Tzipi Livni of the Kadima Party in Israel by a margin of 62 to 38 percent--the same margin by which Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern in 1972. There was a turnout of about 45 percent for the internal election indicating that many who had voted for the party in 2009 had abandoned it. Mofaz, who emigrated from Iran as a boy in the 1950s served as chief of staff of the IDF and then as Likud defense minister under Ariel Sharon. Initially when Sharon bolted the Likud to form Kadima, Mofaz remained behind in the Likud but then was persuaded by Sharon to follow. Tzipi Livni, who served as Kadima foreign minister under Ehud Olmert from 2006 to 2008 before becoming party leader, has not indicated what she will do now. Mofaz called on her to remain in the party. But many have speculated that she will either withdraw from politics entirely or form a new party with Ehud Barak's Atzmaut (Independence) faction.  This is because both Kadima and Atzmaut are parties without developed ideologies. Both Mofaz and the media were very hard on Livni for failing to form a governing coalition in late 2008, which forced elections, and then for refusing to join Netanyahu's ruling coalition. There was also speculation that Mofaz might return to the Likud if he lost his second bid for the party leadership.

Kadima's future course won't be clear until after a general election in Israel is held, probably in the fall of 2012 or the winter of 2013. In Israeli politics former generals seem to have a preference for going into a coalition or remaining there rather than staying in the opposition out of principle. The first former general to enter the Israeli Right, Ezer Weizman, was upset when Menahem Begin pulled his then Herut Party out of the first government of national unity in 1970. Yitzhak Rabin was upset when he lost the defense ministry due to a bid by Labor leader Shimon Peres to form a narrow coalition of the Center-Left in 1990. Both Barak and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer supported Labor joining the Likud in a coalition government in 2001. Former generals tend to look upon a government ministry as another command--a stepping stone on the way to becoming defense minister or prime minister as regional or branch commands in the army were stepping stones on the way to becoming chief of staff.

Polls indicate that Kadima will probably win between 10 and 13 seats in the next election, down from 28 at present, making the party a medium-size party like Labor or Avigdor Leiberman's Israel Beitenu. Ehud Olmert, attending the J Street conference in Washington, called for a ruling coalition of medium-size and small parties of the Left and Center to keep Netanyahu out of power. But the math and ideology is unlikely to support such a coalition.

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