The people behind the reservists' protest this Saturday (which aims to urge the government to ensure that all citizens of Israel are required to perform military or national service) know that it won't be a mass event. Despite their efforts to rally supporters, it is clear that the issue doesn't directly impact many Israelis, only the ones who actively serve. But there are two factors that will reflect how important the protest becomes:
• The various party leaders possess polls indicating that secular and national religious Israelis widely support recruiting ultra-Orthodox and Arab citizens to mandatory service. Many of them view the balanced proposal by Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner as the least bad solution – a red line, marking the minimal expectations, which can serve as a jumping off point for improvement. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently realized how intense and prevalent the emotional rift over this issue really is and rushed back to square one by declaring that citizens who serve will enjoy more benefits than citizens who dodge the draft.
• It will be especially significant to note the number of Kadima MKs who take part in the protest. How many of the 28 so-called members of the disintegrating party will be among the marchers? Will Plesner be among them? Plesner has become the party's litmus test, and Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz, who has yet to fully reconcile with Netanyahu, knows it. Not only that, but members of Yisrael Beytenu may also take part in the protest. That is a truly Israeli phenomenon: Only in Israel does a coalition faction protest against the government.
Kadima wasn't crushed by the events of recent days. The events merely reflected the fact that Kadima has already been crushed. Before the last Kadima primary election, former Air Force commander Dan Halutz abandoned Tzipi Livni, and threw his support behind Mofaz. The fact that he is now threatening to leave Kadima indicates that he has come to the conclusion that the party's future is grim.
It is possible that deep in his heart, Netanyahu regrets his decision to stave off early elections and prolong the current government's mandate. Mofaz may also be wondering whether he had rushed too fast to unseat Livni. Ever since he assumed the party leadership, he has borne all the responsibility for Kadima's disintegration, and it appears that there is nothing he can do to stop the party's downward spiral. It may have been wiser to have let Livni take the party to an election, where she would have surely suffered a humiliating defeat.
Kadima is divided not only among those who want to quit the coalition and those who support Mofaz. Mofaz's supporters are also divided. Mofaz has gotten himself into a difficult situation of having to navigate his troubled relationship with Netanyahu while a large portion of his party expects him to stick to the ultimatum he made (to quit the coalition by Monday if Netanyahu fails to adopt the recommendations of the Plesner Committee), while others are quietly urging him to compromise.
Has anyone heard Kadima MKs Dalia Itzik and Avi Dichter urging Mofaz to quit the government rather than shirk his duty? No? Maybe because they have their eyes on the ministerial positions they could enjoy if Kadima stays in the coalition.
Everyone is keeping their cards close to the chest, but everyone involved in these exhausting negotiations – from Yisrael Beytenu to Kadima – is convinced that ultimately the talks will yield the right formula that will prolong the reign of the current government. Some people want real change, but others only want formulas. There are 72 hours left.