Many people claim Ariel Sharon's party will go the way of other centrist parties in the recent and not-so-recent past. Examples include David Ben-Gurion's Rafi Party, Yigal Yadin's Dash Party, and the 1999 Center Party, which included Yitzhak Mordechai, Dan Meridor, and former Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. All were one-hit wonders that failed to plant roots in the Israeli consciousness.
But history is not repeating itself when reasons and conditions change. For instance, Menachem Begin ran unsuccessfully for prime minister eight times in the first 30 years Israel was a country. Logic would have dictated he was wasting his time in 1977 running a ninth campaign.
But things had changed – Israel was still bleeding from the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Yitzhak Rabin had quit the government under the scandal of an illegal overseas bank account, and other members of the ruling party at the time were involved in similar shenanigans.
People wanted change, and the 1977 election brought about the "Likud revolution" and swept Begin to power.
Ben-Gurion and Rafi
Similarly, there are no similarities in the conditions that brought Sharon to create the Kadima Party and those that sent Ben-Gurion to create Rafi in 1965 (just seven Knesset members joined Ben-Gurion's party). Then, the new party was created against a background of conflict between Ben-Gurion and other party members, at a time when Mapai was at the height of its power and most of the public did not support Ben-Gurion's position.
Another example: Dash was little more than a conglomerate of several different parties that never really worked together, and leader Yadin lacked political experience and couldn't really run the party.
More recently, the Center Party was created out of opposition to the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Only a few MKs joined the party, and infighting started as soon as the nascent party was established.
Today's crumbling Likud bears no resemblance to Mapai during the Rafi revolt. This time there is no personal issue involved, but rather ideology: Ariel Sharon wants to be able to carry out his political agenda.
Sharon's party has a hard core of MKs that have worked together in the past and who have an agreed-upon leader, something the Center Party never had.
Dash may have agreed on a leader, but he couldn't compete with the charismatic Begin.
One interesting thing about the current example is that the incumbent, experienced and popular prime minister now heads a nascent party, born just yesterday, whereas the mother party has no clear leader.
But there is nothing to suggest the future of the new party is just history repeating itself.
Daniel Friedman is a columnist for Israel’s leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth