Bibi’s trap for Kadima

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 23, 2009

The next week could be a pivotal one in Israeli politics. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is determined to pass a new law in the Knesset, before the parliamentary summer recess begins, that will make it easier for parties to split and regroup.

The main target is Kadima.

Mr Netanyahu has never kept secret his ambition to bring about a dissolution of the party, which broke away from the Likud in 2005. He sees Kadima as illegitimate, a coincidental gathering of opportunists and, worst of all, a political threat.

He succeeded in doubling Likud’s vote in this year’s elections and eventually emerged as prime minister, but the fact that Kadima still remained the largest party in the Knesset with 28 seats to Likud’s 27 still hurts.

His solution is a law that will allow parties to split if a third of the party, or seven MKs, decide to depart.

The controversial law, opposed even by some within Likud, has been unofficially christened the “Mofaz Law” after Shaul Mofaz, who lost the party leadership to Tzipi Livni last year by a wafer-thin margin.

Mr Mofaz has vocally criticised Ms Livni’s decision to remain in opposition. The new law will make it much easier for him to jump ship, as he will only need to find six MKs to join him instead of nine.

A split in Kadima will fatally weaken Ms Livni’s leadership and doom the party to crippling succession battles.

Mr Mofaz has steadily been trying to mount a leadership challenge, demanding changes to the Kadima constitution, which gives the party leader control of most of its affairs.

He has also been pushing his own plan for a Palestinian state in temporary borders. Such a plan, he believes, can be a basis for a deal with Likud, and will persuade a majority of Kadima MKs to support entering the coalition, whether Ms Livni likes it or not.

He has strenuously denied that he is in cahoots with the PM and said that he will vote against the law that has been named after him. To bolster his credibility, he made a Knesset speech last week criticising the Likud leader as a “pressurised prime minister who can’t make decisions” and has repeatedly promised to remain in Kadima.

But the two have a joint cause — blocking Ms Livni’s path to the Prime Minister’s Office — and the Mofaz law will give them more leverage.

Mr Netanyahu has other political worries. Growing unrest in Labour could leave him without a left-wing partner to balance his rightist coalition, just when he is planning to make concessions to the Palestinians to placate the Obama administration.

Criminal charges that are expected to be brought against Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman could jeopardise the support of the second-largest party in the coalition, Yisrael Beiteinu.

Enticing a sizable group of Kadima MKs into his coalition would serve two purposes, mortally wounding his main rival while stabilising the coalition.

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010