by David Harris
JERUSALEM, Dec. 28 (Xinhua) -- A year after a turbulent government transition period, it looks as though Israel's political realm is in for another big upheaval.
Kadima, the largest party in the Israeli parliament, could be about to lose several of its lawmakers, with serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likely to be the big winner.
Netanyahu's Likud party has been trying to lure Kadima members of the parliament, or the Knesset, more or less since Netanyahu formed his government some nine months ago. That effort has culminated this week, but only after Netanyahu also made a very public attempt to persuade the entire Kadima party to quit the opposition and join his coalition.
Many analysts believe that this is an obvious attempt by Netanyahu to destroy his main political rival, Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. However, some do think that there could be more serious issues at stake here.
On Monday evening, a meeting of Kadima parliamentarians rejected Netanyahu's offer, and thus ended the chance of Netanyahu controlling more than 100 seats in the 120-member legislature.
However, according to Israeli media reports on Monday morning, as many as 10 Kadima lawmakers are considering quitting the party. That would severely limit Kadima's effectiveness and could even lead to its disappearance from the political scene. Most of the lawmakers named as wanting to quit Kadima would head for Netanyahu's Likud.
There are two possible scenarios, according to Shlomo Tzadok, apolitical scientist at the University of Haifa. Either Netanyahu simply wants to kill off Kadima, or the prime minister is seeking broad parliamentary support for an upcoming and "dramatic" move with regard to captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
The Palestinian Islamic resistance movement Hamas has been holding Shalit in the Gaza Strip for more than three years. Hamas leaders from Gaza and Syria are currently discussing whether to agree to a proposed deal from Israel, which includes the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Yet Hamas is said to be unhappy with some of the details.
Tzadok said that Netanyahu may want wide support for his position on Shalit, and thus he invited Livni to join his coalition. If this is the case, it does not necessarily give a clear indication as to the fate of the prisoner exchange.
"The dramatic move may not mean his release, it could also signal the blocking of the deal. Either way it needs strong parliamentary backing," said Tzadok.
He added that the Shalit case could be the motive behind Netanyahu's offer to Livni because there is nothing else currently happening that would warrant such a healthy parliamentary majority.
Netanyahu will need support whether he is to release dozens of murderers in exchange for Shalit or to block the deal because he does not want to pay such a hefty price, said Tzadok.
The notion that this has anything to do with Shalit, the peace process, the Iranian nuclear issue or international diplomacy is viewed with derision by Yossi Sarid, an outspoken columnist with the Israeli daily Ha'aretz and a former leader of the dovish Meretz party.
The offer from Netanyahu to Livni would have given Kadima up to four ministerial positions and as many as three seats in the powerful inner security cabinet. "It's clear that she can't join the government," said Sarid.
Had Netanyahu really wanted Kadima on board, he would have made the proposal far more acceptable to Livni, said the former education minister, adding that "this is nothing other than petty politics."
After trying to break up Kadima, Sarid said he believes Netanyahu will try to poach Kadima's more-hawkish lawmakers, which would unlikely bring any good news to the already stalemated peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
"There's no peace process anyway, and there's nothing on the horizon. Netanyahu doesn't want the lawmakers from Kadima to help with the peace process but rather to bury it," said Sarid.
Like many relationships in Israeli politics, the one between Netanyahu and Livni goes back a long way. In the late 1990s when Netanyahu was premier for the first time, Livni headed the Government Companies Authority, helping Netanyahu spearhead his privatization campaign.
Livni then became a lawmaker with Likud, but left the party to become a founding member of the more centrist Kadima alongside former Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.
In the February general elections, Kadima won 28 seats, while Likud took 27. Yet in the end, Netanyahu formed the government because Netanyahu had more natural allies than Livni did and was therefore able to build a fairly strong hawkish coalition.
At that time, Netanyahu asked Kadima to join the government. But despite considerable pressure from her number two, former defense minister Shaul Mofaz, she opted to reject Netanyahu's overtures. Since then, Netanyahu's emissaries have reportedly been working behind the scenes to persuade Kadima's disgruntled members to jump ship.
"Why not now? He smells a weakness, and maybe he got hints from a variety of lawmakers to strike now," suggested Sarid. With a similar tone, Tzadok said that Netanyahu's decision to move against Livni and Kadima could have been taken at any time and now is as good an opportunity as any.
If Netanyahu is successful with this maneuver, then it will become a question whether Livni and her Kadima party will survive beyond the current Knesset, said Sarid. Yet he also noted that although Livni has not really got any policies, there is no one else on the political left capable of leading the country right now.
All in all, many analysts pointed out that Netanyahu has played his hand superbly, by seemingly strengthening his coalition and dividing the Likud's main political rival.