After the hospitalizing of the Israeli PM Ariel Sharon many are questioning the survival of the former general’s new political platform “Kadima”.   Knowing the dynamics of Israeli politics and the many strong willed political leaders in the country the question is a fair one.  Since its founding on November 21st 2005, the party has presented a political outline, emphasizing a two-state solution and the importance of Israel remaining a predominantly Jewish State based on democratic principles.  

As Prime minister Ariel Sharon, being a “security-first politician”, came to realize that in order for Israel to move on and secure its borders for the future the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had to be resolved with a two-state solution. Not having what he perceived, as an authoritative counterpart to negotiate with amongst the Palestinian leadership, he chose to act unilaterally having Israel’s security first and foremost in mind. His first step was the disengagement from the Gaza strip and in spring 2004, Sharon presented his disengagement plan in a Likud party referendum, but the plan was rejected by the party members.  Still, Sharon pushed through the disengagement plan against the wishes of the majority of the Likud party.  Once again the former general had chosen to go his own way without the consent or approval of his colleagues in the Likud central committee, as he also had done during his tenure as an officer in the IDF.  In going ahead with his plan Sharon’s motivations were strategic, as the Washington Post writes;

Through force of personality, deft tactical decisions and experience dating to the founding of the nation in 1948, Sharon has moved during his nearly five years as prime minister to establish what he believed would be more defensible borders for the Jewish state. By giving up the Gaza Strip and small portions of the West Bank, he also hoped to separate the fast-growing Palestinian population from Israel to ensure that Israel’s Jews remain the majority.

(…..)By leaving Gaza, Sharon may have guaranteed a Jewish majority in Israel and the West Bank for another decade.

But in order to be able to continue his unilateral policy, Sharon came to realize that he had to have a broader political base than himself and a few other Likudnicks and decided to break out of the Likud party and form a new centrist party.  He managed to gather supporters both from the Likud, the Israeli Labour party and a few other prominent people within Israeli society and founded the Kadima Party.
The stage was set for the implementation of the new policies of Kadima and Sharon, but with the Israeli PM’s sudden illness the political landscape in Israel has become muddled and less predictable, and Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, a research institute in Jerusalem, sums it up by saying;

“What Sharon and Kadima were offering centrist Israeli society was the idea of unilateral withdrawal, posited in the realization that neither occupation or the peace process are real options. But unilateralism is the first casualty here,” he continued. “Only Sharon had the will and the clout to take the next step with unilateralism, which will be far more traumatic than Gaza with the evacuation of tens of thousands of the most ideological settlers.”

Halevi further reiterated that Sharon’s absence means that Israel “no longer has a coherent governing party,” a conclusion echoed by Israeli and Palestinian officials as they tried to make sense of Kadima’s future and predict the direction of the country’s two traditional movements, the dovish Labour Party and hawkish Likud.

The unilateralist approach to foreign policy in general and security policy in particular are not a new phenomenon in Israeli politics.  Through the years when the Israeli government has felt its security threatened it has acted unilaterally and this has its causes in the geo-political situation in the Middle East with many years of high tension and violent conflicts. What is new is the unilateralist approach to the Palestinian peace process especially after the demise of the Oslo accords and the collapse of the Camp David negotiations between Yassir Arafat and Ehud Barak in 2000.  Still, after the Kadima outline had been presented;

Sharon pledged to abandon unilateralism for the staged phases of the U.S.-backed plan known as the “road map,” with the eventual goal of creating a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel. He also promised to maintain major Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank, as well as East Jerusalem, in any final agreement with the Palestinians.

Now, with Sharon out of the picture, a power vacuum has emerged and the stage has been set for a power struggle within the new centrist party.  Whether this will materialize or not are solely depending on the skills and the determination of the leadership of the Kadima.  If there is a will to succeed the new centrist party can survive and even prosper drawing on support from both the left and the right of the political divide.  A good indication of such a determination and will to succeed, was the appeal by the former Histradut leader;

(…..)Haim Ramon, one of three Knesset members who joined Kadima from the Labour Party, urged members to rally behind Olmert, a former Likud member who as vice premier assumed power when Sharon, his close ally, fell ill.

Ehud Olmert, now acting Israeli PM, on the other hand, extracted pledges of support from almost all leaders of Kadima, who were handpicked by Sharon, while bargaining to keep the elder, highly popular Shimon Peres, who had lost the Labour primary and defected to Sharon, at his side, a man I suspect has had a more significant role in shaping of the new centrist party’s policy towards the peace process than is publicly known.

Statements presented to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz by Kadima politicians like Tzachi Hanegbi, the acting campaign manager for the new centrist party, suggests that the determination to stay within the newly formed party is strong even if it means without the leadership of Sharon.  Hanegbi was quoted saying ;

“I don’t see any other party that can continue Sharon’s drive.”  Hanegbi clarified that his support for Olmert as head of Kadima is unconditional. “I am convinced that Olmert has the skill and integrity to lead the Israeli public consensus,” Hanegbi said.

Even if most of Kadima’s members have rallied around Ehud Olmert there is some insecurity over where the former labour MK Shimon Peres will end up.  Him not being a Kadima member yet, there are speculations over whether he will return to the Labour party now that Sharon’s leadership is out of the question, or whether he even might run for the leadership of the new party himself.  

A survey poll conducted on Thursday 5th of January, indicated that the Kadima could win as much as 38 seats out of 120 seats, in the Israeli parliament, Knesset, in the upcoming elections, even if it meant a leadership without Sharon.  If Shimon Peres was to challenge Ehud Olmert for the leadership of the party, polls have shown that Kadima could get as many seats in the Knesset as it would get under Olmert’s leadership, but a leadership contest now could mean the disintegration of the new founded party.

The last days statements from senior Kadima members supporting Ehud Olmert’s leadership, indicates that it’s more to Kadima than merely the political leadership of Ariel Sharon.  

In the end the survival of the newly formed Kadima party depends on how well the Kadima members cooperate and pull together to keep the ship afloat.  The survival of the Kadima Party is very much a Siamese twin to the peace process as it has been pursued under Sharon’s Premiership.  If the Kadima party fails I fear that, in the short and medium-long term, this would mean the end of Sharon’s peace process, the only one that exist today.

This article is also available at and Daily Kos

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