Could Infighting and Ideological Rigidity Undermine the Israeli Right?

June 14, 2019 | Akiva Bigman

In a political climate where Israel’s left is relatively weak and the Likud’s major electoral competitor is the centrist Blue-and-White party, Benjamin Netanyahu found himself unable to form a government because he could not get one of the smaller right-wing parties to join his coalition—forcing a second round of elections in September. Such factional squabbles, argues Akiva Bigman, led to the defeat of the right in 1988, when hard-right splinter parties (none of which endured) broke from Yitzḥak Shamir’s Likud after he decided to form a national-unity government with Labor:

[In 1988], Shamir was at the head of the unity government, and Shimon Peres and Yitzḥak Rabin, both of the Labor party, were to serve in the roles of foreign minister and defense minister, respectively. In a speech [to the Knesset], Shamir spoke of his hope for peace with the Arab states and presented Jordan as a solution to the Palestinian problem. Settlements in Judea and Samaria were to remain and be expanded, the status of Jerusalem was not up for discussion, and negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were out of the question, he said. . . .

The alternative to Shamir’s vision was not just theoretical in nature. Representatives on the left had stated their explicit commitment to entering peace talks with the PLO. Shamir succeeded in enlisting Labor in a government that ruled out such negotiations, in an effort to present a broad and unified front to contend with international pressure on the subject. But this did not interest the ideological hawks in the Knesset.

Yuval Ne’eman of the now-defunct ultra-nationalist T’ḥiyah party . . . accused Likud of being a left-wing party in disguise. . . . Rafael Eitan of the now-defunct Tzomet party . . . accused the government of being ineffective because a series of reforms weren’t moving as fast as he would have liked. . . . Last among these ideologues was the late Reḥavam Ze’evi, founder of the Moledet party, [since then absorbed entirely by Jewish Home], who said the government was incapable of contending with Israel’s national-security issues. . . .

The result: these smaller parties joined the opposition, Labor won the 1992 elections, and the Oslo Accords, with their disastrous results, followed.

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