Israel’s Peace Church Must Merge With the Muscular Center

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A Meretz and Labor activists' demo in front of the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The center-left debate that has developed on Haaretz’s op-ed pages is commendable. There will be no political change in Israel without establishing a strong, high-quality center and renewing a modern, relevant left.

The only decisive election victory Israel has achieved in the past 40 years was in 1992. That was an ingenious alliance between a powerful center (Labor headed by Yitzhak Rabin) and an energetic left (the Meretz of Shulamit Aloni, Yossi Sarid and Amnon Rubinstein).

Only a renewal of such a center-left alliance will produce a turnaround in the next election. But the way to such an alliance isn’t through mutual vilification, but through understanding the failures of both the center and the left in six of the seven last elections.

The left’s failure stems from its failure to recognize the explosion of 2000. Historically, the left was right about the disaster embodied in the occupation and the settlements. Historically, the left was wrong when it promised to achieve a Scandinavian peace in the Middle East. The dramatic events around the turn of the Millennium the Camp David Summit and the second intifada exposed the mistake and toppled the worldview of the peace church.

But the left obstinately refused to admit its mistake and even ignored the trauma of the suicide attacks, which scarred the national consciousness. So the left began to be seen as a delusional political movement, detached from the reality of the region, from Israeli society and from Jewish identity.

Its unwillingness to address the fact that Israel is an amazing human enterprise surrounded by a brutal reality made the left shut itself up in an abandoned ruined cathedral that ceased to be relevant. The querulousness, bitterness, sourness and criticism distanced the left from its constructive sources and turned it into a powerless force, unable to influence and shape reality.

The center’s failure stems from the fact that it never defined itself. Historically, the center was right in opposing the rightist and leftist messianism and in reflecting the practical, positive, life-affirming Israeli spirit. Historically, the center erred in not believing in worldviews or ideas and was therefore seen as blowing with the wind.

Already a generation ago, the Labor Party lost the ability to propose a third way that’s balanced and exciting. And the one-leader parties (Kadima, Yair Lapid 1, Yair Lapid 2, Moshe Kahlon) failed to present a clear identity and a consistent doctrine.

The result is that Israel’s Zionist center is seen as a cynical center. It’s not clear what it believes and where it’s going, and it’s not clear what it will do with power if it gets it. While the left has principles and lacks pragmatism, the center has pragmatism and lacks principles.

Israel needs a resolute, Zionist center that will protect its democratic institutions, preserve its liberal values and fight relentlessly to stop the settlements, end the occupation and divide the land. Israel needs an inspiring political center that can attract millions of moderate Israelis who object to the nationalist and religious radicalism and want to live a sane life in this place.

But the current left and center are not yet ready to fulfill the task of saving Israel from itself. Instead of the left attacking the center and the center attacking the left, the left should focus on fixing the left and the center should deepen its center and define its path. Only if they do this can Israelis enter the polling booths in 2017 or 2018 with a broad, committed center-left that will finally generate an upheaval.