Israel’s political mess and how it affects chances for peace. Part II of a three-part series.
Part II continued from last week.
Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni were dismissed last week from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition in Israel for going public with their outspoken criticism of Netanyahu’s policies. In particular, these were over differing versions of a possible bill on the Jewish character of Israel and on the related path to peace with the Palestinians. This broke apart Israel’s ruling coalition and triggered an automatic election, which will be held in March.
Negotiations are already going full blast among the oh-so-numerous political parties in Israel, in an attempt to find a coalition of parties capable of defeating Netanyahu.
Lapid, a popular news anchor and talk show host, had formed the Yesh Atid party, which received a surprisingly large number of votes in the last parliamentary elections, running on the need for change. As in the U.S., it is much easier to argue for and promise change as an outside critic, than to effect change once inside the government. Hence Lapid’s support has declined rather steadily over the past number of months. Livni, once a rising star in Ariel Sharon’s version of the conservative Likud party, broke away from it in joining Kadima, a more moderate off-shoot. When her outspoken views diverged from Kadima’s majority, and she was ousted as its leader, she formed yet another, more to the center, and smaller, branch of the Likud mother tree, the Hatnuah party.
It is very difficult for an outsider to follow all of the divisions and creations of branches of Israel’s party structure. And yet, some knowledge of it is necessary to understand Israel’s parties and their policies, especially with respect to actions on the path to, or away from, a peace with the Palestinians, within the framework of a two-state solution.
Very briefly, modern Israel was created by the U.N. in 1948. Up until the end of W.W.I, the territory of Palestine included all of today’s Jordan, the west bank and Israel. They had been colonized and ruled, rather corruptly, by the Turkish Ottoman Empire. Following the defeat in the first world war of the Central Coalition, which included Turkey, the League of Nations made Palestine a British Mandate.
It was during this latter period that some of the most significant British documents on their Palestine Mandate were written, and actions taken, that fueled many of today’s political differences in Israel. It’s an exciting period to study in more detail. But those could be the subjects of many doctoral dissertations. For our purposes here, it is important to note that two major threads of today’s political parties started, in this post-World War I era, with different approaches to protecting Jews living in the Mandate: how to respond to what was perceived as British deceit and actual harm to those Jews, and finally, which economic model– socialism or capitalism– should the Jewish state-to-be employ.
The mainstream of Jewish Palestine, politically followed the League of Nations Mandate and worked with, and in the Palestine Zionist Executive, which in 1929 became the Jewish Agency for Israel. For actual self-protection, the Hashomer (the watchman) was formed in 1909, replaced by Haganah during the British Mandate period. These groups were largely organized and run by labor socialists, although after 1929 they also included non-Jewish philanthropic organizations that supported the goal of the Jewish State of Israel in Palestine. Haganah seamlessly became the core of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) following the establishment by the U.N. in 1948 of the State of Israel. The leadership of the Jewish Agency became the early Labor Party leaders, led by David ben Gurion, Golda Meir, and later Moshe Dayan, among others.
The alternate path was taken by those who, following the ideas of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, a champion of active Jewish self-defense, first in Russia, in response to pogroms and anti-semitic acts there, and later, after the Arab riots against Jews in Jerusalem in1920. Jabotinsky, who had fought with the British in World War I, was very critical of the British for withdrawing their forces from Jerusalem during the riots. Jabotinksy championed small arms training for Jewish settlers to help defend themselves. He also rejected the socialist economic policies of the Labor Zionists.
In 1923, Jaobtinksy split with the Jewish Agency and formed what became known as the Revisionists. They worked closely with the paramilitary group Irgun, and ultimately became Herut, the first major opposition party in Israel. Herut became Likud in 1973, led then by Menachim Begin and others including Yitzhak Shamir, who became Prime Minister of Israel in 1977. Likud, like Labor, has birthed other offshoots, including Tzipi Livni’s Katima and now Hatnuah. Katima had become the largest opposition party in the Knesset in 2009. Nevertheless, Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister again in 2013. And that brings us up to the current time where Netanyahu’s dismissals of Lapid and Livni means new elections and, almost certainly, new coalitions which we look at next week along with its implications for the peace process.
The Current Mess, Part III, the final part of this three-part series continues next week