Is that an earthquake I just felt in the Center of Israel? Tremors are definitely under foot. We live on a major fault line where a major earthquake is expected every 90-100 years. The last was a 6.2 in 1927, and before that in 1837. Is this the Big One? Wait, there it is again. Should I run to my bomb shelter? Nah, it was nothing…I think.
As geopolitical seismic shifts roll through the Middle East from the Arab Spring to the Islamic winter (or ice age as the case may be), Israel too is feeling a wave of social and political changes. Unlike our neighbors who are seeing dramatic shifts politically and increasing instability, Israel is experiencing a wave of political tremors that may or may not yield any significant change in the long run, but their endurance feels like we are living in the midst of the world’s longest earthquake.
In the past few months, Israel has felt shifts and tremors throughout its Center, making the future unsure and the aftermath, figuratively, as if a major earthquake had struck.
In March 2012, Kadima Chair and opposition leader Tzippi Livni lost the party’s chairmanship to long time rival and former general, Shaul Mofaz. Immediately following her loss, Livni went into one of the shortest political time outs on record, leaving her seat in the Knesset, but not quitting public life.
While all this was happening, popular TV journalist Yair Lapid was working on the creation of his own political party, Yesh Atid, “There is a Future.” As he rode into the screen Livni was departing. Coordinated? Coincidence?
A week later, just as it seemed that new elections were about to be called, newly crowned Kadima chair Mofaz hangs up his “opposition leader” hat and brings his 28 member faction to join the government, creating one of the largest national unity governments ever. The move was hailed as both brilliant, and ridiculed as a sellout.
Then, as if the ghost of Israel’s Center politics past, former Kadima chair and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was acquitted of most charges in one of the legal cases against him. He and his supporters did laps of “I told you so” throughout the media. Though convicted of things that’d have me in jail, opinion polls show that if he’s cleared of (most of) the remaining major charges against him, the public trusts him enough that he could be a contender in the political Center.
Then, unable to cut a coalition deal on one of the primary issues it required when joining the unity government two months earlier, Kadima chair Mofaz pulled his faction out of the government, having accomplished nothing, and reclaimed his title of opposition leader from Labor Party Chair Shelly Yachimovich. She reverted to being chair of a small and dwindling party, some say floundering on life support, until the next election when she either is able to restore the party’s past leading role, or pull the plug once and for all.
Finally, or most recently, it became known that a handful of Kadima members, unhappy with the party’s leadership and/or its’ leaving the government weeks ago, were trying to assemble a quorum to break away and form their own faction. Political speculation was abuzz as to whether it would happen, if so who would leave, what would happen with the rest of Kadima, and would others return to their own previous parties from which they came when Kadima was formed several years ago.
But in the latest tremor in the Center of Israel, the rebels could not muster the required numbers and elected to stay put. Their only other recourse is to leave the party and their seat in Knesset, something not too many are likely to do, even if they are living in a party they don’t like. And now, Kadima Chair Mofaz wants them thrown out. Opps. They tipped their hand and lost. I’d love to play poker with these guys.
The tremors that started months ago, and are continuing regularly, may not be big enough to topple buildings, but could topple a government, a political party or two, the heads of these parties, or just continue a history in Israel of short-lived centrist parties that have no particular ideological rudder other than not being to the right or to the left, or like those that were created as a political refuge for parliamentarians who were not sure of whether their previous political home had room for them.
What will happen is anyone’s guess. Olmert is still tainted even though he is polling among the top of the center party leaders and despite still facing severe legal challenges.
Yair Lapid, a newcomer with great name recognition is unknown politically, and has promised not to bring used politicians from other parties into his party. Will that stick? The buzz about Livni joining him is interesting, but since she refused to take a # 2 spot in a national unity government with PM Netanyahu, it’s doubtful she’ll ever be anyone’s number two.
Where does it leave Labor (gasping for life on the political left of center)? Independence, a spin off that barely passes a parliamentary threshold?
Probably the only way to save Israel’s Center is to put the egos aside and to unite behind one strong leader whose experience the people trust, and whose charisma still resonates. I hear Ariel Sharon is still out of work, waiting for something to happen on his Negev ranch.
The Negev is in the south so it’s not certain that tremors from the Center are being felt there yet, but in Israel, stranger things have happened.