The Center That Disappointed

The real reason many Israelis will vote for the right in 2009 is their deep disappointment with the center; the center's leadership, party and cynicism.

The right's victory in the 2009 election is unavoidable. Unless an all-out war breaks out next week and a surprise peace agreement is signed, Benjamin Netanyahu will be the next prime minister. After three years of a center-left government, a center-right government will come to power. The unlikely scenario is a Likud-Shas-Yisrael Beiteinu government, while the likely scenario is a Likud-Labor-Kadima one.

Either way the agenda of dividing the country will give way to an agenda of national security. The Israelis who voted for the left in 1999 and the center in 2006 will now be voting for a government whose heart is with the right.

The right's victory was not inevitable. It was not the result of the public's falling in love again with the settlements and the hills of Judea and Samaria. At its core, the Israeli majority is what it was before: realistic and pragmatic. It recognizes that the occupation is futile, but is looking for a safe way to end it. It recognizes that the Greater Israel vision is finished, but fears having a Hamas state on the outskirts of Kfar Sava.

It is true that the Gaza campaign evokes jingoistic bluster. Dark emotions burst forth from the lowest recesses of consciousness. But these emotions, which appear among all nations in wartime, did not change the Israeli voter's fundamental attitude. That attitude was, and remains, a centrist moderate-hard one that holds that we must leave the territories and not trust the Palestinians.

And so, Likud's expected victory does not stem from any sudden transformation of the Israeli voter into Benny Begin. The voter is not as decent, liberal or nationalist as Begin. The voter has none of the principles and values of the Herut party, which is about to return to power. The real reason many Israelis will vote for the right in 2009 is their deep disappointment with the center - the center's leadership, party and cynicism. Disappointment with the fact that the center did not turn its moderate-hard approach into a comprehensive worldview from which it derives a clear policy.

When Ariel Sharon formed Kadima, the intention was clear: to offer Israel a third way. To replace the messianic visions of the right and left with a realistic vision. Sharon was not a man of principles, but he was guided by two simple ones: No to the status quo (because it was dangerous), and no to a final-status agreement (because it was impossible to achieve).

Sharon's practical alternative to both of these was a long-term process that gives Israel maximum security with minimum occupation. In other words, a border. Neither an end to the conflict nor an intensification of the conflict, but a border that will allow Israelis and Palestinians to conduct the conflict in an acceptable manner. A border that will allow the Jewish state to continue and thrive even without peace.

Kadima betrayed every one of Sharon's principles. In its three years of government it did nothing to change the dangerous status quo in Judea and Samaria. For the past two years it conducted delusional negotiations over a final-status agreement, which of course failed. Instead of remaining realistic and shaping a long-term peace process, Kadima made false promises of "peace now." Its conduct of the peace process was not in the spirit of Sharon, but of Yossi Beilin. Its military conduct was in the spirit of Vladimir Putin.

The result of that explosive cocktail in the peacemaking domain is multidimensional failure. But the political result is no less serious. Seeing as Kadima has become Cast Meretz, it undermines the left instead of building up the center. Kadima in 2009 is not a genuine alternative to the right, but rather one more North Tel Aviv party competing with Ehud Barak and Haim Oron for the orphaned voters of the late Tommy Lapid.

It is too late to change the results of February 10. But it is important to realize that they will be the center's loss more than the right's victory. The center will lose not because it is the center, but because it stopped being the center. The center will lose because it did not keep its promise to be a third way.