For victorious Mofaz, here come the headaches (TIMES OF ISRAEL) By RAPHAEL AHREN 03/28/12)
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The new opposition leader needs to unify his party and establish his
credibility. And those are only the first of his challenges
When the Knesset reconvenes after the current Passover break, Shaul
Mofaz will be the leader of the parliament’s largest party and the
head of the opposition. While he is currently all smiles about his
landslide victory against Tzipi Livni, the political reality he is
about to face will soon enough cause him severe headaches. Numerous
challenges lie ahead.
While it can be assumed that Kadima will temporarily soar in the next
few surveys, that does not change the fact that the outlook is bleak.
Kadima — a party that was born to govern — is currently expected to
garner no more than 12 Knesset mandates, hardly a serious threat to
Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition. Since Shelly Yachimovich
took over the Labor Party, her party has been soaring in the polls.
Labor is successfully presenting itself an alternative to the right-
wing bloc, while Kadima under Mofaz risks being seen as Likud-lite.
A former defense minister and deputy prime minister, the 63-year-old
Mofaz is tired of being in the opposition. Kadima MKs and political
analysts suspect him of being far more willing than Livni was to join
a Netanyahu-led government, though he denies it categorically.
As a former IDF chief of staff, Mofaz needs to convince the public
that he also knows his stuff outside the battlefield. He is widely
considered a hawk on security issues, remembered for ordering house
demolitions and other harsh counterterrorism measures. In 2001, left-
wing activists called for a criminal investigation over accusations
he demanded a “quota” of 70 Palestinian bodies a day during his time
as army chief.
As IDF chief of staff Mofaz was responsible for operations that
brought him respect from hardliners but condemnations from pro-
Palestinian activists and the human rights community. Most notable
among these was Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, during which the
IDF besieged the Ramallah compound of Yasser Arafat and raided Jenin
and other Palestinian localities — in what proved an effective effort
at dismantling the infrastructure that was sending suicide bombers
Still, besides chairing the powerful Knesset Foreign Affairs and
Defense Committee, Mofaz is also currently a member of a Knesset
caucus “promoting the two-state solution and separation between
Israel and the Palestinians.”
“Mofaz has an image problem,” Haaretz’s Yossi Verter observed
Wednesday. “He is perceived by many as a cold and unfeeling general,
belligerent and right-wing,” Verter wrote, going on to say that this
reputation was undeserved, as Mofaz really was a “moderate” just like
Mofaz will have to work hard to demonstrate to the public that this
indeed the case. It remains to be seen if his recent constant evoking
of the social justice movement — including calls for a “new social
order” during his victory speech Wednesday morning — will achieve its
A native of Tehran — he arrived in Israel when he was 9 — Mofaz’s
view on Iran seems in line with Israel’s current leaders. “We cannot
let Iran have a nuclear capability,” he said back in early 2008,
adding that if diplomacy and sanctions won’t dissuade the Islamic
Republic from its nuclear ambitions, “we have to say loud and clear
that all the options are on the table.”
Mofaz lost to Livni in a neck-and-neck race in Kadima’s 2008
primaries. But this time he was able to play party politics well
enough to pull off a big win. It is no secret that Livni lost partly
because she didn’t master the art of wheeling and dealing so needed
by politicians who want to get anywhere in Israel.
Mofaz is her opposite: He knows how to play the game, but he suffers
from a lack of credibility. In 2005, Ariel Sharon invited him to
leave the Likud — of which he had been a member since 2002 — and join
the newly founded Kadima. Mofaz declined. “You do not leave your
home,” he said. Less than a month later, when it was clear that he
had no chance of becoming the head of Likud, he joined Kadima.
Mofaz, a father of four, has also been viciously attacking Netanyahu.
If the opposition leader at some point in the near future decides to
join a Likud-led government, opponents denouncing him as a master of
the flip-flop will have further ammunition.
“The Fata Morgana in which you and your party colleagues live may be
called ‘the largest party in the Knesset’ but we live in Bibiland and
this reality will not change. It does not matter how many political
rabbits you try to pull out of the hat along the way,” Uri Shealtiel
wrote in Wednesday’s Maariv. Shealtiel predicted that Mofaz will hold
his new title as the head of the opposition only until the next
elections, when Labor’s Shelly Yachimovich will inherit it. “In the
next Knesset, it is reasonable to assume that you will lead Kadima
into the single digits,” he asserted.
Whether Mofaz will be able to avert this scenario might partly depend
on the performance of TV personality-cum wannabe MK Yair Lapid, as
well as on Tzipi Livni. If she puts her bruised ego aside and submits
to Mofaz’s rule, they might yet garner as many seats as Labor. But
Livni might also create her own breakaway faction and take some
senior Kadima MKs with her, further shaking up the political
Shaul Mofaz won a resounding victory this week. He has a long way to
go before he can fulfill the promise he made on Tuesday, when he
vowed to dethrone Benjamin Netanyahu. (© 2012 THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
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