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Analysis: Shaul Mofaz is the big loser of Kadima’s departure, but who are the big winners?

When Shaul Mofaz decided to join the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government a little more than two months ago, eyes were rolled, tongues were clicked, and lethal criticisms were written. By now it’s clear that everyone was right. Anyone who predicted that the romance won’t last was also able to identify the reason: The ambitious goals presented by the mighty 94-member coalition collided head-on with the natural interests of Netanyahu’s natural partners. Or in other words: There was no chance whatsoever that Netanyahu could, or would want to, defeat the haredim.

 

Kadima’s departure screams out two words: Early elections. The question is when they will be held, and whether Netanyahu will prefer to pull out the Knesset dissolution bill now, or wait for early next year. Until then, the political picture may change, but at this point, with 10 weeks of fragile unity drawing to an end, we can identify the current winners and losers.

 

Loser – Shaul Mofaz 

The tricks that have accompanied Mofaz’s political life, the zigzags and the vagueness regarding his intentions make Mofaz the tragic political figure that he is; a man who worked hard to take over Kadima, only to ruin it.

 

Kadima is broken, divided and split. There are no three Knesset members in this faction who can communicate with each other. Even in recent days, some of them chose to cooperate with the Prime Minister’s Office, rather than with their own party chairman. Given this state of affairs, it’s clear to Mofaz that whatever happens, it won’t end well.

 

Should the elections be moved forward, and it appears this will happen, Kadima is expected to experience an impressive collapse. Yair Lapid and Shelly Yachimovich are expected to take away most of Kadima’s seats, and we haven’t yet mentioned additional centrist parties that would likely emerge ahead of the elections. We also haven’t mentioned Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert, who for the time being is warming up on the sidelines.

 

Even though Kadima and Mofaz placed the issue of universal draft on the government’s agenda and led a political move to change reality, those who wish to take their revenge against the haredim and Netanyahu won’t vote for Mofaz, but rather, for Lapid. Why? Because politics is a world of images and brands, and Mofaz’s brand is worn out.

 

Winner – Yair Lapid 

The annulment of early elections took Lapid out of the game for some time, and the political establishment saw a disparaging consensus whereby Netanyahu again succeeded, in a brilliant move, to neutralize his rivals and eliminate his foes. However, in the course of two months, the issue that Lapid so much liked to highlight – equality in bearing the national burden – became a central issue in the public discourse (and thank you, Shaul Mofaz, for that.) However, as noted, Mofaz is not scoring any points, while Lapid on the other hand is gaining strength.

 

It will take a few more months, but at the end of the day Lapid is on his way to the Knesset. Nobody is willing to commit to the number of Knesset seats he’ll win, but his party, Yesh Atid, is becoming more legitimate with every passing day. Should Lapid be wise enough to bring substantive content into his campaign and convince the skeptics of his abilities and plans, he may be the big winner of the draft crisis.

 

Uncertain, but leaning towards losing – Shelly Yachimovich 

Two months ago, the Labor Party was riding high. At the time, the polls predicted 20 mandates for it. The party sought well-known security figures, stars and new people who would join in and fill the ranks. Some days passed since then, and some polls too, and the Labor party seems weaker. In the loud and at times populist public discourse, Labor was irrelevant, and Yachimovich’s support for the haredim did not give her any points.

 

She was indeed right when she claimed that the attempt to legislate a new law is pure populism, yet she will have to shift gears and bring herself and her party back into the relevant discourse quickly. Otherwise, the votes that previously shifted towards the party will go elsewhere. However, Yachimovich still has an opportunity: The social protest, which became fierce and dramatic in recent days, could bring Labor back into the picture.

 

Winner and loser – Benjamin Netanyahu 

Any way you look at it, with or without a draft law, for the time being Netanyahu is still in the lead. He is still the only figure around here perceived by the public as a premiership candidate. In other words, as long as Ehud Olmert is out of the game, Netanyahu is the only alternative.

 

Likud may be slightly hurt by the prime minister’s capitulation to his haredi partners, yet at the end of the day, given the wild Israeli reality that makes people forget headlines within 24 hour, anything can happen: Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, Egypt’s Morsi and whatnot. The prime minister always has the best means to dictate an agenda, most certainly in Israel, and most certainly in an era of an “Iranian threat.” In short, as long as Netanyahu has no serious rival, even without a universal draft law, he is still mostly on the side of the winners.

 

However, we should keep in mind that Netanyahu also lost points, and possibly Knesset seats. Some two months ago he was en route to elections, while dictating most of the agenda unrivaled. Yet Kadima’s entry into the government and the intensive preoccupation with the draft law and the unwillingness to quarrel with the haredim created a significant headache for Netanyahu. Now, with a smaller coalition, he will have to contend with the issue. For now, Netanyahu has become a target for those who serve and protest the inequality in bearing the burden.

 

The protestors who lead the struggle have no intention of letting go. Recently they even considered a dramatic step: Urging young Israelis not to enlist for military service. This move, should it be undertaken, will be attributed to the prime minister, who chose political deals over a dramatic decision.

 

Winner – Avigdor Lieberman 

Lieberman was the first to indentify, understand and exploit the draft crisis. He was the first to embrace the issue of discharged soldiers in the government, and he was the first to recognize that the Plesner Committee’s conclusions will turn into a political crisis.

 

Even if some of the targets presented by the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman are not quite realistic, in public relations terms Lieberman did not blink. In a geopolitical reality whereby the Palestinians are no partner, Syria is burning and Egypt handed itself over to the Muslim Brotherhood, Lieberman will find the way to grow stronger.

 

Loser – Ehud Barak 

The person who served as the best man, Godfather, father and mother of this coalition is shifting to the side of the losers. Barak barely averted almost certain political demise upon the postponement of the elections and hoped to continue for another year as defense minister.

 

Now, Barak will have to again contend with the possibility of elections, and as one who did not contribute much to resolving the crisis, or to the discourse, he will not enjoy the pro-draft atmosphere that has taken hold of Israel’s discourse.

 

Winner – Tzipi Livni 

She left the political arena only a few months ago, yet her close associate Haim Ramon is already working on forming a new centrist party. Livni wants to return to the political game, and given estimates that the elections will be brought forward, those despaired over Mofaz’s leadership will find the reason and way to set up a new faction and present a platform for a new party.

 

Kadima’s collapse and Mofaz’s inability to boost the party’s mandates play into Livni’s hands. Her return to the political game is merely a matter of time, and the coming weeks are expected to be stormy for her.

 

Winners – Religious parties 

In their view, they got the job done. The Sephardim and the Ashkenazim, together and separately, delivered the goods to their voters.

 

Their parties curbed the draft law that would have hurt yeshiva students and averted any attempt to truly change the status quo. Over the years, haredi parties enjoyed stable constituencies that admire the rabbis and follow their lead. So who can undermine their victory after all?Aryeh Deri.

 

Winner – Aryeh Deri

Those who nonetheless became fed up with haredi politics could find the answer with Aryeh Deri, who will likely present more moderate views than those of Shas and United Torah Judaism. Deri can steal mandates both from Likud and from haredi parties, thereby changing the balance of power.

 

Should he be wise enough to endorse the need to promote equality in bearing the burden, Deri would no doubt be able to return to the Knesset with political clout that may change the balance between the blocs ahead of the formation of a new government.

 

 

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