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Israel Labor Party

The Workers Party of Eretz Israel (Mapai) was founded in 1930 through the unification of two workers’ parties, Achdut Ha’avoda and Hapoel Hatzair. In 1932 the worldwide organizations affiliated with each of these two parties were also united, under the heading of Ichud Olami (World Union). From its inception, Mapai, which was a Zionist Socialist party, became the main political entity in the Jewish settlements in Palestine. It also headed the largest labor union, the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor) as well as the Jewish Agency and the Haganah defense forces.

Mapai, and as of 1968 the Labor Party (Avodah), remained at the forefront of the State until 1977, forming the basis for every successive government. Among its leaders over the years were David Ben-Gurion, Berl Katznelson, Yitzhak Tabenkin, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Haim Arlozorov, Moshe (Shertok) Sharett, Eliahu Golomb, Golda Meir, David Remez, Yosef Shprinzak and Eliezer Kaplan. Through the years other persons joined the leadership of the party, among them Levi Eshkol, Pinhas Lavon, Pinhas Sapir, Moshe Dayan, Abba Eban, Shimon Peres, Yigal Alon, Israel Galili and Yitzhak Rabin.

The Labor Party is a social-democratic party established in 1968 following a union of Mapai, Ahdut Ha'avoda, and Rafi. The party supports the policy of social pluralism and equality, and since the 1990's, a free market "with a soul" economic policy. In the political sphere, the pragmatic approach usually prevailed, despite the military background of most of its leaders. Until the elections for the Thirteenth Knesset, the Labor Party within the framework of the Alignment list.

Labor won a total of two elections since Likud first rose to power in 1977. The first time, in 1992, it was under retired Lt. Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, the IDF chief of staff during the Six Day War, who told the public, in his slow, smoky growl, “I shall navigate.” And the second time, in 1999, was when another former chief of staff, Ehud Barak, the most decorated soldier in Israel’s history, trounced his former subordinate, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Since its establishment the Labor Party lost more than half its strength. The chairmen of the Party since its establishment were Levi Eshkol (1968-69), Golda Meir (1969-74), Yitzhak Rabin (1974-77; 1992-1995), Shimon Peres (1977-92; 1995-97; 2003- ), Ehud Barak (1997-2001), Binyamin Ben-Elizer (2001-2), Amram Miznah (2002-3). Until the mid 1990s the party headed the Histadrut, and its leader was Prime Minister in 1968-77; 1984-86; 1992-96; and 1999-2001.

From the establishment of Mapai in 1930 until the 1977 Knesset elections, Labor (and its predecessor, Mapai) was the dominant party. Labor's defeat in the 1977 Knesset election, however, transformed the dominant party system into a multiparty system dominated by two major parties, Labor and Likud, in which neither was capable of governing except in alliance with smaller parties or, as in 1984 and 1988, in alliance with each other.

Until 1977 Mapai and the Labor Party dominated the political scene. Labor became Israel's dominant party as a result of its predecessors' effective and modernizing leadership during the formative prestate period (1917-48). The Labor Party resulted in 1968 from the merger of Mapai, Ahdut HaAvoda (Unity of Labor), and Rafi. In addition, shortly before the 1969 elections an electoral Alignment (Maarakh) occurred between Labor and the smaller Mapam Party. Although the two parties retained their organizational independence, they shared a common slate in elections to the Knesset, the Histadrut, and local government offices. The Alignment lasted until 1984.

Labor's political dominance broke down, particularly following the June 1967 War, when the party split over its leaders' inability to reach a consensus concerning the future of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula; there was agreement only on the need to retain the Golan Heights to ensure strategic depth against Syria. Later, the October 1973 War dealt a blow to public confidence in Labor from which its leadership was unable to recover. The war also exacerbated a number of crises confronting the party such as those concerning leadership succession.

As the 1970s began, the social base of Israeli politics had become highly complex, and political fluidity resulted. A major catalyst in creating a new mood was the October 1973 War, known in Israel as the Yom Kippur War, which dealt a crushing blow to popular belief in Israel's strength and preparedness in the face of its Arab adversaries. The result was a loss of confidence in the political and national security elite, headed at the time by Prime Minister Golda Meir, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, and Minister-without-Portfolio Israel Galilee. After the war, in which Egyptian and Syrian forces scored military gains, many charges and countercharges concerned inadequate military preparedness. Nevertheless, Meir's government returned to power in the country's parliamentary elections held on December 31, 1973. Apparently, despite widespread misgivings, many Israelis believed that continuity was preferable to change and uncertainty under Begin's newly formed and untried center-right Likud Bloc.

Although the party survived the Knesset elections of December 31, 1973, with a slightly reduced plurality, the war led to the resignation of Prime Minister Meir's government on April 10, 1974. Meir's resignation resulted in a succession crisis and the departure of the last of Labor's old guard party leaders, mostly in their late sixties and seventies, such as Meir, Pinchas Sapir, and Israel Galilee. Meir's departure triggered political infighting among the Labor elite, specifically between the former Mapai and Rafi (Israel Labor List) factions; a new generation centered around the triumvirate of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Yigal Allon, succeeded Meir.

The new leadership team of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Yigal Allon, which assumed power in June 1974, proved unable to govern effectively or to resolve major issues such as the future of the occupied territories. Following its electoral defeat in the 1977 Knesset elections, the Labor Party provided the principal opposition to Likud in the elections of 1981, 1984, and 1988. In the 1988 Knesset elections, the Labor Party, despite its efforts to present a revived platform advocating territorial compromise, gained only thirty-nine seats, down from forty-four in 1984.

In 1988 the dominant personalities in Labor, in addition to Peres and Rabin, included former president Yitzhak Navon, former IDF Chief of Staff Moredechai Gur, and former Likud Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, who joined Labor in preparation for the 1984 elections. Labor's biggest problem in the 1980s was the gradual decline in its electoral support among growing segments in the electorate, notably Orientals and the young.

On November 4 1995: Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister and minister of defense of Israel was assassinated at the end of the assembly of leftist parties supporting the Oslo process. Israel admonished the criminal act.

In the elections for the Fourteenth Knesset it ran under its own name, in the elections to the Fifteenth Knesset [elected on 17 May, 1999] within the framework of One Israel, and in the elections to the Sixteenth Knesset [elected on 28 January, 2003] within the framework of Labor-Meimad.

In 2002 Israel's Labor Party leader, Amram Mitzna, made a determined bid to become Prime Minister on a platform pledging to end his country's long conflict with the Palestinians. But the odds were against him.

"My program is to disengage ourselves from the Palestinians. This is the key to my strategy," he said. "We will disintegrate ourselves from the Palestinians, whether it will be by negotiations, discussions, or a unilateral approach." He said that in office he would immediately pull all troops and Jewish settlers out of the Gaza Strip, leaving the area under full Palestinian control. He would then try to reach a peace treaty with the Palestinians within a year, but if the talks fail, he would have Israel withdraw unilaterally from most of the West Bank also.

Mitzna faced a tough time convincing enough voters to swing to the left in elections. And in January 2003 lost to Ariel Sharon. In in 2005, Sharon stunned the world and some allies when he oversaw Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, pulling Israeli settlers and soldiers out of the enclave in the hopes of achieving peace with the Palestinians.

In April 2006 Kadima Party head Ehud Olmert and Labor Party leader Amir Peretze agreed to work together to form the next government. Ehud Olmert whose party won 29 seats in the election - more than any other - said Kadima and Labor are natural allies. The announcement was a boost to Ehud Olmert's plan to withdraw from most of the West Bank in the next four years. Under the plan, which was originally proposed by now comatose Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel would consolidate nearly all West Bank settlements in three large settlement blocs and use the controversial Israeli-built security barrier as the basis for a border with Palestinians.

On October 27, 2007 Israel's Labor Party voted out its leader, Amir Peretz, who served as Israel's defense minister in the coalition government. Labor members gave former Prime Minister Ehud Barak a slim victory in the party primary, over the former head of the Shin Bet domestic security service, Amir Ayalon. The primary vote marks a stunning political comeback for Ehud Barak, who was defeated in national elections in 2001 by Ariel Sharon, shortly after the second Palestinian intifada began.

The Labor party, which led Israel for a majority of the country's existence, sank to its nadir in the 2009 election, winning just 13 seats and causing most party stalwarts to strongly advocate for a stint in the opposition. These members, including Barak's key ally "Fuad" Ben Eliezer, viewed the party's long-term prospects as dire if it remained a junior partner in a coalition, and believed that only by remaining outside the government can they rebuild the party.

Barak, however, said that he would do what is best for the party and country, but made clear that he did not fear going into the opposition. Despite these claims and his own statement that 13 seats would undermine Labor's claim to the MOD, Barak often took little heed of his party's wishes, and served as Defense Minister under Netanyahu. He cited as justification the threats from Iran, Hizballah, and Hamas and the need for the government to have a strong, experienced Defense Minister.

On 17 January 2011, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and four other Labor politicians announced their departure from the party. Barak said he would form a new parliamentary faction called Atzmaut (Independence) that would be part of the governing coalition. Barak remained the defense minister. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is gave four cabinet posts to former Labor party politicians who resigned from the party. With the split, Labor had eight members who remain in parliament.

Shelly Yachimovich won the Labor Party chairmanship in the wake of the 2011 social protests, leading an economics-based social campaign in national elections in 2013. The result was a dismal 15-seat showing in the Knesset.

The Zionist Union is a center-left political alliance, established in December 2014 following the merge of Isaac Herzog’s Israeli Labor Party and the Hantuah party of Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli foreign minister and former minister of justice. Co-leader of the Zionist Union Tzipi Livni said if her party won the upcoming Israeli election, she would work to re-establish friendly relations with the country’s allies in the West.

Polls had predicted Netanyahu's Likud winning the vote on March 17, with around 22 of parliament's 120 seats. Running separately, Labor and Livni's centrist Hatnuah party trailed Likud. But a December 4 survey by the Globes newspaper and a December 7 poll by the parliamentary television channel found that a joint Herzog-Livni list would edge the incumbent with 23 or 24 seats.

There were complaints throughout the election campaign that Livni was a “burden” on the Labor Party, having been a member of the Likud government as recently as December 2014. Livni had switched parties three times since 2005, and three times had failed to secure the premiership.

The Zionist Union promised to renew negotiations with the Palestinians that stopped in 2013. The party advocates for the policy of two states for two peoples that would have the support of the Arab world. Furthermore, Herzog and Livni planned to demilitarize the Palestinian state and increase economic cooperation with the Palestinians.

In terms of their foreign policy, the Zionist Union wanted to restore warm ties with the United States, with whom relations have become strained over the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. On socio-economic issues, the party said it will increase the education and health budgets and create a new housing committee, which would stop the rise of housing prices.

Polls showed that Likud was expected to win 21 seats at best in 2015, losing at least four seats to the Zionist Union. Left-wing voters were convinced, just as they were in 2009, that a government turnover was right around the corner, but it was not to be.

Herzog/Livni campaigned on fear of Bibi, while Bibi campaigned on fear of a nuclear Iran. Once the final results were announced, it appeared that Likud could form a coalition with more than 61 seats, while the Zionist Union could not. The Zionist Union, focused on socio-economics, won traction with voters and the final tally of 24 seats was both in line with opinion poll predictions and up from the last election in 2013.

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Page last modified: 22-03-2015 18:06:17 ZULU