Last week’s big story in Israel was the election of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni as the Kadima party’s new chairwoman and as would-be Prime Minister. (The “would-be” label gets peeled off only after she succeeds in forming a new coalition government – still a big “if”.)
But, truth be told, the real story is what awaits us should Ms. Livni become Israel’s chief executive. The real story will be: Down what path will Livni choose to lead the State of Israel?
Notwithstanding the favorable comparisons of Livni to her defeated rival, Sha’ul Mofaz, made by some in the peace camp, the new Kadima leader is clearly not a ‘card-carrying member’ of Meretz or Peace Now. She is ‘lapsed Likudnik’ (if you will), who, like Ehud Olmert before her, has woken up and realized that the dream of Greater Israel in reality is a nightmare of a binational state – if not worse.
More to the point, perhaps, Livni and Kadima, the party created by and for Ariel Sharon, aspire to lead Israel by identifying with neither the right nor the left, but from “the center”.
Centrism is often a laudable political approach, especially when it promotes dialogue and compromise between rivaling political interests – take social democracy as a centrist alternative to the Marxian concept of class warfare, for example. Centrism can also be a humanizing approach, since it tends to focus on practical outcomes, rather than hewing to the dictates of ideological purism and dogma.
On the other hand (you knew that was coming, didn’t you!), centrism, in some contexts, can also be a synonym for fence-sitting, indecisiveness, hesitancy, do-nothingness. And that kind of centrism is something the State of Israel can ill afford.
Sixty years after the Yishuv’s decision to accept the partition of the Land of Israel/Palestine, the State of Israel, due to the ironies of history, is now forced to do it all over again.
Israel, its government, its Prime Minister will need to choose between 78% of the Land of Israel, the area defined by the 1967 Green Line borders, and 100% Greater Israel. They’ll need to choose between a commitment to continued construction in the West Bank and a redoubled commitment to the peace process. They’ll have to pick a side between the rule of law and the appeasement of hooligans, who defy the government in their ‘settlement outposts’, violently attack Israeli police and troops, and terrorize the Palestinians who live in their midst.
Tzipi Livni, the rightist-turned-centrist, will have to make choices. Because the path down which she needs to lead Israel is approaching a fork in the road.
The latest news – that Livni has opened talks with Meretz leader Haim Oron about the party’s possible participation in the government – is a cause for optimism, but not euphoria. Preliminary discussions do not a deal make, and, as Meretz MK Avshalom Vilan told a Meretz USA gathering this week, Livni seems to have almost no chance of putting together a center-left coalition.
What’s more, no one knows for sure yet whether Livni’s call on Meretz is for real, or just a political “flirt” – a tactic to drive down the demands of the other potential coalition partners, like the ultra-orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties.
Hackneyed and noncommittal though it is, the expression “time will tell” is a legitimate reading of the situation.