As head of Kadima, Tzipi Livni has had a good run. She has served as foreign minister and was almost prime minister, and led her party to gaining the most seats in the 2009 Knesset elections. As opposition leader she has been a constant thorn in Netanyahu’s side, and remarkably for an Israeli politician is viewed as honest and noncorruptible (no small feat given the history of constant criminal investigations of Israeli prime ministers and other cabinet members). Unfortunately for Livni, it appears as if she will not get a second chance at becoming PM any time soon as she looks likely to lose the internal Kadima leadership vote to former IDF chief and defense minister Shaul Mofaz at the end of March. Livni’s Knesset allies mostly now support Mofaz, and polls show her trailing her intra-party rival.
If Livni does indeed lose, she will be hard pressed to retain much influence. Whereas figures like Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak have formed their own breakaway parties following discord within the ranks, Livni does not have enough of a natural constituency or support within Kadima to do so successfully. Given the shenanigans surrounding the last Kadima leadership election – where Livni’s win was reported before the polls actually closed and then her margin of victory turned out to be a mere 431 out of 39,331 votes – she is unlikely to be treated particularly well by Mofaz and his supporters should he win this time around.
The end of Livni’s reign at the top of Kadima will not have as great an effect on Israeli politics as will the fact that Kadima’s future is uncertain no matter what happens. If Livni manages to eke out a victory, Mofaz and other Kadima members are likely to break away and form their own party. Even if they don’t, Kadima right now is fourth or fifth in opinion polls and its position is not going to improve. Kadima was founded around a single issue – the Gaza disengagement – and the current hawkish mood in Israel combined with rocket fire from Gaza makes Kadima something of an anachronism. No matter who is at the top, it’s relevance is fated to decline considerably.
A more intriguing possibility is that Mofaz wins the election and then dissolves the party to remerge it with Likud, which is where Kadima originated and where many of its members belonged. If Kadima ends up in fifth place after the next round of Knesset elections, there is little reason for this scenario not to play out. Unlike a party like Shas or Yisrael Beiteinu, Kadima does not have an ethnic or religious constituency behind it and does not exist to win benefits from the state, and Mofaz (who has served in two different cabinet posts) is unlikely to be content as a backbencher. It would be relatively painless for Mofaz to bring his Kadima MKs with him, get rewarded with a cabinet post, and let the Kadima experiment end.