Sept. 17, 2008
Number 09/08 #05
Today is the Kadima primary to choose a successor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, so this Update features two major previews of the vote, which polls show seems likely to favour Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
First up is veteran Israeli journalist Leslie Susser who reviews the polling and coalition-building process, the current polls, and the positions of various key players if, as expected, Livni wins. He also reviews the criteria on the part of both Livni and other key political players which will help determine whether, assuming she wins, she pursues a renewed coalition within the current Knesset or instead attempts to capitalise on her momentum and pursues new elections. For Susser’s full analysis, CLICK HERE.
Next up, the British-Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) offers its own analysis of the politics of the Kadima leadership poll. While it reviews many of the same political realities discussed by Susser, BICOM is bolder in predicting that a victorious Livni is very likely to pursue a continuation of existing coalition arrangements, and will likely seek new elections only if a renewed coalition proves untenable. BICOM also offers some good analysis of the possible outcome if, as appears less likely, Livni’s main rival, Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, ends up winning. For all the details, CLICK HERE. Livni’s views on a variety of Israeli foreign policy challenges are summarised here, while Israel columnist Yoel Marcus endorses Livni as the “woman of the hour.” Some discussion of a potential Mofaz win is here and a compare and contrast of Mofaz and Livni is here.
Finally, this Update offers some comments from former Middle East mediator Dennis Ross on another Middle East political transition problem – the status of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Ross points out that Abbas’ term as elected head of the Palestinian Authority ends in January, new elections are hard to call given Hamas’ opposition in Gaza, and Hamas is threatening to cease recognising Abbas status as soon as his original term lapses. Ross discusses some diplomatic initiatives that could be taken to help end this potentially dangerous political standoff in Palestinian politics. For Ross’ complete discussion of this problem, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Some views on the influence of the primary on Israel’s political future come from the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz’s Ari Shavit. Plus Haaretz US correspondent Shmuel Rosner comments on reasons for the lack of intense interest in the poll in Israel.
- Israeli academic Guy Bechor on Arab reactions to Israeli political developments.
- The Jerusalem Post editorialises on the violent rampage by radical settlers from Yitzhar earlier this week following a Palestinian attack which injured a 9-year-old boy.
- A brief discussion of the claims, counter-claims and rumours regarding the murder of an aide to Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Syria earlier this week.
- Comments on attempts to prosecute Iraqi parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi for attending a conference in Israel, here and here.
- Plus, the Wall Street Journal editorialises on death threats against singer Sir Paul McCartney demanding he cancel a planned concert in Israel.
- A Pakistani journalist comes to Israel to learn about Jews.
- Anne Applebaum on what it will actually take to win the struggle in Afghanistan. Plus former dissident Natan Sharansky on the Georgia crisis and the reasons for Russia’s behaviour.
- Former New York Times correspondent Clifford May on the on-going prevalence of conspiracy theories about 9/11 in the Middle East.
By Leslie Susser
JERUSALEM (JTA) — With the Kadima leadership primary just days away, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni looks like a sure winner.
The latest opinion poll shows her 20 percentage points ahead of her closest rival in the contest that could produce Israel’s next prime minister.
The Sept. 17 Kadima Party vote comes after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced he would resign following a string of corruption scandals. Assuming the primary winner can put together a coalition government, she — or he — will automatically assume the premiership.
Livni’s closest competition, according to the polls, is Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, with the two other candidates, Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, stuck in the single digits.
For Mofaz to have winning the primary, the pollsters would have to be significantly off.
That is not beyond the bounds of possibility.
In the run-up to the 2005 Labor leadership primary, polls showed Shimon Peres beating his main rival, Amir Peretz, by 20 points. But Peretz pulled off a major upset, edging out his octogenarian rival by 2 percent. What pollsters hadn’t considered was Peretz’s brilliant election-day machine for getting supporters to the polls.
Mofaz, a former IDF chief of staff who has a strong body of activist Kadima supporters, will be hoping for something similar.
Kadima’s party leader is to be elected by the party’s membership – about 72,000 people.
Recruitment of new members with full voting rights was allowed until registration closed on July 31.
That opened up a recruitment race among the candidates, with each trying to bring in as many potential supporters as possible. That, in turn, spawned a system of so-called mega-recruiters and vote contractors: people with grassroots connections and influence who undertook wholesale recruitment for the various candidates, promising to deliver blocs of support.
Support for Mofaz is high among these party strongmen as well as with party mayors, who could influence voters.
But it doesn’t look like enough to turn the tide.
The key factor in the Kadima primary – the party’s first since its founding by Ariel Sharon as a centrist alternative to Likud — has been the widespread perception that Livni is the only candidate capable of winning a national election for Kadima.
The latest poll, conducted by the respected Dialog organization, shows Livni winning with 40 percent of the Kadima vote, followed by Mofaz with 20 percent, Dichter with 6 percent and Sheetrit with 5 percent; 28 percent are undecided.
If no candidate wins at least 40 percent in the Sept. 17 vote, there will be a runoff between the top two a week later. In such a scenario with Mofaz and Livni the winners, the poll shows Livni defeating Mofaz by 51 percent to 31 percent.
The first task for the Kadima victor will be to try to form a governing coalition.
Success will depend first and foremost on whether he or she can count on all 29 Kadima Knesset votes. If Mofaz wins, Livni has made it plain that she might well leave Kadima and form a breakaway faction; he might do the same if she wins.
On the assumption that she wins and Kadima does not split, Livni has been receiving two contradictory sets of advice.
Some of her confidants are urging her to do all she can to form a government and then run in new elections in a year or two from the position of prime minister. They argue that if Livni establishes herself as a bona fide national leader, she will have a much better chance of winning.
Others say that instead of trying to form a government, Livni should exploit her current wave of popularity and go for immediate general elections.
The Labor Party, which is currently down in the polls, also faces an acute dilemma:
If Livni wins, should Labor join the coalition and try to rebuild its electoral strength from inside the government, or clip Livni’s wings by bolting the coalition and thereby preventing her having enough seats to form a government?
If Labor goes in with Livni, it will help boost her standing as prime minister; if it stays out, it risks early elections in which polls show Labor would take an unprecedented beating.
The new political situation in Israel highlights the Labor-Kadima paradox. On the one hand, the two parties share a similar centrist ideology and are natural allies against the Israeli right. On the other hand, precisely because they are ideologically close, they must fight for the same political space.
Likud, which still leads in most polls, will want to press for early elections before Livni gains stature as a recognized national leader.
There is talk of a possible Labor-Likud coalition without Kadima, leaving Livni to wither in the opposition.
But, as appealing as this may appear at first glance to Labor’s Ehud Barak and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, it is highly unlikely. Netanyahu would not want to help Barak, who is currently trailing in the polls, by crowning him prime minister. And the Labor left would not countenance a coalition with Likud and the far right at the expense of a would-be peacemaking partnership with Kadima.
The key to whether Livni is able to form a coalition could lie with the fervently Orthodox Sephardic Shas Party.
Shas will make heavy demands — for example, restoration of hefty allowances for families with many children. Livni so far has not made any promises to Shas or anyone else. That has been one of the reasons for her popularity.
How she deals with the pressures of coalition-building could be a first real test of her leadership potential.
As for the outgoing Olmert, even though he will formally resign after the Kadima primaries next week, he will stay on as acting prime minister until a new government is formed.
Even the threat of a potential indictment against the prime minister – Israeli police this week recommended to Israel’s attorney general, Menachem Mazuz, that Olmert be indicted on two corruption-related charges – is not expected to change the political picture. If Mazuz ultimately decides to indict Olmert, he is unlikely to do so imminently.
Once the Kadima primary is over, the new Kadima leader will have six weeks to form a government.
If she or he succeeds, the winner could choose to govern or use the majority to call for early general elections. If she or he fails, President Shimon Peres could give another Knesset member a chance to form a government or call early elections if there is no likely candidate.
One way or another, the scandal-ridden Olmert era is fast coming to a close.
Back to Top
BICOM ANALYSIS, 15/09/2008
- A Tzipi Livni victory in the Kadima primary looks like the most likely course of events, though much will depend on her camp’s ability to mobilise her voters to go to the polling booths on Wednesday. A low turnout has the outside possibility of leading to an upset, because of the more organised nature of the Mofaz camp.
- Regarding the likelihood of early general elections, much will depend on the identity of the new Kadima leader. If Livni is elected, she has said she will try to preserve the coalition and then expand it, but she has much less to fear from elections than Shaul Mofaz does. While most Israeli opinion polls still suggest a victory for the Likud against Kadima led by Livni, the margins are narrow and Livni may choose to attempt to continue the public momentum she will gain if she wins the Kadima primary into an early general elections campaign, if her early attempts at preserving the coalition fail. If Mofaz wins, he will have a clear interest in avoiding elections, because his relatively low public standing would lead to a likely Kadima defeat.
- It is difficult to accurately predict the response of other coalition parties following the primary results, though it is clear that re-negotiation of the coalition agreement will be necessary. Prediction is difficult because currently the other coalition parties are hinting at a tough stance in order to establish strong positions for themselves in post-primary negotiations.
On 17 September, 74,000 Kadima members are set to elect a new leader. Voting will take place in 114 polling stations in 93 localities across Israel. Following the Kadima primary, the Israeli political system faces the prospect of prolonged wrangling over the formation of a new governing coalition, or the possibility of early general elections. This document will examine the latest polls in the build-up to the primary, and will look at possible scenarios for what will happen following the election of a new leader of Kadima.
Who will win?
There are four candidates in the leadership race for Kadima: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit. The favourite in all Israeli opinion polls is Livni, while the only other serious contender is Mofaz. Neither Dichter nor Sheetrit score above single percentage figures in any polls.
The main candidates – Livni and Mofaz – are often seen as representing respectively the more left-wing and right-wing sides of Kadima. This is undoubtedly true regarding the issue of the diplomatic process with the Palestinians. Livni has expressed her determination to pursue negotiations with the Palestinians, though she also supports ending the current talks with the Syrians for as long as they persist in supporting Hezbollah. Mofaz, meanwhile, has expressed his deep scepticism regarding the chances of the talks with the Palestinians leading to a final status peace accord. He is therefore against the idea that the current talks should touch on ‘core issues’ of the conflict.
There are significant discrepancies in the polls regarding the gap between Livni and Mofaz. In order to win outright and avoid a second round of voting, front-runner Livni would need to win 40 percent of the votes or more in the first round. A poll taken last week by the Dialog polling agency for Haaretz newspaper had her doing just that – winning 40 percent of the votes to Mofaz’s 20 percent. However, a poll by the Panorama agency for Kol Yisrael produced a very different result, giving Livni 39 percent of the votes to Mofaz’s 35 percent. A possibly significant difference in the methodology of the two polls is that Panorama polled only Kadima voters who are intending to vote, while Dialog made no such stipulation. Thus, the much larger volume of support for Mofaz in the Panorama poll may indicate that the Mofaz camp’s electoral machine is making a better job of drawing out the vote for the candidate than Livni’s. Analysts have noted the Mofaz camp’s assiduous targeting of 300 key Kadima activists who are thought to have the ability to command the votes of thousands of members. Livni’s camp until recently had been criticised for making insufficient efforts at canvassing the vote within the party, instead relying on Livni’s undoubted greater popularity among the broader public. In recent days, however, Livni’s camp has been increasing their activity in this regard, amid accusations of complacency.
A poll conducted by the Dahaf agency for Yediot Ahronot on 12 September, meanwhile, also gives Livni a comfortable lead. This poll of Kadima voters puts Livni ahead with the support of 47 percent of those polled, compared with 32 percent for Mofaz, eight percent for Sheetrit and six percent for Dichter. The wide margin between the candidates was maintained when respondents were asked to gauge a direct contest between only Livni and Mofaz. Thus, a Livni victory looks like the most likely option, though much will depend on her camp’s ability to mobilise her voters to go to the polling booths on Wednesday. A low turnout of less than 50 percent has the outside possibility of leading to an upset, because of the more organised nature of the Mofaz camp.
What will happen after the primary?
After the primary, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will stand down as Kadima leader, while remaining interim prime minister. The new Kadima leader will then be asked by President Shimon Peres to form a new coalition within 21 days. If they are unable to do so, the president will then call for general elections, which will be held after a further 90 days.
It is difficult to accurately predict the response of other coalition parties, though it is clear that re-negotiation of the coalition agreement will be necessary. Prediction is difficult because currently the other coalition parties are hinting at a tough stance in order to establish strong positions for themselves in post-primary negotiations. Regarding the likelihood of early general elections, much will depend on the identity of the new Kadima leader. If Mofaz wins, he will have a clear interest in avoiding elections, because his relatively low public standing would lead to a likely Kadima defeat. If, as is more likely, Livni is elected, however, the calculations will be different. Livni has said she will try to preserve the coalition and then expand it, but she has much less to fear from elections. While most polls still suggest a victory for the Likud against Kadima led by Livni, the margins are narrow and Livni may choose to attempt to continue the public momentum she will gain if she wins the Kadima primary into an early general elections campaign, if her early attempts at preserving the coalition fail.
The current coalition partners are likely to hold out for an improved agreement following the primary. Shas leader Eli Yishai, for example, has said that increased child allowances for the large families that form the movement’s voting base is an unequivocal condition for Shas to remain in the government – though it is worth noting that Livni has made clear that she intends for Roni Bar-On, who opposes increasing child allowances, to continue as finance minister in her government. The Shas electorate is also hawkish, and party leaders have suggested in recent days that Shas would not be able to sit in a government that favoured concessions on Jerusalem. The party has openly declared its support for Mofaz in the primary.
Labour Leader Ehud Barak has said that he is opposed to the continuation of the current coalition, and would like to see the forming of a ‘broad emergency government’ or elections. But there is little realistic prospect of a broad emergency government, which would bring together all the main parties. This is because of the improbability of the Likud proving willing to join such a coalition. For the same reason, the rumours of a possible Labour-Likud unity government excluding Kadima are also unlikely to be realised. With Labour trailing badly in all polls, Barak has a clear interest in avoiding general elections. Thus, despite his statements, Labour is likely to prove amenable following an attempt to improve Labour’s position through negotiations, to the preservation of the current coalition.
The calculus for the coalition negotiations depends very much on whether Livni or Mofaz is victorious in the primary. Also important in this regard will be the scale of the victory. If, for example, Livni wins by a very convincing majority, this will give her a stronger hand in the negotiations, because she will be seen as being less afraid of general elections.
Livni is seen as having a chance of pulling in the left-wing Meretz list into the coalition, in the event that Shas were to leave. On paper, Livni could create a coalition of Kadima, Labour, Meretz and the Pensioners Party, which would amount to 60 MKs and would enjoy the support of the Arab parties from outside of the coalition. Mofaz would not enjoy this option and is understood to be interested in drawing in the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party as a coalition partner. Likud Leader Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that he has no intention of serving in any government except one led by the Likud. Both Livni and Mofaz, meanwhile, are also understood to be interested in drawing the ultra-orthodox United Torah Judaism party into the coalition.
An additional scenario under discussion in political circles is the possibility that in the event of a Mofaz victory, Livni might lead her followers out of the party. According to this scenario, she would accuse Mofaz of attempting to turn Kadima into a ‘Likud B’ party, and would try to form a list based on her perception of the original idea of Kadima. Given the likely electoral cost of such a move, however, the probability of the realisation of this scenario is small.
Thus, after the primary, if Livni wins, she may face the difficult task of building a centre-left coalition. If Mofaz wins, he will face the even more daunting task of building a centre-right coalition. Neither project can be guaranteed success, but Mofaz, because of his lower public support, would have a greater interest in avoiding general elections and thus making the negotiations succeed. In this regard, it is interesting that a recent poll indicated that 63 percent of Kadima members would prefer that the new leader continue to govern on the basis of the current Knesset, rather than go to new elections.
The Kadima primary is Livni’s to lose. Barring an unlikely upset, she will probably be elected party leader on 17 September. She will then attempt to preserve and expand the coalition. It is not at all certain that she (or Mofaz in the unlikely event of his victory) will succeed in creating a stable basis for a new government, which raises the real possibility of new general elections in 2009, in which the main contenders will be Kadima and the Likud.
 ‘Livni to supporters: not voting is out of the question’, Jerusalem Post, 14 September 2008. http://www.jpost.com
 Donald Macintyre, ‘The Spy who would be PM’, The Independent, 15 September 2008. http://www.independent.co.uk
 Carolynne Wheeler, ‘Tzipi Livni is preparing to end talks with Syria if she becomes Israel’s new prime minister’, Sunday Telegraph, 14 September 2008. http://www.telegraph.co.uk
 Mazal Mualem, ‘Mofaz: If elected Kadima chair, I will handle peace talks’, Haaretz, 31 July 2008. http://www.haaretz.com
 For all polls, see http://www.imra.org.il/
 Attila Somfalvi, ‘The Day after the primaries’, Ynetnews, 12 September 2008. http://www.ynetnews.com
 Shelly Paz, ‘Livni rejects aide’s remark that ‘riff raff back Mofaz’, Jerusalem Post, 14 September 2008. http://www.jpost.com
 Attila Somfalvi, ‘Livni fears low turnout in Kadima primaries’, Ynetnews, 14 September 2008. http://www.ynetnews.com
 Yossi Verter, ‘Ready, set, elect’, Haaretz, 12 September 2008.  Matthew Wagner, ‘Yishai: Shas wont join govt that negotiates on Jerusalem’, Jerusalem Post, 14 September 2008. http://www.jpost.com
 ‘Poll: Livni continues closing Kadima’s gap with Netanyahu’s Likud’, IMRA, 11 September 2008. http://www.imra.org.il
© 2008 – BICOM
By Dennis Ross
Washington Post, Monday, September 15, 2008
Having just spent a week visiting Israelis and Palestinians, I find it hard not to be struck by the sense that everything is in limbo. Even as they continue to negotiate, Israelis and Palestinians are, for the most part, biding their time as they wait to see what the political transition in Israel and in the United States will produce. But there is a looming issue that I found to be worrying Palestinians and Israelis alike: What happens in January when Mahmoud Abbas’s term as president of the Palestinian Authority expires?
At present, elections for the presidency are not scheduled to take place until a year from January, leaving either a potential legitimacy gap should Abbas stay in office or a leadership vacuum should he depart. With Hamas in control of Gaza, Abbas issued a decree some time ago to hold the presidential elections simultaneously with the legislative council elections in January 2010 — effectively postponing the presidential elections, presumably in the hope that something might change in Gaza in the interim.
Hamas, however, is trying to take advantage of the gap between the expiration of Abbas’s term and the scheduled date for the elections. Hamas leaders have already begun to declare that Abbas will have no legitimacy after his term ends. This is probably less a legal problem than a political one. But it may not be only about Abbas’s legitimacy. According to the Palestinian constitution, when the president’s office is vacated, the speaker of the legislative council becomes the acting president. Today that would be Abdel Aziz Dweik, a Hamas member who sits in an Israeli jail, or his deputy, Ahmad Bahar, who is also a Hamas member and is in Gaza.
Even if Hamas chooses not to declare that the office is vacant, there is the danger that Abbas, at least in part because his legitimacy is being challenged, could decide to leave in January when his term ends. He has, after all, periodically threatened to do so. Rather than waiting to see whether a leadership crisis materializes (or worse, the office becomes vacant), why not work out a strategy for dealing with this issue with Abbas now?
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s focus has been elsewhere. She remains determined to try to produce an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians on the permanent-status issues of Jerusalem, refugees, security and borders. While that might be desirable, it is simply not in the cards. As one senior Israeli official said to me, “There are only two people in the world today who think that a deal is possible now: Ehud Olmert and Condi Rice.” With Olmert’s days numbered, the Israeli government is not embracing his negotiating initiatives, and the Palestinians see little reason to make concessions to someone who is unlikely to be able to deliver his side of the bargain. Given that, Rice would be well advised to direct her attention elsewhere — and the problem looming in January would be a good place to start.
With Arab leaders (and Abbas) all likely to be in New York for U.N. General Assembly meetings later this month, Rice will have a perfect setting to work out a strategy for dealing with the Abbas problem. She should identify the options in advance, line up Arab support for Abbas staying in office — something that should not be hard to do since Arab leaders are likely to fear both a Palestinian leadership void and the prospect of Hamas filling that void — and then finalize the approach with Abbas.
At least two options could be pursued. First, have the Arab leaders and the Quartet members (the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and the Russians) endorse the Abbas decree on holding the presidential and legislative council elections simultaneously, provided he commits to staying in office until the elections are held. This could both give him cover and a reason for staying in office.
Or, alternatively, try to seize the high ground and put Hamas on the defensive by having Abbas (with a public endorsement from Arab leaders and the Quartet) call for presidential elections to be held as soon as security conditions in Gaza permit. Those conditions would require at least some Palestinian Authority security presence, along with international observers to be in place to set rules, balloting locations and monitoring provisions to ensure the elections are free and fair and conducted without Hamas intimidation.
In such circumstances, Hamas would either have to allow some Palestinian Authority and observer presence for the elections or block it and lose any claims of legitimacy for itself or its charges against Abbas. For Abbas, legitimacy will be essential if he is to preside over negotiations that ultimately require compromise on the core issues of the conflict.
Regardless of the option taken, the administration needs to address the emerging problem. Lagging behind events has unfortunately been a hallmark of the Bush administration. If the administration is serious about trying to pass on to its successor an ongoing peace process, it had better focus not only on preserving the negotiating process but also making sure a Palestinian leadership crisis does not arrive just as our next president assumes office. This is one problem the Bush administration can and should preempt before it is too late.
The writer is the former special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton and author, most recently, of “Statecraft; And How to Restore America’s Standing in the World.”