Shaul Mofaz may have been a latecomer to Kadima, but with his landslide victory over Tzipi Livni he is firmly ensconced as party chairman. Yet, if the polls are to be believed, he may not have much of a party left after Israel’s next round of general elections.

If Kadima is to survive, Mofaz must articulate a vision for the party, and Israel, moving forward. The road ahead will not be easy for Kadima’s new chairman, but Mofaz’s best chance to shake the party out of its doldrums is to articulate a proactive, centrist vision. In finding his voice, Mofaz should look to his own past, as well as Kadima’s raison d’etre: moving Israel forward toward a political solution of the Palestinian conflict.

Ariel Sharon established Kadima to champion a third way in confronting Israel’s most pressing and perennial challenge: the future of the territories and the conflict with the Palestinians. Faced with diplomatic paralysis and an ever-ticking demographic clock, Sharon offered a new vision for Israel’s future. After withdrawing from Gaza and part of the West Bank, Israel would attempt to negotiate an agreed settlement with the Palestinian Authority. If a credible partner couldn’t be found, Israel would set its own boundaries (presumably along the route of the security barrier) and disentangle its civilian population from the Palestinians.

Kadima’s take-charge approach to the questions of territory and the Palestinians was derailed by a confluence of crises and corruption. Ariel Sharon’s debilitating stroke ushered in the era of Ehud Olmert, who disavowed one of the party’s founding tenets: Israel’s unilateral option. At the same time, a steady stream of corruption probes undermined  Olmert’s attempts to negotiate an agreement with Mahmoud Abbas.

If Kadima is to survive, Mofaz must articulate a vision for the party, and Israel, moving forward. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

If Kadima is to survive, Mofaz must articulate a vision for the party, and Israel, moving forward. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

After Olmert was forced to resign while under indictment, Tzipi Livni took over at the helm of Kadima. After twice failing to cobble together a coalition, Livni took Kadima into the opposition. Without the constraining  influence of coalition partners, Livni was free to articulate Kadima’s vision for Israel’s future from the bully pulpit of leader of the opposition.

If nothing else, Livni’s resounding defeat demonstrates that she failed to communicate that vision to Kadima’s rank and file, let alone the broader public. She lambasted Netanyahu over the stalled diplomatic process with the Palestinians; she lamented the tension in US-Israel relations; she tried to ride the wave of grassroots social protest. But at the end of the day, Livni’s message never went far beyond, “I can be better than Bibi.”

Enter Shaul Mofaz, an Iranian-born former IDF chief of Staff and the defense minister who co-signed the orders for the Gaza disengagement. He lacks Netanyahu’s charisma, economic bona fides, and diplomatic experience; however, Mofaz has one thing a majority of Israelis want, and no Likud prime minister has yet to offer: a credible plan to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.

In 2009, Mofaz proposed his own plan for resolving Israel’s lingering territorial uncertainty and reaching a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. The crux of his proposal, a provisional Palestinian state in approximately 60 percent of the West Bank, essentially repackaged elements of the Quartet road-map. However, Mofaz also stated that he would be willing to guarantee that the final boundaries of a Palestinian state would include no less than 92 percent of the West Bank. Over time, approximately 60,000 Jewish settlers would be compensated and relocated, with Israel annexing the major settlement blocs. Mofaz also proposed time-limited negotiations on Jerusalem, refugees, security, and final borders.

When Mofaz first unveiled his initiative, he argued that “the existing stalemate is dangerous. We have to think differently, to go in another direction. Netanyahu won’t do anything, and every day that goes by is more damaging to Israel.” Now that he is Kadima chairman and leader of the opposition, Mofaz needs to clarify whether he still believes in the urgency of a proactive, incremental alternative to Netanyahu’s diplomatic “stallmate.”

For the first time, a provisional Palestinian state may be implementable. PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has undertaken significant reforms in governance and economics, while the US continues training security forces whose mission is to combat, not abet, terrorism. Hamas remains firmly ensconced in Gaza, but has been unable to close a deal that would give it a toehold in the West Bank, where it has been effectively repressed. After Abbas’s failure to receive recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN, the PA president needs a win. The recognition of a provisional Palestinian state by Israel and the UN Security Council would  be a significant political victory.

The current diplomatic stagnation provides an opportune moment for Kadima to reassert itself as the pragmatic, centrist party capable of surmounting the impasse. The only question is whether Shaul Mofaz is ready to stand by his plan from the Knesset rostrum, so that in the coming elections, Kadima will stand for something.