Israeli Kadima Party: the beginning of the end?

Sunday, September 14, 2008 | 12:00 p.m. CDT

Stuart Loory: The coalition government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is about to be disbanded. The prime minister, accused of corruption and bribe-taking by the police as well as other crimes, has said he will resign from his party post. What does this mean for the peace process? Who is likely to be selected and what chance does that person have of actually forming a lasting government?

Jay Bushinsky, Israeli correspondent, CBS Radio, Jerusalem, Israel: It's a primary election. The Kadima Party, which has been led by Olmert, is due to go to the polls on Sept. 17. There are four candidates. The front-runner is Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Closely trailing her is Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz. The two other candidates are an internal security minister and an interior minister. Israel has a unique form of continuity and one must bear this in mind. Olmert said he will remain prime minister but would resign if a criminal indictment were served against him. He will remain prime minister until President Shimon Peres approves a new coalition government with a new prime minister. How long that will take I don't know. In fact, some analysts say he could remain as a kind of caretaker prime minister through the beginning of next year, until a new election is held and then until the winner of that election succeeds in forming a new coalition government.

Loory: So this could be a long time. It is a primary election, but yet there is no general election scheduled?

Bushinsky: No general election is yet scheduled. If the winner of this primary fails to prove to the president that he or she can keep the incumbent coalition intact and lead it, the Knesset will have to decide when this new election should take place.

Loory: The prime minister has been accused of corruption and bribery­­ - taking money from an American businessman before he became prime minister. Is he likely to be indicted on these charges? How serious are they?

Akiva Eldar, senior political commentator and columnist, Ha'aretz, Jerusalem, Israel: Olmert is also accused of using frequent-flyer mileage for private use, and five other charges the police are still investigating. If he is indicted, he is likely to go to jail. This would be unprecedented. On top of this, our president might also be indicted and convicted. Livni's claim to fame is that she hasn't touched any private or public money, as well as Mofaz. I believe this might be the beginning of the end of Kadima, a party that was riding on the memory of Ariel Sharon.

Loory: How does all this look from Ramallah?

Hisham Abdallah, freelance journalist, Ramallah, Palestinian Authority: After the passing of Arafat, all Israelis, including Sharon, were crying for Mahmoud Abbas to come to power so they could negotiate with him. When Abbas was elected five years ago, it took two or three years for Olmert to replace Sharon and for Olmert to speak to Abbas. Even then, it took more than a year. Now, we are speaking about yet another Israeli political conflict. We have seen this again and again.

Loory: President Bush says that he would like to see a settlement before he leaves office. Is the U. S. government doing anything to further this?

Joel Greenberg, Jerusalem correspondent, Chicago Tribune, Jerusalem, Israel: Secretary of State Rice has been here several times since talks were relaunched; there is certainly the appearance of activity. Is there anything of substance happening? The sides say they have agreed among themselves not to divulge details of the negotiations, but one wonders whether this is covering for a lack of progress. Palestinian officials occasionally say that not much has been achieved. It's doubtful the parties are close to any agreement, certainly not by the end of this year. This is a very long conflict that has taken a long time to resolve and this will require many more months plus years of hard work.

Loory: Whatever became of Tony Blair and the European Union's attempts to further negotiations?

Nicolas Pelham, senior analyst for Mideast program, International Crisis Group, East Jerusalem: Formally they're still in business. In practice, they have been stumped like many others before them. While Israeli politics tries to sort itself out and emerge with a definite leader, political tracks with Syria, the Palestinian Authority, a cease fire in Gaza are all incomplete. All require an enormous amount of progress.

Loory: Last Wednesday, the American consul general in Jerusalem said both the Israelis and Palestinians agreed to a partition of Jerusalem. Is there anything to that?

Eldar: This is nothing new. The American embassy is not even based in West Jerusalem. The U.S. cannot recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel as long as the Israelis and Palestinians have not reached an agreement. It is clear that without discussing the borders of Jerusalem you cannot possibly agree on the final settlement on borders.

Bushinsky: The territory earmarked for the projected Palestinian state is not under total control of the Palestinian government; Abbas does not control the Gaza Strip. Israel is in the middle of two separate sections. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist. So how far can you go?

Abdallah: A Palestinian state with the 1967 borders is the only thing that would work. We are talking about more than 40 years of occupation. The Israelis are the ones who really control Gaza, the West Bank and all the territory here.

Loory: Tzipi Livni is a relative newcomer to the political scene. Tell us about her: How effective would she be?

Bushinsky: Her personal background is largely unknown to the Israeli public. Politically, she is middle-of-the-road. She understands the Palestinians' demands and wants to work with what she calls the pragmatic Palestinians. As far as a program for Israeli domestic problems, she doesn't have one.

Eldar: I've known her quite well for several years. She is able to change her mind and fit her policy and views to the reality. The future of Israel as both a democratic and a Jewish state is most important to her. She is willing to offer the Palestinians a lot of land in return for their admission of Israel as the state of not only Israel but of the Jewish people.

Loory: What about the other possible leaders of Kadima?

Eldar: Shaul Mofaz, the only other real contender, is not as strict about the Golan Heights. He says he is going to offer the Syrians peace for peace. He wants to negotiate economic improvement instead of negotiating borders with the Palestinians. He comes from the army school of thought: Israel has to defend its borders and wait for more reasonable Palestinian leadership until Hamas fades away.

Loory: Who does the Bush administration favor to replace Olmert?

Greenberg: The Bush administration, like Olmert, is a lame duck; (it has) backed Olmert a great deal. Livni would be their preference, certainly in the months remaining until Bush leaves office.

Loory: What about possible talks with Syria?

Pelham: The view from Damascus is they cannot continue to negotiate with Israel because of political instability. There have been indirect talks going on, brokered by Turkey. They need to see a new leader. They also need U.S. involvement, which does not look likely until after the next election.

Producers of Global Journalist are MU journalism graduate students Jared Gassen, Chris Hamby, Sananda Sahoo and Hui Wang. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.



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