Likud (Hebrew for "Assembly" or "Union")
LIKUD (Hebrew for "Assembly" or "Union")
Israeli political bloc, constituted in July 1973, under the impetus of Ariel Sharon and Menachem Begin. Conscious of the necessity of moving toward the center, the leadership of Herut decided to ally with three other groups: the Liberal Party, the "Free Center," and the State List. This alliance, called the Likud, became the biggest parliamentary bloc in the Knesset.
Representing a threat to the Israeli left, the creation of Likud prompted the Labor Party to adopt a more nationalistic stand. At the end of 1973 through the beginning of 1974, the Arab-Israel War (1973)—which had revealed a certain unpreparedness of the government in facing a major crisis—led to some major changes in the Israeli political configuration. The drift toward the right began to be felt, especially among young soldiers and the less-privileged. In 1976, Sharon resigned from Likud to create his own party, Shlomzion. In the Knesset elections of May 1977, due in part to the Sephardic vote, Likud won forty-three of the 120 seats in Knesset, outdoing the Labor Party, which won only thirty-two. The Labor votes were lost not to Likud but to a new centrist group, Dash, and to the ultra-Orthodox National Religious Party (NRP). The Shlomzion of Ariel Sharon, which had won two seats, rejoined the Likud. The leader of Herut, Menachem Begin, became prime minister, ending thirty years of Labor hegemony. After assuming office, Begin responded to calls by the Soviet Union and the United States to hold an international conference on peace in the Middle East by instead hastening secret bilateral contacts, actions that Anwar al-Sadat took as well. In order to compensate for the extremist image of his bloc, Begin named the Laborite, Moshe Dayan, as his minister of foreign affairs.
When the Likud came to power, inflation had risen to 42 percent, which prompted the Begin government to apply an ultraliberal economic policy. Appointed minister of agriculture, Ariel Sharon favored the development of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories, which obstructed the Israeli-Egyptian negotiations that were going on. In September 1978, Israel signed the Camp David Accords with Egypt, and in March of the following year, in spite of disagreement on the Palestinian question, Begin and Sadat initialed the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord. In March 1980, prominent Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir became foreign minister, replacing Moshe Dayan, who had resigned in disappointment over the results of the Camp David Accords. On 30 July 1980, the Knesset passed a law on Jerusalem, "united city, eternal capital of Israel," provoking a
wave of international protest. Likud came out ahead once more in the Knesset elections of June 1981, but only by a slim margin: it won forty-eight seats in the Knesset, to the forty-seven of the Labor Party. This forced Begin, on 15 July, into an alliance with certain religious groups so as to form a government. In June 1982, under pressure from Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister gave the green light to Operation "Peace for Galilee" in Lebanon, in the course of which the massacres at the Palestinian Sabra and Shatila camps occurred, which aroused widespread outrage in Israeli society and around the world.
On 10 October 1983, succeeding Menachem Begin, who had resigned his post for reasons of ill health and because of his responsibility in the Lebanon affair, Yitzhak Shamir became prime minister. He held onto the foreign ministry, and named David Levy as deputy prime minister and minister of housing and Moshe Arens as minister of defense. In July 1984, Likud finished behind the Labor Party in the Knesset elections with forty-one deputy seats against Labor's forty-four seats. On 13 September 1985, Likud and the Labor Party signed an accord for a government of national unity, providing for alternation of their parties every two years for the prime ministership. The leader of Herut and Likud, Yitzhak Shamir, was named foreign minister in a government headed by the leader of the Labor Party, Shimon Peres. In 1986, much dissension surfaced in Herut, and at the same time in Likud, provoked by the "war of succession" for the leadership of the party, in the course of which Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon, Moshe Arens, Benny Begin, and David Levy were all competing against each other. During October, as provided in the accord between Likud and Labor, Shamir became prime minister and Peres became foreign minister. On 22 December, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the policies of Israel in the Occupied Territories. On 25 August 1988, the central committees of the Liberal Party and Herut decided to merge their two blocs to found the "Likud-National Liberal Movement" Party, wherein Herut remained the keystone of the organization. In November, Knesset elections confirmed the previous political situation, to the benefit of Likud, which obtained forty deputy seats.
A national unity government was formed under the leadership of Shamir, yet no alternation with the Laborites was going to take place. On 25 December 1988, Benjamin Netanyahu, the new rising star of Likud, was named deputy foreign minister under foreign minister Moshe Arens. Three factions quickly emerged in Likud: The majority view—upheld by Shamir, Arens, and Netanyahu—and two others—one of which was headed by Sharon and Benny Begin; the other by Levy and Yitzhak Modai. On 15 March 1990, a motion of censure, raised by the religious parties, caused the fall of the Shamir "Unity" government. Shamir then formed a cabinet based on an alliance between Likud, the religious parties, and the extreme right. The new government had to confront the crisis of the Gulf War, during which it had decided not to take reprisals against the attacks of Iraqi missiles. Under U.S. pressure, Shamir agreed to participate in the Middle East peace conference in Madrid on 30 October 1991. The Israeli delegation's spokesperson was Netanyahu, which made him appear to some as Shamir's heir. Following this conference, the extremist parties withdrew their support from Shamir's government. The prime minister, no longer controlling the majority in the Knesset necessary to apply his policies, decided to call for new Knesset elections. In the Likud primaries, Ariel Sharon obtained 22 percent of the votes, becoming Shamir's principal rival. In March 1992, a split appeared in Likud following the departure of Yitzhak Modai, who formed his own organization, the New Liberal Party. In June, Likud was defeated in the Knesset elections by the Labor Party of Yitzhak Rabin, who became prime minister. Likud's share of seats dropped from thirty-eight to thirty-two. Weakened by this electoral failure and internal dissension, Likud was taken over by a new generation of militants, who, on 25 March 1993, chose Netanyahu as party leader by 52 percent of the votes of the members against 26 percent for David Levy and 15 percent for Benny Begin.
The first Sabra, or Jew born in Israel, to lead the nationalist right, Netanyahu advocated its core beliefs: maintaining "Greater Israel" from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, keeping the Golan Heights, and not negotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). By the following autumn, Netanyahu was being openly criticized by a majority of Likud's members, reproaching him for his inability to come up with a credible alternative to the new situation created by the Israeli-Palestinian accord (Oslo Accords). During the first trimester of 1995, in the middle of an upsurge in anti-Israel attacks, Likud was ahead in the polls, though internally it was being weakened by a power struggle between Netanyahu and Levy. The latter resigned from Likud to create his own party, Gesher. On 10 November, following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist, the popularity of Likud fell in the polls. A majority of politically conscious Israelis blamed Likud for having supported the vilification campaign against the Rabin government, which had contributed to the climate of hate that led to the murder of the prime minister. In January 1996, after Sharon declined to become a candidate for the post of prime minister, Netanyahu began an electoral campaign on the theme of maintaining the territorial unity of Israel and rejecting the creation of a Palestinian state. On 8 February, through the impetus of Sharon, Likud signed an accord with the party of the extreme right, Tzomet, headed by Rafael Eitan, then with Levy's center-right party, Gesher. Netanyahu thus became the unique candidate of the right for the post of prime minister, which was to be filled for the first time by direct universal suffrage against Peres of the Labor Party.
On 25 March, the "hawks" of the party carried the primaries of Likud, organized in anticipation of the Knesset elections. On 29 May, the head of Likud was elected as prime minister, by a slim margin and with only 50.4 percent of the ballots cast. In spite of this victory, the Likud-Tzomet-Gesher alliance won only thirty-two seats in the Knesset, of which twenty-two were Likud, against thirty-four for the Labor Party. The left, which had fifty-three seats, found itself in the opposition, while the right, which had only forty-three, was in control of the government. On 18 June, Netanyahu presented his cabinet, which included, with Likud, two religious parties (National Religious Party and SHAS), a party of the extreme right (Tzomet), and three centrist groups (Gesher, Third Way, and Israel be Aliyah), thereby disposing of the support of sixty-six members of the 120 in the Knesset. On the next 24 September, the Netanyahu government's approval of the opening of an archaeological tunnel near the Esplanade of Mosques in Jerusalem provoked three days of rioting in the Palestinian territories, causing the death of more than eighty people, most of them Palestinians. On 15 January 1997, Netanyahu and Yasir Arafat came to an agreement on Israeli withdrawal from the city of Hebron. This was the first agreement ever signed between the Israeli right and the PLO. Between 1997 and 1998, Netanyahu's policies and his manner of running the cabinet were criticized, even within his own party, which prompted the departure of some important figures, such as Yitzhak Mordechai, Benny Begin, and Dan Meridor. A number of the founding fathers of Likud, called the "princes" of the party, denounced the "duplicity and lack of principles" of the prime minister. Meridor and Mordechai created their own political bloc, the Center Party. On their side, the Sephardim—whose head, David Levy, resigned on 4 January 1998—considered themselves betrayed by the Likud leader for not keeping the promises he made during his electoral campaign, in particular, to appoint more members of their community to positions of responsibility. A number of them turned to the new Center Party, then headed by the former defense minister of the Netanyahu cabinet, the Sephardi Yitzhak Mordechai.
On 9 October 1998, Netanyahu named Ariel Sharon foreign minister, which gave cause to the Palestinians and their partners to fear that the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations would be definitively obstructed. On 25 January 1999, the leadership of Likud designated Netanyahu as their candidate for the post of prime minister in the elections that May. In his party's primaries, Netanyahu obtained 75 percent of the votes against his rival, Moshe Arens, but with a voting participation rate of only 30 percent. On 17 May, Netanyahu became a victim of his own mistakes and lost to his adversary of the Labor Party, Ehud Barak, who won 56 percent of the votes. Likud won only nineteen seats, losing three seats compared to the previous Knesset, the worst it had ever done. After these results were known, Netanyahu resigned from the leadership of Likud, and Sharon replaced him, making him responsible for the interim, until new elections could be organized to choose a new party leader. Other than Sharon, among the pretenders to the succession of Netanyahu there figured Ehud Olmert, Moshe Arens, Meir Shitreet, Limor Livnat, and Silvan Shalom. After its electoral failure in the month of May, Likud tried to strengthen its base by recruiting Golan Heights inhabitants and settlers in the Gaza Strip. On 3 September 1999, Sharon was elected to head Likud against his two rivals, Ehud Olmert and Meir Shitreet.
In the framework of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Likud began systematically opposing all the proposals of the Barak government. On 31 July 2000, surprising everyone, Likud candidate Moshe Katsav was elected president of the State of Israel by sixty-three votes against fifty-seven for his Labor rival, Shimon Peres. On 28 September, Sharon made a visit to the Temple Mount that provoked anger among the Palestinians, triggering the Intifada in the Palestinian territories. During the election campaign of January 2001 for the post of prime minister, Sharon made efforts to win support from the Netanyahu's partisans. He entrusted his campaign to his son, Omri Sharon, and to Silvan Shalom, assisted by Mrs. Limor Livnat. On 6 February, Sharon was elected prime minister, with 62.5 percent of the votes cast, running against Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The following month, Sharon formed a government uniting eight different political parties, affording him the support of seventy-three of the 120 members of the Knesset. His foreign minister and defense minister were the Laborites Shimon Peres and Benyamin Ben Eliezer, respectively. In his inaugural speech, Sharon declared that peace with the Palestinians could be achieved without "painful compromises." A few weeks later, when the Intifada was intensifying in the Palestinian territories, he undertook a campaign of very harsh reprisals against those responsible for anti-Israel attacks. At the beginning of December 2001, concluding that Yasir Arafat was behind the continuing Intifada, Sharon decided to isolate Arafat by preventing him from leaving his headquarters in Ramallah. After a suicide bombing at a Netanya resort hotel in March 2002, Sharon ordered the invasion and reoccupation of West Bank cities. In May 2002, at a Likud Party conference, the Likud central committee voted—over Sharon's objection—almost unanimously for a resolution, proposed by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. Yet Sharon retained leadership, surviving allegations of financial improprieties. In the 2003 elections, in an apparent endorsement of his policies, voters gave the Likud 29.4 percent of the vote (thirty-eight seats in the Knesset). Some commentators, however, interpreted the vote as an indication of disillusionment with Labor rather than support for Sharon or for the Likud. Under intense pressure from the United States, Sharon's cabinet voted in May 2003 to approve the internationally backed "road map" for peace. Sharon and the Likud continued to attempt to find a difficult balance between right-wing commitment to disputed territories and a more pragmatic approach to an eventual resolution of the conflict.
In 2004, Sharon presented a plan to disengage from settlements in Gaza and parts of the West Bank, which was strongly opposed in a referendum conducted among Likud members. Many questioned the wisdom of Sharon's decision to resort to an internal party referendum, given the unexpected rebuff to his leadership and the overall popularity of the Gaza redeployment proposal among the general (non-Likud) population of Israel. In July 2004, Sharon sought a coalition with United Torah Judaism and others, while at the same time the hawks of Likud, led by Netanyahu, opposed not only the coalition, but also the disengagement plan.
SEE ALSO Aqsa Intifada, al-;Arafat, Yasir;Barak, Ehud;Begin, Menachem;Ben Eliezer, Benyamin;Camp David Accords;Center Party;Dash;Dayan, Moshe;Gesher "Bridge" Party;Gulf War (1991);Herut Party;Katsav, Moshe;Knesset;Levy, David;Madrid Conference;Mordechai, Yitzhak;National Religious Party;Oslo Accords;Peres, Shimon;Sabra;Sabra and Shatila;Sadat, Anwar al-;Sephardim;Shamir, Yitzhak;SHAS;Sharon, Ariel;Shlomzion;Third Way.