It’s not just about the numbers, not by a long shot. Nonetheless, the numbers are important. Lieberman, Kachlon and Lapid have together consistently polled in the upper 20’s. These numbers would assure the Center of a solid place in the top three. The far-Right and the Likud (the National Camp) lead all polls in the mid to upper 30’s. But given the Center’s alienation from the far-Right, can Netanyahu actually form the next government? Then there is Labor-Livni and Meretz. Together, they also poll consistently in the upper 20’s. However, their road to a majority in the Knesset, even with the three centrist parties, would require the support of the ultra-Orthodox. As a life-long Centrist (security hawk and peace-aspiring religious Zionist), I find such a coalition — the far-Left, Center and ultra-Orthodox — unworkable.
But what about the Center? First of all, it would need a mechanism for deciding who would become the PM. Perhaps the best bet would be to sign an agreement for a post-election partnership, whereupon leadership would be decided by the most votes cast for any one party. In other words, the three Center parties wouldn’t run as a list, but would agree to come together once the horse trading began. Of course, they would have to spell this out clearly for the public. And they would need to do this at least two months before election day. Second, they would have to vividly describe a new grand strategy for Israel. Without such a grand strategy, neither Lieberman, Kachlon nor Lapid have the weight of history, experience or the necessary security- establishment support to overcome the National Camp or Labor.
If the Center is to lead, it needs to draw in more voters from its left and its right. The more votes it can draw in, the stronger its post-election position will be. If the three Center parties could get into the mid 30’s, their position would become supreme. However, this cannot be done using the same old worn-out strategic vocabulary from the other two major camps. The moderates in Likud don’t believe that a two-state solution is either possible or feasible. For this element of the Right to vote against their own party, the Center must convince them that there is an alternative to the PA’s conception of Oslo. A new paradigm is a necessity to draw votes from the Right.
While the security hawks in Labor might tend to agree with this Likud assessment, the political essence of the vast majority of the Labor Party still demands a concrete strategy for peace. The Center becomes meaningful only as an alternative to the present stalemate, but not as a mere adjunct to the current status quo. If the March 17 election means that only another tired round of Oslo is to begin, why not just let Labor-Livni lead it. You don’t need the Center for that kind of far-Left capitulation. The mere presence of the Center within a Left-wing coalition would only act as a brake anyway. Certainly the PA is not about to accept anything less than what they already turned down at Camp David in 2000. Given the PA’s rejectionist and unilateral stance, what future does the Center have with a Labor-Livni-led coalition?
The same is true with the far-Right. To support such a coalition, given its record and international standing, would probably mean another round of elections, most likely by January 2017 or earlier. Why join such a coalition? But the future of the Iran nuclear negotiations has been the Likud’s strong point. The Center cannot abandon this issue. And similarly, it can’t pretend that the way to persuade the Arab League to alter its Palestinian peace plan is through some sort of vague regional military cooperation between Israel and the Sunni Arab states. The regional dimension and the Palestinian dimension must go hand in hand with the issue of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. This is the only way forward. This is the nature of the new grand strategy.
Israel’s Center can only lead with a new grand strategy. And this grand strategy can only work if it becomes a package deal. One part of the package is as vital as another. First, Israel must alter its nuclear strategy by admitting that it has a nuclear arsenal. And that the reason that Israel possesses such an arsenal is because of the inherent military insecurity of the old lines, those previous to the war of June 1967. In other words, the Center should never agree to a Palestinian state without the concomitant application of a strict security regime. Secondly, however, the Center could agree to a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East, as long as Iran and all the other Arab states of the region become members. Of course this would require a far-reaching negotiation, but let the embryo of negotiations begin.
This would give Israel an immediate diplomatic initiative. It would put both Iran and the PA on the defensive; it would explain to the world the necessity of Israel’s forward position on the West Bank in both historical and strategic terms. This would be especially true within the future context of a nuclear-free Middle East. Unlike Israel, Iran faces no conventional threats, other than those posed by outside-the-region powers. But the Sunni Arab states do. They face Iran. Therefore, Israel could also propose that the nuclear-free zone become a zone of anti-hegemony as well. Whereupon all outside naval and air assets would (by treaty) be forced to withdraw from the area. These outside powers could only return if and when a breach of the peace within the treaty region is detected, and a clear aggressor is determined. This would draw the Gulf Sunni states into a tacit reliance on both Israel and Turkey for potential support, which Israel could readily agree to. The Israeli Center could put some real heft into the current pipe dream that the “way to peace” with the Palestinians is through some vague understanding with the Arab League.
But for the Center to succeed, a regional peace plan must also be concurrent with a brand new Palestinian initiative. This new initiative must have appeal not only to the moderate Left and moderate Right in Israel, but also to the Palestinian people on the West Bank. The force of the initiative must be accompanied by the following: the certainty of the end to the occupation, the formation of Palestinian elections inclusive of all peaceful political parties, the integration of vast Asian and Western investment into the local economy, the promise of a Palestinian capital in an undivided Jerusalem (to be negotiated), a new peoples’ constitution and bill of rights, an immediate cessation of new settlement expansion, the prospect of federation with Jordan and an end-game negotiation between the new Palestinian government and Israel over the concept of condominium (shared rule) for the West Bank.
Israel’s grand strategy will require new leadership and courage. Together, these components would create a far better outcome than a region where two, three or four sovereign states (and their non-state allies) have nuclear weapons. That would be a recipe for complete disaster. But that is exactly where the region of the Middle East is headed. The present nuclear negotiations have been so mishandled by Washington that only a bold and brilliant Israeli initiative can save the day. Israel needs a new grand strategy because it also needs strategic depth. The security of the Jordan River Valley is the crucial element in Israel’s conventional defense. Without it, Israel can only pray that a repeat of the miracle of 1967 can be accomplished again.
However, the insanity of a MAD (mutually assured destruction) nuclear strategy will not deter the Middle East from a potential horrendous nuclear miscalculation. This region cannot be compared to, and isn’t in any way a duplication of, the old US-Soviet nuclear standoff. A poly-nuclear Middle East will in no way be as stable as the bi-polar Cold War was. And even over Cuba, there was a near superpower miscalculation. Whether it be counterforce strategy, second strike capacity, satellite technology surveillance, red-phone hotline or rational action, the Middle East is far too unstable to be subjected to a nuclear arms race. “Use it or lose it”: this will become the Middle East’s first-strike nuclear nightmare.
Israel needs new leadership, and it needs new ideas. Nothing less will suffice. This spring’s election must produce some out-of-the-box thinking. This thinking won’t be initiated from the far-Right, and it won’t be coming from the far-Left either. Unfortunately, unilateral decision is simply not a substitute for the broad peace that the entire region requires. The leadership capacity of both Labor and Likud has been discredited through the inability of Oslo to succeed as a successful paradigm of separation. The only thing that remains is an integrative solution. An integrative solution for the entire region (without a superpower presence), might just be the impetus to lead to an integrative solution in the disputed territories. However, Israel’s new grand strategy probably can’t be led by either established party. New ideas generally demand new leadership. Only the Center can lead. And with G-d’s help, they just might succeed.