In last month’s Knesset elections, Labor—which dominated the first three decades of Israeli politics—emerged as the smallest party with only four seats. Meretz, the party to its left, failed to win any seats. Eran Lerman evaluates the decline and collapse of the country’s left wing, and its possible future:
In September 2000, the Camp David Summit between then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat failed. Soon a wave of violence and terror—guided from above, yet mistakenly referred to as the “second intifada” or popular uprising—engulfed Israel and the Palestinians. . . . A sharp decline in the fortunes of the traditional left and center-left parties became all but inevitable. Peace had become their byword, and peace had become nearly synonymous with an increase in terrorist attacks in Israel.
There was little else the left could latch on to. Old-style socialism was a thing of the past. Economically disadvantaged groups in Israeli society, especially the refugees from Arab countries who came in the 1950s, felt disenfranchised in the first 30 years of Israel’s establishment and saw Likud as their political home, as do their descendants today. Resentment of the elite refused to die, and both Labor and Meretz found it difficult to rid themselves of an association with the sybaritic Tel Aviv cosmopolitan “haves” as opposed to the “have nots” of Israel’s social and geographic periphery.
Can the Zionist left regain its past position as the dominant force in Israeli life? Probably not, owing to demographic changes. It did not help its cause that Benjamin Netanyahu managed to make headway toward new relations with several Arab countries, even without securing Palestinian consent—which the left had repeatedly argued would be impossible. At the same time, voting results from the last four elections show center-left and left parties, including Israeli Arab parties, consistently garnering slightly under half the vote.
Parties on the left could find new pathways to a majority, particularly with the support of those who resent the rise of the radical right and seek to uphold the image of Israel as an open, tolerant society. These parties of the left will not merge but may run on a joint platform. They may yet dig themselves out of the rubble of the present collapse and build a center-left coalition.