Israel Labor Party (in Hebrew, Mifleget Ha-Avodah)

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ISRAEL LABOR PARTY (in Hebrew, Mifleget ha-Avodah)

The Israel Labor Party (ILP) was created in 1968 with the merger of the leftist parties MAPAI, RAFI, and Ahdut ha-Avodah Poʿalei Zion. MAPAI, in fact, effectively governed the State of Israel from 1948 to 1977, when the Labor Party lost the elections to the Likud. Among Labor's major figures were David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett, Golda Meir, Shimon Peres, Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon, Shulamit Aloni, Abba Eban, Gad Yaacobi, and Yossi Sarid. In 1969, Labor won by the widest margin of any party in Israeli history, obtaining 56 of the 120 seats in the Knesset.

In 1973, when Golda Meir was heading the government, a split surfaced in the party, leading to the departure of Shulamit Aloni, Raanan Cohen, and Yossi Sarid, who decided to create their own group, the Citizens' Rights Movement (RATZ). Under pressure from the right, reinforced by the formation of the Likud, the Labor Party adopted a nationalist rhetoric. On 3 June 1974, Yitzhak Rabin, former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force, having joined the Labor Party, succeeded Meir as prime minister, and Shimon Peres was named defense minister. In the eyes of Israelis, the Labor Party was confirming its reputation as the party of "rich Ashkenazim," while the Likud was looking like the party of the "discriminated-against Sephardim." On 19 April 1977, Shimon Peres was elected head of the party. In the Knesset elections of the following May, the Israeli electorate voted for Likud, favoring security-oriented policies, to the detriment of Labor. The responsibility for the loss was hotly debated. Rabin's difficulties in 1977 over an allegedly illegal bank account belonging to his wife were considered by some to be linked to Labor's defeat, while others attributed the loss to the "colorless" Peres. With 43 seats in the Knesset, the Likud became the principal political bloc, ahead of the Labor Party, which won only 32. Many Labor votes apparently went to a new centrist party, the Dash. Shimon Peres was replaced as head of the party, on 28 May 1978, by Haim Bar-Lev.

Two currents surfaced in the Labor Party: the "hawks," headed by Yitzhak Rabin, and the "doves," led by Shimon Peres. On 18 December 1980, by an overwhelming majority, the latter was again designated as "unquestionably" leader of the ILP. As a result of the Knesset elections of June 1981, the Labor Party obtained 47 seats, behind Likud, which had 48, obliging the two blocs to unite to form a government coalition, to be led, alternating every two years, by the heads of the two parties. On 26 November, Haim Bar-Lev, backed by Shimon Peres, was reelected secretary-general of the ILP, with 63 percent of the votes, against his adversary, Eliahu Speiser, supported by Yitzhak Rabin. As a result of the elections of July 1984, the Labor Party won 44 seats in the Knesset, ahead of Likud, which obtained 41. In spite of the weakening of Likud, only 34.9 percent of the votes went to the ILP, while some of the votes lost by the right went to the extreme right.

Between 1984 and 1986, succeeding Menachem Begin, Shimon Peres was the prime minister of the Labor-Likud National Unity government, while Yitzhak Rabin was defense minister. One of the main goals Peres set for himself was the economic recovery of the country, which was experiencing an inflation rate of 400 percent. In October 1986, following the rotation agreement, Peres ceded his place as prime minister to Yitzhak Shamir, leader of Likud. As a result of the elections of November 1988, which took place while the first Intifada was raging in the Palestinian territories, the ILP won 39 seats, behind Likud, which won 40. At this time, in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the main elements in the Labor Party program were no return to the frontiers of 1967, with part of the occupied territories being kept for security reasons and with a demilitarization of evacuated areas; a resolution of the Palestinian problem by the creation of a Jordanian-Palestinian entity, including regions of high-density Palestinian population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; acceptance of negotiation with a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, to be included in the context of an international conference; the creation of an Israeli constitution; opposition to any form of discrimination against Israeli Arabs; and the separation of religion and the state.

Between 1988 and 1992 the leader of Likud, Shamir, was prime minister, with no change in the Knesset during this period. On 15 March 1990, the left succeeded in obtaining the censure of the government, by a Knesset vote of 60 to 55. On the following 11 June, after Shimon Peres did not succeed in forming a government, Shamir formed a new cabinet. In February 1992, Peres being again blamed for the electoral failures of 1988 and June 1990, Yitzhak Rabin was elected to lead the Labor Party. As a result of the elections of the following June, the Labor Party obtained 34.8 percent of the votes, against 24.9 percent for Likud. Rabin became prime minister. The portfolio of the foreign ministry was accorded to Peres, the latter becoming the architect of peace negotiations with Arabs and Palestinians, with the support of Rabin. On 24 March 1993, Ezer Weizman, a member of the Labor Party, was elected president of Israel. On the following 13 September in Washington, Rabin and Yasir Arafat signed an accord on principles, opening the way to a definitive Israeli-Palestinian agreement. As a result of the municipal elections of the following November, Labor and Likud shared between them the twenty largest cities in Israel. In 1994 many propositions were submitted to the central committee of the party advocating the creation of a new political bloc uniting all the parties of the left.

On 25 June 1994 the government of Yitzhak Rabin signed an accord with Jordan, ending the state of war between the two countries. On 16 February the Laborite Avraham Burg, son of Yosef Burg, former head of the National Religious Party (NRP), was elected head of the Jewish Agency, a para-governmental organization in charge of immigration to Israel. In the course of the following July, the former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force, Ehud Barak, joined the ILP, to be named, two days later, interior minister in the government of Rabin. During the fall, the ILP was the target of much criticism by Likud and the ultra-orthodox movements, while there were a number of splits in the party itself. Several Labor deputies joined the Third Way. The leadership of the party attempted to get Haim Ramon, head of the Histadrut, to rejoin it. On 5 October, the Knesset approved, by 61 votes against 59, the accord on the extension of Palestinian autonomy. On 12 October, Prime Minister Rabin admitted he was concerned about the violence of the attacks against his peace policies with the Palestinians. On 4 November 1995, Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist.

On 21 November, after being designated as interim head of government and the ILP, Shimon Peres was sworn in as prime minister by the Knesset. Like his predecessor, he combined the functions of prime minister and defense minister. The foreign ministry portfolio was accorded to Ehud Barak, and that of the interior to Chaim Ramon. Yossi Beilin obtained the post of minister without portfolio, responsible for the peace process. In anticipation of the Knesset elections of May 1996, three currents surfaced in the ILP, respectively led by Haim Ramon, Ehud Barak, and Shimon Peres. Apart from the mainstream there was also a reformist current, which included Haim Ramon, Avraham Burg, Yossi Beilin, Haggai Merom, Nawaf Massalha, Amir Peretz, Shlomo Avital, and Yael Dayan. On 30 May 1996, as a result of the elections, the ILP won 34 seats in the Knesset against 32 for the Likud, while the leader of the latter party, Benjamin Netanyahu, was elected prime minister. Many differences surfaced in the ILP. Once more blamed for the electoral failure, Peres was excluded from the party leadership and replaced, provisionally, by Nissim Zvili. On 3 June 1997, the ILP organized the election for the new post of chairman of the party, for which four candidates were jostling: Barak, Beilin, Shlomo Ben-Ami, and Ephraim Sneh. With 50 percent of the votes, Barak was elected chairman of the ILP, ahead of Beilin, who obtained only 29 percent. On the following 28 December, Raanan Cohen was elected secretary-general, replacing Nissim Zvili, who had resigned his post six months earlier.

Weakened by divisions and power struggles, the Labor Party became mired increasingly in certain positions that displeased the electorate, particularly in the social domain and concerning the peace process. In October 1998 the ILP published its program, which emphasized a social pact, proposed by Barak, to encourage understanding between religious and secular Israelis. On 14 January 1999, anticipating the general elections of the following May, the leadership of the party named Barak to head the list, as candidate for the post of prime minister, with Shimon Peres in second position. With the Gesher and Meimad parties, Barak constituted an electoral list called "One Israel." During the election campaign, several party figures, such as Nissim Zvili, quit the ILP to join the Center Party. On 18 June, Barak was elected prime minister, defeating Benjamin Netanyahu by a margin of 56.7 percent to 43.3 percent. The electoral list of Labor Party-Gesher-Meimad won only 26 seats in the Knesset, of which 23 were ILP. On 6 July 1999, Barak presented his government, composed of 18 members from 8 different parties. The foreign ministry was accorded to David Levy, head of the Gesher party, flanked by deputy minister Nawaf Massalha, Israeli Arab and member of the Labor Party. Finance and public security were respectively assigned to Avraham Shohat and Ben-Ami of the ILP, while the portfolio of regional development was given to Peres. On 5 September, at Sharm al-Shaykh, after many encounters, Barak and Yasir Arafat signed an accord, meant to open the way to negotiations on a definitive peace between Palestinians and Israelis. On 24 May 2000, Barak gave the green light to the evacuation of South Lebanon by the IDF, ending eighteen years of occupation. At the beginning of July, Barak lost his majority in the Knesset; then his foreign minister, David Levy, quit just before an Israeli-Palestinian summit to be held in Washington, and in which Barak was supposed to participate. On 31 July, surprising everyone, Peres lost the election for the presidency of Israel against his rival, Moshe Katsav, causing consternation in the ILP.

During the fall of 2000, the al-Aqsa Intifada, which had begun at the end of September, intensified in the Palestinian territories. Barak was not able to negotiate a return to calm with the Palestinian leaders. The members of Knesset rejected a motion to dissolve the Knesset and accepted the organization of elections for the post of prime minister. On 20 December, Peres decided to become a candidate for prime minister, but could not obtain the necessary approval of 10 deputies. On 6 February 2001, Barak was defeated by Ariel Sharon, who obtained 62.5 percent of the votes. The Labor alliance remained the leading political bloc, with 26 seats, against 19 of the Likud. On 20 February, Barak decided to quit politics and resign from the presidency of the ILP. Some Laborites favored joining a government coalition with Likud, but several ILP leaders opposed this project. Finally, on 27 February, the central committee of the party voted, in majority, to participate in a cabinet of national unity, designating seven of its members to join the government of Sharon, among whom were the Laborites Shimon Peres, Benyamin Ben-Eliezer, and Raanan Cohen, becoming respectively foreign minister, defense minister, and minister without portfolio. The following 4 September, Avraham Burg was elected to head the Labor Party, against his adversary, Benyamin Ben-Eliezer, who contested this election, claiming electoral fraud. While waiting for the decisions of the juridical commission, the party was placed under committee leadership, overseen by Peres and by the secretary-general, Raanan Cohen. Three months later, at the end of December, Ben-Eliezer was officially elected head of the party, after a ballot in which participation was low. In October 2002, Peres and other members of the Labor Party resigned from the Sharon government.

In November 2002, Amram Mitzna, former mayor of Haifa, was elected head of the Labor Party. Mitzna, a "dovish" former army general and a favorite of the peace movement, resigned in May 2003, three months after leading Labor to its worst election defeat. In June 2003, the party once again chose elder statesman Peres as its leader. Under Peres, it was again conceivable that Labor might move toward a coalition with Likud. In July 2004 the Sharon government sought to formally widen its shaky governing coalition, after barely surviving three no-confidence motions in the Knessset, asking Labor as well as United Torah Judaism to begin coalition talks. It was anticipated that Labor would press for a swifter pullout from the Gaza Strip and for direct talks with the Palestinians.

SEE ALSO Barak, Ehud; Begin, Menachem; Beilin, Yossi; Ben-Ami, Shlomo; Ben-Gurion, David; Cohen, Raanan; Likud; Meir, Golda; Peres, Shimon; Rabin, Yitzhak.

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