National responsibility demands this. There are very tough decisions ahead for this country before we arrive at the next elections in the fall of 2013. That is a long 17 months from now! As a joint force, Likud and Kadima will be well placed in this crucial period to advance electoral reform, deal with the haredi draft issue, implement economic austerity measures that will be necessary for 2013-14, and most of all, prepare for the inevitable confrontation with Iran.
Avi Dicter, now a key Mofaz lieutenant, made this a central pledge of his leadership bid: to take Kadima into the government for the next one and one half years and help navigate the country through these momentous times. Kadima’s voice – one-third of all Knesset members — should not be relegated to the sidelines as Israel gets ready to tackle Iran and perhaps face the ire of the global community.
Simply put, a Likud-Kadima coalition would be good for the country. I’m sure that Mofaz and Dicter understand this, as does Netanyahu.
Here, however, is where narrow party concerns and calculations enter the picture. I fear that Mofaz will be tempted to believe his own rhetoric and seek to build himself up as “the real alternative to Netanyahu as prime minister.” The now-humbled Tzipi Livni sought to present herself similarly, arguing that, unlike Netanyahu, she could bring peace with the Palestinians. The public didn’t buy this, and her pretensions in this regard were among the reasons she lost public credibility.
Mofaz is smarter than Livni, and he won’t pretend to have diplomatic solutions up his sleeve for the Palestinian conundrum or to have a better way of handling Washington or Iran. But he could attempt to portray Kadima as a real social-economic alternative to Likud’s fiscal conservatism. In fact, he began to do in his victory speech last night. Mofaz didn’t mention Iran or the Palestinians even once, but spoke over and over again about social-economic responsibility.
Will this wash? Can former IDF chief-of-staff and defense minister Shaul Mofaz (who dismisses Abbas as Arafat-era crony) and former Shin Bet director and internal security minister Avi Dicter (who argues that Israel must completely crush the Hamas government in Gaza) successfully rebrand themselves as social-economic revolutionaries? I doubt it, and I hope they don’t try. Instead, they should join forces with Netanyahu.
Some of Mofaz’s advisors will undoubtedly tell him that Kadima will fade into irrelevance as a political brand if he takes the party into government with Likud, and that he has to fiercely rebuild Kadima as the Official Opposition to Likud (something which Livni abjectly failed to do).
The advisors will additionally tell Mofaz that social and economic discontent, which is widespread, is the only real card to be played against Netanyahu – since on diplomatic and defense matters Netanyahu holds the confidence of most Israelis. And if Mofaz doesn’t ride the social-economic ticket, he’ll be rapidly eclipsed by Shelly Yechimovich’s rising Labor Party, or by Yair Lapid’s new (and as yet unnamed) political party, or perhaps by some newfangled conglomeration of these parties.
Still, I say, Mofaz should take the high road, and for the good of the country he should join a Likud-led coalition government.
Of course, members of Netanyahu’s current coalition will also object to a reconfiguration of the government. The ministerial posts of defense, internal security, finance, foreign affairs and more are not exactly unoccupied, and the ministers in these positions have mainly been loyal to Netanyahu.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu should see beyond coalition politics and look towards the legacy with which he will marked in Israel’s political history books. By bringing Kadima into government, he can be the political leader who led the country under national unity into its most comprehensive political-electoral reforms, its deepest social-economic reforms, and its most fateful defensive mission.