When Livni failed to form a government with the far more moderate outgoing Knesset in the fall, she lost her chance to run from the strength of being the incumbent prime minister. (Although this might also have happened if Olmert had been willing to step down as caretaker prime minister in favor of his successor as head of the Kadima party.)
Abu sees Kadima and Labor dooming themselves if they choose to be in a coalition with a Likud-led government. He sees Labor’s precipitous decline from being Israel’s governing party in the early 1990s and again in 1999-2000, to a record low of 13 seats today, as stemming from its decision to serve as a junior partner in coalition with Sharon’s Likud and more recently with Olmert’s Kadima.
You may recall that Ariel Sharon formed Kadima as a centrist offshoot of Likud as a result of his new policy of unilateral withdrawals, beginning with Gaza in 2005, and with further withdrawals anticipated from parts of the West Bank thereafter. These were plans that his successor Ehud Olmert intended to pursue but were waylaid by the war with Hezbollah in 2006, attacks from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, and the mounting corruption probes against Olmert.
Abu is not impressed by either Livni’s abilities as a national leader or her moderate/dovish credentials. And much of Kadima’s Knesset list consists of relative hawks or right-wingers, including Shaul Mofaz, the party list’s number two name and Livni’s main rival for leadership. Still, many former Labor and Meretz voters were attracted to Livni by the exciting prospect of a second woman prime minister and their view that she is a moderate. And in contrast to the 2006 election when most Kadima seats were drawn from Likud, this time out, most Kadima voters were traditional supporters of Labor and Meretz.
Abu sees a need for a new configuration of the center-left and left that would reclaim these voters. He also notes that 70,000 Israelis “wasted” their votes by casting ballots for several lists on the left that individually failed to pass the threshold of two percent required to make it into the Knesset. These included Greens, a Green Leaf party (dedicated to the legalization of marijuana), the liberal Orthodox Meimad (who had left its alliance with Labor to ally with a group of Greens), and an independent list formed by a rebel personality from Labor, Efraim Sneh. Abu hopes for an alliance that would include Labor’s traditional base as well as these 70,000 “lost” voters. In his view, Meretz can no longer sustain itself as a progressive beacon whose policies are then adopted by the larger parties; Meretz would need to be part of a larger bloc contending directly for power.
As for peace, he sees Israel as having an opportunity to pursue a treaty with Syria, which in turn would weaken Hezbollah and Iran as threats. But Israel would have to be willing to pay the price in terms of losing control over the Golan Heights.
He’d like to see Israel take up the Arab League peace offer. He noted approvingly that the refugees’ component of the Arab offer mentions UN Resolution 194, which he reads as providing Israel with sovereign discretion on who is admitted to Israel, thereby defanging the “right of return” issue.
Abu mentioned the 250 tunnels used for smuggling from Egypt into Gaza, but still movingly expressed compassion for the people of the Gaza Strip, indicating that Israel destroyed or damaged 10 percent of the buildings there. In noting the heavy toll of civilians (more than half of the 1300 Palestinians killed), he recalled Israel’s state of national mourning over its 3,500 war dead in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 – a magnitude of loss still felt by Israel 35 years later. He said that this death toll for Palestinians, especially from this smaller population of Gaza, will have a lasting impact. (Click here for Ron Skolnik’s analysis of Abu’s talk.)