Kadima party chairman Shaul Mofaz, who is leaving the Benjamin Netanyahu-led coalition cabinet, has pledged to run for prime minister in the next election and claimed that he will revive his party’s glory.
Mofaz’s statements come at a time when opinion polls do not rate him more popular than Netanyahu. When Mofaz was asked about this, he retorted, “What is this question? I am stronger than Netanyahu in the competition and we will return back strong.” He told the Israeli newspaper Maariv that Kadima will restore its political strength. “The erosion that took place under Tzipi Livni led the party to a very difficult reality. But today we are in a different position. Our stances are clearer and we have an agenda.”
The Kadima leader’s current position represents a transformation; he has gone from being Netanyahu’s partner in the coalition cabinet just a few days ago to a potential rival in the next election, which could be held early. Mofaz defended his position in the cabinet despite internal opposition within Kadima: “We joined the cabinet to push for issues related to principles and values, the first of which was equality in bearing the burden. But Netanyahu does not know how to make decisions in line with those standards.”
According to Mofaz, he thought that Netanyahu, with 94 members of Knesset in his coalition, could take steps and make major decisions: “But when he reached the decisive moment, he preferred the fundamentalists and their stances.”
Mofaz left Netanyahu’s cabinet after major differences over the issue of recruiting Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) in the army. They disagreed over issues related to the age of army recruits. Mofaz clarified that while youth currently serve in the army between the age of 18 and 21, he agreed to a compromise, so that some get recruited at 19 and the rest at 22. Netanyahu wanted Haredim to defer service till the age of 26 because they are busy with religious studies before that age; this caused much debate in Israel and led to accusations of inequality in the burden of military service.
Netanyahu’s fundamentalist partners in the coalition cabinet influenced his stance, claims Mofaz, after he had agreed to the proposals made by a special committee that he later dissolved. Mofaz believed that Netanyahu changed his mind about the committee’s proposal after others threatened to leave the coalition. He stressed that his disagreement with Netanyahu was fundamental and therefore he left the coalition and returned to Opposition with no regrets.
In response to a question about his previous statements saying that Netanyahu is “a liar”, Mofaz said that they came from his heart, as Netanyahu did not take any step forward toward on a few of the issues they had agreed on, although he had the majority in the Knesset and he could have made historic decisions if he really wanted to.
Mofaz downplayed the ability of 4 members of the Knesset leaving Kadima to divide it. When he was asked about whether the party’s former head, Tzipi Livni, was trying to influence the party from outside and cause divisions within it, he said that this constitutes a refusal to accept the voters’ will: “Livni chose to leave and refrain from providing help, but what’s more controversial is that she is trying to influence Knesset members so that they leave Kadima.”