After Kadima won the most Knesset seats in the 2009 elections and was unable to form a coalition, Tzipi Livni had a choice: she could either bring Kadima into the Netanyahu coalition or she could position Kadima as the primary opposition to Likud. She chose the latter, partly because she understandably could not stomach the thought of serving in a coalition in which her party had the most seats but someone else would get to be prime minister, and now it appears that her exit from politics is imminent. New Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz is about to face what appears to be a similar choice, and he also appears to be taking the Livni route, but I don’t think his strategy is going to last very long.
Mofaz is trying to position Kadima as the champion of social and economic equality, announcing that he will lead protests this summer against Haredi military exemptions and economic subsidies. It is an interesting tactic, since Kadima has not as of yet been viewed as leading the vanguard of the social protest movement, and his targeting of Haredim suggests that he believes there is a hole where Tommy Lapid’s Shinui party used to exist. Announcing his desire to lead a protest movement puts him squarely and clearly in the opposition, and going after Haredi sacred cows will earn him the wrath of Bibi’s coalition partners Shas and UTJ. This move makes sense in context; after all, Mofaz is now the head of Israel’s opposition and controls the mosts single party seats in the Knesset, and there is no reason why he should not make an attempt to succeed where Livni failed and become the next prime minister.
Ultimately though, it’s not going to happen. Polling after the Mofaz victory indicates that Kadima will only win 12 seats in the next Knesset, which will make Mofaz and his party irrelevant. No matter what happens between now and the next elections, Kadima is not going to make up enough ground to win outright or remain as the largest opposition party. Mofaz is not viewed as someone genuinely concerned with social issues given his history, and does not have the trust of Israeli voters or protest leaders who are predominantly concerned with inequality. Additionally, Yair Lapid’s new party will capture any secular anti-Haredi voters that Mofaz is trying to win over with the upcoming summer protests, so his new strategy is a losing one. Already, Interior Minister and Shas head Eli Yishai is calling for Mofaz to bring Kadima into the cabinet and as soon as Mofaz awakens to the fact that socially-minded Israelis will be voting for Lapid or for their traditional champions in Labor and Meretz, he will end up joining the coalition. Mofaz is gutsy by attempting to carve out a new space for himself and for Kadima, but he also has no desire to be consigned to irrelevance as Livni now is, and so my prediction is that he will give up sooner rather than later and join the Netanyahu government before his window to do so closes for good.