Kadima's Big Bang
A new center.
This article described the creation of the Kadima party in late 2005 and Kadima's platform in the election of 2006.
In December 2003, Ariel Sharon, war hero, champion of the settlement movement and darling of the Israeli right, announced the Disengagement Plan, a proposal to unilaterally withdraw from parts of the West Bank and Gaza, thereby solving Israel's demographic problems by ending its control over millions of Palestinians, and possibly kick-starting the peace process.
Sharon's announcement precipitated months of frenetic action by the settlers and their allies, all in an effort to prevent the dismantling of settlements and, ultimately, to preserve Jewish control over the entire Land of Israel. In the course of the public campaign, a majority of Sharon's own party voted against the plan in an internal Likud referendum. A political war of attrition waged against Sharon in the Knesset by right-wing Likud MKs failed to prevent the adoption of the Disengagement Plan as government policy and then as law.
In August 2005, the plan was carried out: 25 Israeli settlements in Gaza and the northern West Bank were evacuated and bulldozed.
The Creation of Kadima
Despite his political victory, Sharon understood that the lines of Israeli politics had been redrawn. The fight over the Disengagement plan had united him with his erstwhile opponents in the Labor party and on the Left, and pitted him against rightwing colleagues from his own party. In an effort to avoid further conflicts within the Likud, in November 2005, Sharon announced the creation of a new party--Kadima. Over the next few weeks, leading figures from Likud, Labor, and smaller parties flocked to the new movement, some out of a sense of identification with Sharon's path, others in response to Kadima's impressive polling data.
Political pundits attributed Kadima's initial appeal to the popularity of its leading figure--Sharon. But in December 2005 and January 2006, Sharon suffered a series of strokes, leaving him incapacitated. Leadership of the party passed to then Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Despite the change in leadership and in the face of conventional political wisdom, Kadima maintained its popularity, registering at around 40 Knesset seats (33%) in the polls for most of the run-up to the 2006 election.
During the 1990s, many commentators believed that the peace process would lead to a seismic shift on the map of Israeli politics. The prevailing Labor-Likud rivalry--driven by the debate over the Territories--would lose its centrality, its place being taken by newer parties focused on more relevant social, economic, and religious issues. The creation of Kadima was heralded as the start of this "Big Bang."