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Land of Israel: Political Life and Parties



It was largely due to the existence of the pre-state political parties, which had conducted intensive political activities for almost half a century within the framework of the *yishuv, under the British Mandate for Palestine, that upon gaining its independence in May 1948 the State of Israel was able to embark immediately on the establishment of an orderly and democratic parliamentary system. After the first *Knesset elections in January 1949, before the *War of Independence was formally over, the main concern of the parties was to gain governmental and municipal power, though most of them also continued their activities on the world Zionist scene, and for a certain period maintained independent social and economic services. The *Histadrut, which remained an important power center until the mid-1990s, was another forum in which many of the political parties, but especially the labor parties, vied for control.

Since its establishment Israel has always had coalition governments, which except for one brief period in the early 1990s, always included at least four coalition partners. The main reason for this phenomenon is Israel's electoral system, which has led to a multiplicity of parties entering the Knesset, and none ever winning a majority of the Knesset seats, which is a prerequisite for forming a government in a parliamentary system (see *Governance).

The political history of the State of Israel may be divided into two periods. The first lasted from the establishment of the state until the political "upheaval" of 1977, in which *Mapai (until 1968) and the *Israel Labor Party thereafter were predominant and headed all the coalition governments formed. The second began in 1977, when the *Likud gained power for the first time and remained the predominant political party for the majority of the time, except for the years 1984–88 when the political bloc which it led was equal in size to that led by the Labor Party, and the years 1992–96 and 1999–2001 when the Labor Party managed to establish coalition governments, which excluded the Likud.

It should be pointed out that since its establishment, all of Israel's presidents but one (Chaim *Weizmann), all of Israel's prime ministers, and all but two of the speakers of the Knesset (Nahum Nir for part of the Third Knesset, and Avraham *Burg in the Fifteenth Knesset) have been members of the ruling party at the time.

In the early period Israel had a strong central government, with a relatively small number of ministers, a large public economic sector (either state- or Histadrut-run), and a relatively egalitarian society, in which the Histadrut and the kibbutzim were viewed – in Israel and abroad – as symbols of communalism. Despite the famous religious "status quo," Israel was predominantly secular, and despite the heterogeneous make-up of its population, relatively homogenous in its social values and culture. In this period occurred all but one of the major wars in which Israel participated, and only at its end did some minor steps in the direction of peace materialize.

In the second period, the government weakened, to a point that in 1992 a attempt was made to change the system of government in order to strengthen the prime minister and his government (see below), state control over many spheres of life gradually decreased, Israel moved from a predominantly social democratic to a predominantly neoliberal economy, and by the beginning of the 21st century ranked high among the Western democracies in terms of economic and social polarization within its society and emphasis on individualism. In this period the Histadrut greatly weakened, as did the kibbutzim, and it was now the settlements beyond the Green Line that gained predominance as symbols of the new Israel. The heterogeneity of Israeli society became much more visible, and the role of religion grew. In the second period Israel fought only one major war (the *Lebanese War), though it faced two major Palestinian uprisings. A significant peace process began with the peace treaty that was signed with Egypt in 1979, which was followed by the Oslo process, peace with Jordan (1994), and the establishment of formal relations with several additional Arab states.

The political map of Israel changed significantly during the first 56 years of its existence, even though there are still several parties today – the Likud, the Labor Party, the *National Religious Party, *Agudat Israel, and Ḥadash – whose origins can be traced to the pre-state period. In general one may speak of a movement from left-wing to right-wing pre-dominance, even though on many (though not all) issues the differences between the political right and left have become blurred. Whereas until the *Six-Day War of June 1967 Israel's main concern was its physical survival, since then it has been the borders and nature of the state.

Since its establishment, the population of the State of Israel has grown more or less sixfold, mostly through immigration, and parties based on "ethnic" origin have existed, but they have usually been relatively insignificant. Over the years the religious representation in the Knesset has grown, but the greatest changes have been in the strengthening of *Ḥaredi religious parties at the expense of "Zionist" religious parties and the growing role played by the religious parties – until the Sixteenth Knesset – as "balancers" in the political game.

As to the Arab representation in the Knesset, this has changed both in size, quality, and nature, but except for one Arab deputy minister in the course of the Thirteenth Knesset, Arabs have not been admitted to the government, and their percentage in other power centers, the judicial system and the civil service has remained much below their percentage in the population. Whereas in the first Knesset Arab representation was through the Israel Communist Party and traditional family (hamulah)-based parties supported by Mapai and later the Alignment (see below), by the end of the 20th century the Arab representation in the Knesset was more nationalistic, radical, and independent.

[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]

Early Parties, 1900–1918

The first parties in the new yishuv were founded in the first decade of the 20th century by newcomers belonging to the Second Aliyah. *Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir ("the Young Worker," as distinct from the "old workers" of the First Aliyah, most of whom had become overseers or private farmers), led by Yosef *Aharonovitz, Yosef *Vitkin, and Yosef *Sprinzak, was founded in 1905. *Po'alei Zion, a Socialist Zionist party which originated in Russia, Austria, and other countries, was established in the Land of Israel in 1906. Among its leaders were Izhak *Ben-Zvi, David *Ben-Gurion, and Yiẓḥak *Tabenkin. Its aim was "to create a Jewish society based on socialist foundations in the Land of Israel," and the method it envisaged was "an unremitting class struggle." Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir rejected the class struggle on the ground that the Jewish society and economy in Palestine were still in the precapitalist stage. "Our interest – to create a Jewish center in the Land of Israel – and the class struggle are a contradiction in terms," wrote Aharonovitz. The first article in the Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir program called for "the conquest of all branches of work" (Hebrew kibbush avodah, meaning that Jewish workers should do even menial work themselves, not leaving manual effort to non-Jews). A group of nonparty workers, notably Berl *Katzenelson and David *Remez, opposed the division into two parties and called for labor unity.

The parties engaged in practical work as well as theoretical discussion. New arrivals in Jaffa often found that they had to choose between two hotels, one for each party. But there was little difference in their day-to-day lives and their practical approach to problems. Both groups tried to remove the obstacles to Jewish immigration, win rights of employment for Jewish workers in the Jewish farms and orange groves, and improve working conditions.

At its first conference in Jaffa, at the beginning of 1907, Po'alei Zion proclaimed its aspiration for "political independence for the Jewish people in this country," and decided to send an independent faction of delegates to the Zionist Congress. It was associated almost from the first with the Po'alei Zion world movement, whereas Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir established ties with the *Ẓe'irei Zion movement in the Diaspora only in 1913.

In 1908 a controversy broke out in Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir on the question of how to encourage the workers to remain on the land. At a special conference Vitkin called for the establishment of workers' smallholdings near the moshavot to enable them to become independent cultivators instead of mere agricultural laborers. The "conquest of labor," he declared, must be accompanied by the "conquest of the soil." He was opposed by Aharonovitz, who believed that the only way to increase the Jewish population was to create an agricultural proletariat, working as wage earners on private farms, and leave the "conquest of the soil" to the Zionist Organization. The issue was ultimately decided by the exigencies of life: members of Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir were among the founders of *Deganyah, the first kevuẓah, and *Nahalal, the first moshav, while Po'alei Zion, despite its class-war doctrine, devoted most of its energies to constructive activities, including the establishment of labor exchanges, cooperative groups, and mutual aid institutions.

A bureau of the religious *Mizrachi Party, which had been a part of the World Zionist Organization since 1902, was set up in the Land of Israel in 1912, but did not become active until after the end of World War i. Its labor wing, *Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi, was founded in 1922. The basic principle of the movement was: "The Land of Israel for the People of Israel in accordance with the Torah of Israel." The non-Zionist Orthodox *Agudat Israel, which opposed the secular organization of the yishuv, was also established in the Land of Israel in 1912, simultaneously with the founding of its parent world organization.

Steps Toward Labor Unity

Toward the end of World War i, the nonparty labor group led by Berl Katzenelson appealed for an end to the rivalry between the two workers' parties, so that labor could exert its full influence in the development of the yishuv. It called for the establishment of an all-inclusive labor organization which would be a trade union as well as a political party, establishing settlements and cooperatives, helping new immigrants, and providing social services for its members. At a unity conference in February 1919, Po'alei Zion and the nonparty group, with the support of a majority of the Agricultural Workers' Federation, formed *Aḥdut ha-Avodah ("Unity of Labor"). Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir refused to join, mainly because the new organization described itself as "a branch of the socialist labor movement in the world." To an attack on these grounds by a.d. *Gordon, Joseph Ḥayyim *Brenner replied that although the critics rejected socialism, they followed its principles in daily life. Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir also believed in building up small, closely knit communes, while Aḥdut ha-Avodah aimed at developing a mass movement.

To diminish the growing rivalry between them, Joseph *Trumpeldor, a leading figure of the Second Aliyah, proposed the establishment of a neutral, independent trade union federation to which both would be affiliated. His initiative bore fruit after his tragic death, when the organization he envisaged, the Histadrut, was established at a labor movement conference in Haifa in December 1920. The 4,433 registered members elected 38 delegates from Aḥdut ha-Avodah, 27 from Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir, 16 from the New Immigrants list representing *He-Ḥalutz, *Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, and others, and six from the extreme leftist Mifleget Po'alim Soẓialistim ("Socialist Workers' Party"), nicknamed "Mopsim," which had split off from Po'alei Zion when Aḥdut ha-Avodah was formed.

Immediately after the end of World War i, preparations were made for the establishment of an autonomous, democratically elected body to organize the yishuv and represent it in dealings with the authorities. A provisional committee held three sessions in 1918 and 1919, the first representing only Tel Aviv and its surroundings, the second Jerusalem as well, and the third consisting of delegates from all parts of the country. On April 19, 1920, elections were held to an Asefat Ha-Nivḥarim (Elected Assembly). In addition to the workers' parties and Mizrachi, a variety of communal, religious, vocational, and local groups sought representation and nineteen lists of candidates were submitted. Each list received one delegate for every 80 votes polled; 77% of the electors voted and 314 delegates were elected. Aḥdut ha-Avodah, with 70 delegates, was the largest group; next came the Sephardi Union with 54, Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir with 41, the Farmers' Union with 16, the Progressive Party (Mitkaddemim) with 13, the Yemenites with 12, two Mizrachi lists with a total of 11, and 11 other groups with a total of 46 places. An additional 51 delegates were chosen at separate polls by Orthodox men, who refused to participate in elections in which women had the franchise.

At the Assembly's first session, in October 1920, the 20 factions combined into three wings: right, consisting of the Oriental Jews and the religious groups; left, composed of the two labor parties; and center, consisting of the other groups. The Assembly elected a Va'ad Le'ummi (National Council) of 36, comprising Aḥdut ha-Avodah 8, Sephardim 6, Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir 5, Orthodox 5, Progressives 3, Farmers 2, Yemenites 2, Mizrachi and Clerks 1 each. Meir *Dizengoff, Vladimir *Jabotinsky, Haim Margolis-Kalvaryski, and David *Yellin were elected on a personal basis. The Va'ad Le'ummi was headed by a presidium of three, assisted by an executive council whose membership varied from 7 to 14.

The second session of the first Assembly, which was scheduled for May 1921, did not take place until the following March, because of the May riots and their aftermath, the categorical refusal of the Orthodox delegates to participate as long as women were allowed to vote, and the Sephardim's and Farmers' objections to the proposed self-taxation system. Further negotiations with these groups, as well as fruitless attempts to obtain official recognition by the Mandatory government, held up the convening of the third session until June 1925. Despite prolonged efforts to solve the problem of women's suffrage, the Orthodox and Mizrachi delegates did not attend the second and third sessions, and it was not until the eve of the next elections that the Mizrachi agreed to participate, with the Orthodox maintaining their boycott.

At the elections to the second Assembly, held on December 6, 1925, the Palestine branch of the Revisionist Organization, led by Jabotinsky, made its first appearance in the politics of the yishuv, gaining 15 seats out of 201. The labor parties increased their relative strength, while the middle class and the religious Jews became even more fragmented than before. Aḥdut ha-Avodah had 54 seats, Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir 30, Sephardim and Oriental groups 19, five Mizrachi lists together 19, the Women's Equal Rights Association 13, and the Agricultural Bloc 9. A "working-class" list, with 6 seats, reflected the influence of the Palestine Communist Party (pkp), which had been formed illegally in 1921 by members of the "Mopsim" and other groups. The Yemenites, alleging discrimination, boycotted the elections, but were later permitted to elect 20 additional delegates of their own. The second Assembly elected a Va'ad Le'ummi of 38: 18 representing the United Bloc (Mizrachi, Sephardim, Yemenites, Farmers, and others), 9 for Aḥdut ha-Avodah, 5 for Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir, and 2 each for Women, Revisionists, and the Democratic group.

Strengthening of the Political Parties

The high commissioner's ratification of the regulations for Keneset Yisrael, officially recognizing its representative bodies, the Asefat ha-Nivḥarim and the Va'ad Le'ummi, was announced on Jan. 1, 1928, but it took more than two years to draft the election rules and to prepare a register of all the members of the Jewish community as prescribed by the regulations. The total number of Assembly members was fixed at 71, with the electors divided into three colleges, or curiae: Ashkenazim, with 53 delegates, Sephardim 15, and Yemenites 3. Each elector was allowed to vote only in his own college.

In 1930 Aḥdut ha-Avodah and Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir merged to form Mapai (Mifleget Po'alei Ereẓ Israel – "Palestine Labor Party"), which immediately became the strongest political force in the yishuv. The Left Po'alei Zion and Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir remained outside the merger.

At the elections to the third Assembly, on Jan. 5, 1931, Mapai, with 27 delegates, together with 4 Sephardi Labor, was by far the strongest party. The Revisionists, with 16, including 5 Sephardim, also increased their strength considerably, followed by the Sephardim (general) with 6, Mizrachi and Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi 5, and General Zionists 4. The Farmers refused to participate in the elections when their demand for three guaranteed seats was refused and the Communists did not win a place. In the 23-member Va'ad Le'ummi, Mapai had 11 members, Sephardim 4, Mizrachi 3, General Zionists 3, Women 1, and Yemenites 1. The Revisionists refused to join the Va'ad Le'ummi because of dissatisfaction with the Assembly's political decisions, but were given 5 seats in the following year, leaving Mapai with 10 seats and the three other main parties with 2 each.

The third Assembly lasted for over 13 years, as elections were repeatedly postponed because of recurrent Arab violence, continuous political tension, and then the outbreak of World War ii. With the growth of the yishuv, the parties in Palestine, especially Mapai, became the dominant influence in the Jewish Agency. Chaim *Arlosoroff, named head of the Jewish Agency political department in 1931, was succeeded, after his assassination in 1933, by Moshe Shertok (*Sharett). David Ben-Gurion became chairman of the executive in 1935.

While the Jewish Agency was responsible for major political affairs, politics played a prominent role in most of the Assembly's 18 sessions. Jewish Agency representatives reported regularly to the Assembly and the Va'ad Le'ummi, political resolutions were generally drafted in close cooperation between the two bodies, and representations to the British authorities were often submitted jointly. Other issues were defense against Arab violence; the utilization of national funds; the allocation of immigration certificates; education; trade union policy and the right to strike; the role of the Histadrut in the establishment of new settlements and economic enterprises; and the activities of local authorities and local councils.

Most political parties not only worked in the Va'ad Le'ummi, the Jewish Agency, the local authorities, and the Histadrut but also established agricultural settlements, schools, housing projects, industries, transport, and service cooperatives, and other constructive enterprises, either independently or through affiliated economic bodies. Almost all the parties organized their own youth movements. Conflicting party influences were also apparent in the ranks of the Haganah.

The most outspoken opposition to the official policies of the Jewish Agency and the yishuv came from the Revisionists, who called on the Zionist movement to proclaim the establishment of a Jewish state on both banks of the Jordan as the ultimate aim of Zionism. They accused Chaim Weizmann and his labor supporters of compromising with the British government, alleged that the Executive discriminated against middle-class immigrants and businessmen, opposed the "trend" system in education (see Israel, State of: Education, 1918–1948), and demanded compulsory arbitration in labor disputes. Tension mounted after the murder of Arlosoroff in 1933, when two Revisionists were accused of the crime. An agreement reached in the following year by Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky on a modus vivendi in labor relations was rejected, after a referendum, by the members of the Histadrut. Controversy grew still more heated after the majority of Revisionists left the World Zionist Organization in 1935, and a minority, refusing to leave, founded the *Jewish State Party.

Revisionist criticism of Labor's economic and social policies was, on the whole, supported by the right wing of the General Zionists. In 1935 the General Zionists split into the Federation (Hitaḥadut) and the Union (Berit) of General Zionists, known respectively as the a and b Factions. The a group, with Weizmann as its leader, cooperated with Labor. So did Mizrachi and Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi, though they frequently opposed Mapai on religious and educational issues. On the left, Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, which gradually became more active as a political party, demanded joint organization of Jewish and Arab workers and greater efforts to reach an agreement with the Arabs, while also endorsing the principle of immigration to the full economic absorptive capacity of the country. Despite party differences, there was a large measure of common ground on such practical issues as immigration, settlement on the land, defense, and opposition to the restrictive policies of the Mandatory government. An exception was the anti-Zionist Palestine Communist Party, which made largely unsuccessful efforts to recruit Arab members and in 1936–39 openly supported the Arab revolt and Arab terrorism against the Jews. In 1939 it split up into separate Jewish and Arab groups.

The 1937 Peel Commission's proposal for the *partition of Palestine into two states, Jewish and Arab, and a British zone, aroused controversy that largely cut across party lines, particularly in Mapai and in both factions of the General Zionists. While the majority in these parties was prepared, in principle, to consider partition, Berl Katzenelson of Mapai and Menahem *Ussishkin of the General Zionists b were categorically opposed. The Revisionists were against partition on political grounds and the Mizrachi on religious grounds, while Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir advocated the establishment of Palestine as a binational state. The latter joined forces on the issue of Arab-Jewish relations with a small nonparty group, founded as *Berit Shalom ("Peace Alliance") in 1925 and later called Kedmah Mizraḥah (from 1936), the League for Jewish-Arab Understanding (from 1939), and Iḥud (from 1942). Among its leaders were *Rabbi Binyamin (Radler-Feldman), Haim Margolis-Kalvaryski, Judah L. *Magnes, and Martin *Buber. Bitter, occasionally violent, controversy arose over defense policy during the Arab riots of 1936–39. The Revisionists rejected the Haganah's policy of havlagah ("restraint"); their members were the backbone of the *Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi, which carried out reprisals against the Arabs and engaged in guerrilla activity against the British forces.

During World War ii, after the abandonment of partition by the British and the adoption of the White Paper Policy, opinion in the Zionist movement crystallized around the *Biltmore Program. This plan, calling for the establishment of Palestine as "a Jewish Commonwealth integrated in the structure of the new democratic world," was approved by the Inner Zionist General Council on Nov. 10, 1942, by 21 votes to 4, with 3 abstentions. The program was supported by Mapai, the General Zionists, and Mizrachi, and opposed by Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, which called for political parity of Jews and Arabs, and by the Left Po'alei Zion. The abstentions came from representatives of Si'ah Bet (the "b Faction" of Mapai), who insisted on a demand for Jewish rights in the whole of Palestine.

A new party, Aliyah Ḥadashah, mainly representing recent immigrants from Germany and Central Europe, founded in 1942, favored a continuation of the British Mandate and a further attempt to reach an agreement with the Arabs (see *Independent Liberal Party). The struggle conducted within Mapai by Si'ah Bet for the right to fight for its independent left-wing views on social policy came to a head at the Mapai

First Second Third Fourth
Date of elections April 19, 1920 Dec. 6, 1925 Jan. 5, 1931 Aug. 1, 1944
1 Elected at separate polls
2 Eight lists.
3 Including 20 Yemenites elected at separate polls.
4 Five lists.
5 Eleven lists.
6 Mapai.
7 Including four Sephardi Labor.
8 Including five Sephardi Revisionists.
9 Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir – 21; Le-Aḥdut ha-Avodah – 16; Popular Democrats (Communists) – 3.
10 Including 18 Aliyah.
Number of electors28,76564,76489,656300,018
Percentage of votes cast77%57%56%67%
Number of lists represented20251418
Composition of Delegates:
Ạdut ha-Avodah7054636
Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir413027663
Other labor groups677409
Other Oriental communities1821336
Mizrachi groups11194524
Other religious groups23
Women's groups51434
General Zionists47
Other Groups4623452410

conference at Kefar Vitkin in October 1942, with a majority decision to prohibit factions within the party. In May 1944 Si'ah Bet formed a new party, Ha-Tenu'ah le-Aḥdut ha-Avodah (see *Aḥdut ha-Avodah, second entry), which amalgamated with Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir and the Left Po'alei Zion in January 1948 to form *Mapam (Mifleget ha-Po'alim ha-Me'uḥedet, "United Workers' Party").

The fourth Asefat ha-Nivḥarim was elected on August 1, 1944. The Revisionists, General Zionists b, and Sephardim boycotted the elections because their demands for changes in the electoral system were refused, while Agudat Israel maintained its ban. However, 67% of the vastly increased electorate of 300,000 went to the polls (see Table: Parties of Elected Assemblies).

Labor continued to dominate the Va'ad Le'ummi: of 42 members, 15 were from Mapai, and eight from the other two left-wing parties, while Izhak Ben-Zvi and David Remez were elected president and chairman respectively. During the subsequent period, major political and defense issues overshadowed all others. Interparty conflict was reflected in the dissensions between the Haganah, which was controlled by the Jewish Agency, and the largely Revisionist Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi. Left-wing predominance in the *Palmaḥ, which was part of the Haganah, also gave rise to occasional disagreements.

When the Palestine problem was submitted to the United Nations (1947), however, the majority of the yishuv and the Zionist movement was united in support of the demand for the establishment of a Jewish state, even in part of the country, though the Revisionists pressed for their maximalist program and Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir continued to advocate a binational state. After the un Special Committee on Palestine (unscop) issued its report recommending the establishment in Palestine of both a Jewish and an Arab state, almost all parties (including the Communists after the U.S.S.R. had expressed its support for partition) collaborated in the effort to carry out the transition to independence.

[Misha Louvish]

Transition to Statehood and to First Elections

On April 12, 1948, the Zionist General Council laid the foundations for the self-governing institutions of the Jewish state by appointing a provisional legislature, called Mo'eẓet ha-Am (People's Council), and an executive called Minhelet ha-Am (People's Administration). Seats were allocated on the basis of the existing relative power of the parties. The 37 members of the People's Council consisted of the 14 members of the Executive of the Va'ad Le'ummi (National Committee), the 11 members of the Jewish Agency Executive from the *yishuv, and 12 delegates from parties not represented on either. Its party makeup was 10 from Mapai, six General Zionists, five from *Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi and *Ha-Mizrachi, five from *Mapam, three from *Agudat Israel, three Revisionists, and one each representing the Communists, *wizo (Women's International Zionist Organization), *Aliyah Ḥadashah, the Sephardim, and the Yemenites. Chaim *Weizmann was the president of the Council and its 38th member. For the first time, Agudat Israel and the Communists were represented on the governing bodies of the Yishuv.

On May 14, the People's Council and the People's Administration became respectively the Provisional Council of State and the Provisional Government of the independent State of Israel. The Revisionists and Communists were in opposition.

The Provisional Government set the basic pattern for Israel's future coalition system. Until the eve of the *Six-Day War in June 1967 all political parties from the General Zionists in the Center to Mapam on the Left were welcome to join the coalition. The *Ḥerut Movement, established by Menaḥem *Begin in June 1948 as the successor to the Revisionist Party, and the Communists, were excluded. Towards the elections to the Constituent Assembly, which were to be held in February 1949, a few of the veteran leaders of the Revisionist Party decided not to join the Ḥerut Movement and to submit their own list.

The General Zionists split in August 1948. One group retained the original name while the other, together with Aliyah Ḥadashah and *Ha-Oved ha-Ẓiyyoni, formed the new Progressive Party.

During the War of Independence of 1948–9, internal political problems remained more or less in the background, though the Ḥerut movement denounced Ben-Gurion's measures against the iẒl (*Irgun Ẓeva'i Le'ummi), especially in connection with the Altalena affair, measures that were also criticized by the General Zionists and Mizrachi, while Mapam was disturbed by the disbandment of the *Palmaḥ high command.

The First Knesset, 1949–1951

The elections to the Constituent Assembly, which soon was renamed "the First Knesset," were held on January 25, 1949, and the first meeting of the Assembly was held 20 days later, on February 14, 1949.

Valid votes cast434,684
Qualifying threshold (1%)4,346
Votes per seat3,592

The first elections were held for a Constituent Assembly that was to act as a parliament but also to prepare a constitution for the state. The Constituent Assembly held its first meeting in Jerusalem on February 14, 1949 – Tu bi-Shevat – and two days later changed its name to the First Knesset.

The First Knesset elected Joseph *Sprinzak as its speaker, and Dr. Chaim *Weizmann as the first president of the state.

For several months the Knesset held its meetings in Tel Aviv. This was due both to the security situation and the fact that the status of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel had not yet been finalized. The Knesset formally moved to Jerusalem in the middle of December 1949, and in March

Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 1st Govt. 2d Govt.
* A list combing all four religious parties: Ha-Mizrachi, Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi, Agudat Israel, Po'alei Agudat Israel.
** Members of the coalition, but not the government.
United Religious Front*52, 98212.216XX
Ḥerut Movement49,78211.514
General Zionists22,6615.27
Progressive Party17,7864.15XX
Sephardim ve-Edot Mizraḥ15,3873.54XX
Maki (Communists)15,1483.54
Minority List associated with Mapai7,3871.72XX **
Fighters List5,3631.21
Yemenite Association4,3991.01

1950 settled in the Arazi-Frumin building on King George Street in Jerusalem, where it was to remain until August 29, 1966.

Soon after the elections, President Weizmann called upon the leader of Mapai, David Ben-Gurion, who had headed the provisional government, to form the first government of the State of Israel. Ben-Gurion was chosen by the president both because Mapai was the largest parliamentary group in the Knesset and because no other group was able to form a coalition commanding a majority in the Knesset, as was to remain the case until after the elections to the Ninth Knesset in 1977.

It took Ben-Gurion one and a half months to put together his first government. From the start he excluded the Herut Movement and the Communists as potential coalition members, for ideological reasons. Though the two labor parties – Mapai and Mapam – together held 65 seats in the Knesset, Ben-Gurion, taking a more statist (mamlakhti) approach, preferred to set up a coalition with the United Religious Front, the Progressive Party, the Sephardim, and the Arab lists associated with Mapai (though the latter did not receive seats in the government itself).

In addition to urgent security matters, the new government's attention was focused on the very difficult economic situation and on immigration absorption. The Knesset, on the other hand, had its hands full with adapting some of the Mandatory legislation to the needs of the independent Jewish state while passing new laws at an average rate of 7.5 bills per month. In addition to the laws concerned with the country's system of government and legal system, one of the important laws to be passed was the first version of the *Law of Return, passed in July 1950, which recognized the right of every Jew to settle in Israel.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and Minister of DefenseDavid Ben-Gurion (Mapai)
Agriculture (from 1.6.50) and Supply & RationingDov Yosef (Mapai)
Education & CultureShneur Zalman Shazar (Mapai)
Finance and Trade & IndustryEliezer Kaplan (Mapai)
Foreign AffairsMoshe Sharett (Mapai)
Health, Immigration and InteriorḤayyim Moshe Shapira (URF)
JusticePinḥas Rosen (Progressive)
Labor & Social SecurityGolda Meir (Mapai)
PoliceBeḥor Shalom Shitrit (Sephardi)
Religions and War VictimsYehudah Leib Maimon (URF)
TransportationDavid Remez (Mapai)
WelfareYiẓḥak Meir Levin (URF)

Though the Proclamation of Independence had assigned to the Constituent Assembly the task of passing a constitution, it soon became apparent that this was an impossible mission, due to differences of opinion with the religious parties regarding the nature of such a document. In June 1950 the Harari resolution was passed, which stipulated that the Knesset would concentrate instead on the passing of Basic Laws, each of which would deal with a specific issue regarding the democratic system of government. Once work on the Basic Laws was completed, they would be combined into a constitution. It should be noted that even by the Sixteenth Knesset, work on the Basic Laws had not yet been completed, largely due to religious opposition to basic laws dealing with human rights as envisioned by the secular society, and a Basic Law on legislation that would declare the constitutional legislation to be supreme.

The economy, as run by the Mapai-led government, was highly centralized, with most agriculture in the hands of the collective kibbutzim and the cooperative moshavim. The Histadrut was not only a very powerful trade union association but controlled a large section of the country's industry, financial institutions, retail outlets, and health services. Though there was a growing sector of private industry, much of the industry in the country was state- or Histadrut-owned and run. The General Zionists and Ḥerut Movement both urged greater freedom for private enterprise, and denounced the austerity policy – the Ẓena – associated with Minister of Supply and Rationing Dov *Yosef. From the left Mapam criticized Mapai's policy of wage restraint and actively supported demonstrations by the unemployed.

There were also difficulties within the coalition. The Compulsory Education Law of September 1949 confirmed the division of the educational system into four streams: general, labor, national religious, and ḥaredi. A crisis soon developed since the religious bloc was dissatisfied with the fact that the children of religious immigrants in the transit camps (*ma'barot) were receiving a nonreligious education.

It was against this background that Ben-Gurion submitted his first resignation in October. In the new government formed on November 1, the Ministry of Supply and Rationing no longer existed, its functions being taken over by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry – the latter in the hands of Ya'akov Geri, who was not a Knesset member. While the party make-up of the new government remained the same, the ministers on behalf of Mapai were shuffled.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and Minister of DefenseDavid Ben-Gurion (Mapai)
AgriculturePinḥas Lavon (Mapai)
Education & CultureDavid Remez (Mapai) (d. 5.19.51)
FinanceEliezer Kaplan (Mapai)
Foreign AffairsMoshe Sharett (Mapai)
Health, Immigration and InteriorḤayyim Moshe Shapira (URF)
JusticePinḥas Rosen (Progressive)
Labor & National SecurityGolda Meir (Mapai)
PoliceBeḥor Shalom Shitrit (Sephardim)
Religions and War VictimsYehudah Leib Maimon (URF)
Trade & IndustryYa'akov Geri (not an MK)
TransportationDov Yosef (Mapai)
WelfareYitẓḥak Meir Levin (URF)

Growing dissatisfaction with the policy of rationing resulted in some losses to Mapai in the municipal elections of November 1950, in favor of the General Zionists. On February 14, 1951, the General Zionists presented a motion for the agenda regarding education in the immigrant camps and ma'abarot, and the education streams. When a vote took place on this motion, the government lost, with 49 members of the Knesset voting against the government and 42 voting in favor. Even though this was not formally a vote of no confidence, Ben-Gurion viewed it as such, resigned and called for new elections.

On the eve of the new elections a major strike broke out amongst the seamen employed by the publicly owned zim shipping company. The strike, which was finally broken up by force, lasted for half a year. Though it broke out against the background of pay and work condition claims, it was fueled by political tension between supporters of Mapai, which represented the establishment, and Mapam, which represented a radical position.

The Second Knesset, 1951–1955

The elections to the Second Knesset were held on July 30, 1951, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 52 days later, on September 20, 1951.

In the elections to the Second Knesset, the General Zionists increased the number of their seats from 7 to 20 (which soon rose to 23, when the Sephardi and Yemenite parliamentary groups joined them). This increase took place largely at

Valid votes cast787,492
Qualifying threshold (1%)7,874
Votes per seat5,692
Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 3d Govt. 4th Govt. 5th Govt. 6th Govt.
* Members of the coalition but not the government.
General Zionists111,39416.220XX
Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi46,3476.88XXXX
Ḥerut Movement45,6516.68
Three minority lists associated with Mapai32,2884.75X*X*X*X*
Maki (Communists)27,3344.05
Progressive Party22,1713.24XX
Agudat Israel13,7992.03X
Sephardim ve-Edot Mizraḥ12,0021.82
Po'alei Agudat Israel11,1941.62X
Yemenite Association7,9651.21

the expense of the Herut Movement, which went down from 14 to 8 seats, and the labor parties Mapai and Mapam, which together went down from 65 to 60 seats – Mapam losing to Mapai, and Mapai losing to the General Zionists.

The Second Knesset once again elected Joseph Sprinzak as its speaker. It took Ben-Gurion two months to form a new government. The Third Government included the same groups that had participated in the Second Government, less the Progressives. The General Zionists who conditioned their joining the government on their receiving the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, did not join the new government, though together with the Progressives they did join the Fourth Government, formed about a year later.

During the term of the Third Government the emotionally charged issue of *restitution payments from Germany came up against the background of the country's desperate foreign exchange situation. In January 1951, the government decided to make a claim for reparations from Germany for Jewish property lost during the Nazi period. In September West German Chancellor Konrad *Adenauer announced that the German Federal Republic was prepared to open negotiations on the subject with representatives of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. On January 9, 1952, Ben-Gurion made an announcement in the Knesset to that effect. Not everyone in Israel viewed this decision favorably, and the leader of the Ḥerut Movement, Menaḥem Begin, led a mass demonstration in protest. The crowd made its way toward the Knesset building,

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and DefenseDavid Ben-Gurion (Mapai)
Deputy PMEliezer Kaplan (Mapai) (from 6.25.52 to his death on 7.13.52)
AgricultureLevi Eshkol (Mapai) (until 6.25.52)
Pereẓ Naftali (Mapai)
Commerce & IndustryDov Yosef (Mapai)
Education & CultureBenzion Dinur (not an MK)
FinanceEliezer Kaplan (Mapai) (until 6.25.52)
Levi Eshkol (Mapai)
Foreign AffairsMoshe Sharett (Mapai)
HealthJoseph Burg (Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi)
Interior and ReligionsḤayyim Moshe Shapira (Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi)
JusticeDov Yosef (Mapai) (until 6.25.52)
Ḥayyim Cohen (not an MK)
LaborGolda Meir (Mapai)
PoliceBeḥor Shalom Shitrit (Mapai)
Postal ServicesMordechai (Max) Nurock (Ha-Mizrachi) (from 11.3.52)
TransportationDavid Zvi Pinkas (Ha-Mizrachi) (d. 8.14.52)
David Ben-Gurion (Mapai)
WelfareYitẓḥak Meir Levin (Agudat Israel) (until 9.18.52)
Without PortfolioPereẓ Naftali (Mapai) (until 6.25.52)
Without PortfolioPinḥas Lavon (Mapai) (from 8.17.52)

breaking some windows and clashing with the police. For his part in the demonstration Begin was suspended from participation in Knesset sittings for several months. However, with the support of the Progressives, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee finally authorized the government to open negotiations, which commenced in March 1952 and were concluded in September.

Added to the reparations crisis was the growing dissatisfaction of the two ḥaredi parties, Agudat Israel and Po'alei Agudat Israel, with the government's education policy and the proposal to institute national service for religious girls who had been exempted from military service. On September 19 their representatives in the coalition resigned, leaving the government without a majority in the Knesset. When Ben-Gurion failed to bring the General Zionists into the coalition immediately, he resigned, and in December formed a new government, with the participation of the General Zionists and the Progressives, but without the ḥaredi parties.

The coalition agreement of the new government provided for the abolition of the "streams" in the national education system (dividing them into national and religious sections), for income tax reforms, and for a liberalization of export regulations. Mapam was not invited to join the coalition. This was partially due to its position regarding the *Slansky Affair in Prague, in which a Mapam member – Mordekhai Oren – had been implicated. Mapam did, however, finally support the

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and DefenseDavid Ben-Gurion (Mapai)
AgriculturePereẓ Naftali (Mapai)
Commerce & IndustryPereẓ Bernstein (General Zionists)
DevelopmentDov Yosef (Mapai) (from 6.15.53)
Education & CultureBenzion Dinur (not an MK)
FinanceLevi Eshkol (Mapai)
Foreign AffairsMoshe Sharett (Mapai)
HealthYosef Sapir (General Zionists) (until 12.29.53)
Yosef Serlin (General Zionists)
InteriorIsrael Rokach (General Zionists)
JusticePinḥas Rosen (Progressive)
LaborGolda Meir (Mapai)
PoliceBeḥor Shalom Shitrit (Mapai)
Postal ServicesJoseph Burg (Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi)
TransportationYosef Serlin (General Zionists (until 12.29.53)
Yosef Sapir (General Zionists)
Welfare and ReligionsḤayyim Moshe Shapira (Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi)
Without PortfolioPinḥas Lavon (Mapai)
Without PortfolioDov Yosef (Mapai) (until 6.15.53)

election of the Mapai candidate for president of the State – Izhak *Ben-Zvi – to succeed Chaim Weizmann, who had passed away in November 1952.

The Fourth Government passed the law for free compulsory education, approved by the Knesset on August 15, 1953. Under the new system only Agudat Israel was permitted to maintain an independent school system, which was to receive state assistance.

In November 1953, Ben-Gurion unexpectedly announced his desire to retire from the premiership for personal reasons, explaining that he needed a rest after 23 years of incessant political activity. He proposed that Levi *Eshkol replace him as prime minister and that Pinḥas *Lavon replace him as minister of defense. But after Eshkol refused the premiership Mapai nominated Moshe *Sharett for the post. In keeping with his call for the settlement of the Negev, Ben-Gurion established his new home in Kibbutz Sedeh Boker. His last action before retirement was to appoint Moshe *Dayan as idf chief of staff.

As prime minister in the Fifth Government, Sharett continued to hold the Foreign Affairs portfolio, while as proposed by Ben-Gurion, Lavon became minister of defense.

Beneath the surface this partnership did not work, owing to disagreements between Sharett and Lavon over defense policy. The prime minister complained that he was not consulted in advance about reprisal attacks across the borders. Then came the infamous Esek Bish (lit. "bad business"), involving a botched-up security operation in Egypt, which resulted in the arrest of 13 Egyptian Jews, of whom one committed suicide and two were executed following a trial in Cairo. A committee of inquiry, made up of the president of the Supreme

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and Foreign AffairsMoshe Sharett (Mapai)
AgriculturePereẓ Naftali (Mapai)
Commerce & IndustryPereẓ Bernstein (General Zionists)
DefensePinḥas Lavon (Mapai) (until 2.21.55)
David Ben-Gurion (Mapai)
DevelopmentDov Yosef (Mapai)
Education & CultureBenzion Dinur (not an MK)
FinanceLevi Eshkol (Mapai)
HealthYosef Serlin (General Zionists)
InteriorIsrael Rokach (General Zionists)
JusticePinḥas Rosen (Progressive)
LaborGolda Meir (Mapai)
Policeor Shalom Shitrit (Mapai) Beh
Postal ServicesJoseph Burg (Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi)
TransportationYosef Sapir (General Zionists)
Welfare and ReligionsḤayyim Moshe Shapira (Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi)
Without PortfolioZalman Aran (Mapai)

Court, Isaac *Olshan, and former Chief of Staff Ya'akov *Dori, established to investigate the affair, failed to reach any conclusions. Though Lavon refused to take responsibility for the affair, he was forced to resign in February 1955, and was replaced by Ben-Gurion, at Sharett's request. The "Lavon Affair," as the Esek Bish came to be known, continued to bedevil Israeli politics for another decade, and was the first of many occasions on which no one in authority was willing to take responsibility.

Sharett resigned on June 29, 1955, against the background of a vote of no-confidence concerning the Kasztner Affair (see *Kasztner, Reszo Rudlof), presented to the Knesset by the Herut Movement and the Communists, in which the General Zionists abstained. Since the General Zionists refused to resign from the government, Sharett resigned, forming the short-lived Sixth Government – a minority government – without the General Zionists and the Progressives.

Throughout the term of the Second Knesset the labor movement underwent several major personal and ideological upheavals. In addition to Ben-Gurion's temporary withdrawal, towards the end of the Knesset's term Mapam broke up again into two parties: Mapam and *Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion, while the *Ha-Kibbutz ha-Me'uḥad settlement movement split in two, with several individual kibbutzim breaking up. Ha-Kibbutz ha-Me'uḥad was now associated with Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion, while *Iḥud ha-Kevuẓot ve-ha-Kibbutzim was associated with Mapai (*Ha-Kibbutz ha-Arẓi continued to be associated with Mapam).

It is worth noting that in this period, while the kibbutzim formed no more than 3 percent of the population, close to 20 kibbutz members were members of the Knesset – over 15 percent of the total.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and Foreign AffairsMoshe Sharett (Mapai)
Agriculture and Commerce & IndustryPereẓ Naftali (Mapai)
DefenseDavid Ben-Gurion (Mapai)
Education & CultureBenzion Dinur (not an MK)
FinanceLevi Eshkol (Mapai)
Health and DevelopmentDov Yosef (Mapai)
InteriorIsrael Rokach (General Zionists)
JusticePinḥas Rosen (Progressive)
LaborGolda Meir (Mapai)
PoliceBeḥor Shalom Shitrit (Mapai)
Postal ServicesJoseph Burg (Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi)
TransportationZalman Aran (Mapai)
Welfare and ReligionsḤayyim Moshe Shapira (Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi)

The Second Knesset dealt extensively with foreign policy issues, many debates dealing with the government's growing Western orientation. Those who had hoped that Israel would be able to remain neutral were disappointed by the fact that it was not invited to participate in the 1955 Bandung Non-aligned Conference.

The problem of Arab infiltrators from Jordan and the Gaza Strip frequently came up in the Knesset, and the debate on the issue came to a peak after the attack on a bus at Ma'aleh ha-Akrabim in the Negev in March 1954, in which numerous civilians were killed. The detention of the freighter Bat-Galim by the Egyptian authorities in September 1954, and the denial of passage to Israeli ships and cargoes destined for Israel though the Suez Canal, engaged the attention of the mks as well as Israel's representatives to the un.

The essence of Israeli democracy and the relations between religion and state were frequently raised by Knesset members in the course of the debates on various issues, especially in connection with three "religious" laws adopted on August 26, 1953: the Anatomy and Pathology Law, the National Service Law, and the Rabbinical Courts Jurisdiction (marriage and divorce) Law.

In September 1954, the Mapai Central Council adopted Ben-Gurion's proposal to press for the replacement of the proportional representation electoral system by a single-member constituency system. What Ben-Gurion had hoped to achieve was a reduction in the number of parties elected to the Knesset, which would have simplified the task of forming governments in Israel. It was claimed at the time that by "gerrymandering" the constituencies, Mapai would actually be able to win an absolute majority in the Knesset. However, the proposed system was never adopted by the Knesset.

The Third Knesset, 1955–1959

The elections to the Third Knesset were held on July 26, 1955, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 20 days later, on August 15, 1955.

Valid votes cast853,219
Qualifying threshold (1%)8,532
Votes per seat6,938
Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 7th Govt. 8th Govt.
* Members of the coalition but not the government.
** Left the government on July 1, 1958.
Ḥerut Movement107,19012.615
General Zionists87,09910.213
National Religious Front (National Religious Party)77,9369.111XX**
Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion69,4758.210XX
Religious Front (Ḥaredi parties)39,8364.76
Maki (Communists)38,4924.56
Three minority lists associated with Mapai37,7774.45X*X*
Progressive Party37,6614.45XX

In the elections to the Third Knesset Mapai lost 5 seats, 4 of which went to Mapam and to Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion, which ran for the first time as an independent list. Within the center-right political camp, the General Zionists lost 7 seats to the Ḥerut Movement.

At its first meeting, the Third Knesset elected Joseph Sprinzak (Mapai) for a third term as its speaker. After his death in January 1959, Naḥum Nir of Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion was elected to succeed him, defeating Mapai's candidate.

It took Ben-Gurion three months to form a new government, but he finally managed, for the first time, to bring all three labor parties into the coalition.

In the speech in which he presented his new government and its program to the Knesset, Ben-Gurion emphasized the gravity of the security situation, and especially the problem of the fedayeen infiltrations from the Gaza Strip and the major arms deal signed between Egypt and Czechoslovakia with the blessing of the Soviet Union, and this after it had been Czechoslovakia that had supplied Israel with arms during its War of Independence, then too with Soviet blessings. In the following year Ben-Gurion was to hold negotiations with France and Great Britain for collaboration in what was to become known abroad as the Suez Operation and in Israel as the *Sinai Campaign.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and DefenseDavid Ben-Gurion (Mapai)
AgricultureKadish Luz (Mapai)
Commerce & IndustryPinḥas Sapir (Mapai)
DevelopmentMordekhai Bentov (Mapam)
Education & CultureZalman Aran (Mapai)
FinanceLevi Eshkol (Mapai)
Foreign AffairsMoshe Sharett (Mapai) (until 6.19.56)
Golda Meir (Mapai)
HealthIsrael Barzilai (Mapam)
InteriorIsrael Bar-Yehudah (Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion)
JusticePinḥas Rosen (Progressives)
LaborGolda Meir (Mapai) (until 6.19.56)
Mordekhai Namir (Mapai)
PoliceBeḥor Shalom Shitrit (Mapai)
Postal ServicesJoseph Burg (NRP)
TransportationMoshe Carmel (Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion)
Welfare and ReligionsḤayyim Moshe Shapira (NRP)
Without PortfolioPereẓ Naftali (Mapai)

While Ben-Gurion's acrimonious exchanges with the leader of the Herut Movement, Menahem Begin, became increasingly bitter, differences of opinion between the prime minister and Moshe Sharett over the coordination of defense and foreign policy finally led to Sharett's replacement as minister for foreign affairs by Golda *Meir. Mordekhai *Namir, who had served as secretary general of the Histadrut, replaced Meir as minister of labor, while Namir was replaced in the Histadrut by Pinḥas Lavon in June 1956.

On the eve of the Sinai Campaign 49 Israeli Arab villagers were shot dead by border policemen at Kafr Kassem for breaking a curfew of which they were not aware. The persons responsible for the massacre were put on trial and given prolonged prison sentences. However, even though Ben-Gurion referred to the event as one that "struck a blow at the most sacred principles of human morality," all those imprisoned had their prison sentences reduced.

Israel's military success in the Sinai Campaign, which had commenced on October 29, 1956, though greatly dependent on the coalition with France and Great Britain, increased Ben-Gurion's popularity while turning Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan into a national hero. Mapam had disapproved of the operation, but remained in the cabinet. The Ḥerut Movement strongly supported Ben-Gurion's move, but following Ben-Gurion's decision to give in to international pressure and withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, and Sharm el-Sheikh following the war, it accused him of defeatism and of squandering the military gains.

In May 1957 a violent strike broke out at the Ata textile factory, due to the owner's refusal to accept an agreement signed between the Histadrut and the Manufacturers Association. The government refused to back the workers' militant position. However, it was over the question of Israel's endorsement of the Eisenhower Doctrine, which called for U.S. assistance to any country threatened by Communist aggression, that a crisis broke out in the coalition in that very same month. Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion and Mapam argued that Israel should not adopt such a pro-American position. These two parties advocated a more neutral policy, not only for ideological reasons but also because they feared it might negatively affect the chances of Jews to leave the Soviet Union. However, when Ben-Gurion's policy came up for a vote in the Knesset on June 3, both parties abstained rather than vote against the government. The Ḥerut Movement and the General Zionists also abstained, but for the opposite reason, because they felt that Israel's support for the American policy should be stronger.

On October 28, 1957, Izhak Ben-Zvi was reelected by the Knesset for a second term as president of the state. The following day a mentally disturbed person threw a hand grenade into the Knesset plenary hall, which wounded Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and several ministers.

A new government crisis broke out in December 1957 against the background of Israel's relations with West Germany, when it became known that Dayan had visited Germany to discuss arms purchases. The plan fell through as a result of pressure by Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion and Mapam, but the whole episode led Ben-Gurion to tender his resignation on December 31. His new government, formed a week later, had the same party make-up as the previous one, but only after Ahdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion and Mapam undertook to uphold coalition discipline and cabinet secrecy.

On February 12, 1958, the Knesset adopted the first Basic Law – Basic Law: the Knesset. The new law included an article that stated that it could only be amended by an absolute majority of the mks. Nevertheless, it was not given superior status to ordinary laws.

A General Zionist proposal to institute an electoral system containing elements of both proportional and constituency representation – a proposal which was to be put forward on numerous occasions in the future – was rejected.

As in previous Knessets, the religious parties frequently raised the issue of the nonobservance of the Sabbath in the State of Israel, while Knesset members from the Communist Party frequently raised the issue of the military administration and movement restriction to which the Arab and Druze citizens of Israel were still subject.

A new coalition crisis, this time involving the nrp, erupted over regulations issued by the minister of the interior defining a Jew for the purposes of the population register. The nrp objected to the definition's diverging from the halakhic definition, and its two ministers resigned from the government when the regulations were approved by the Knesset on June 29. However, their resignation did not cause the government to lose its parliamentary majority.

No sooner was this crisis over than a new government crisis broke out over the sale of Israeli arms to West Germany,

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and DefenseDavid Ben-Gurion (Mapai)
AgricultureKadish Luz (Mapai)
Commerce & IndustryPinḥas Sapir (Mapai)
DevelopmentMordekhai Bentov (Mapam)
Education & CultureZalman Aran (Mapai)
FinanceLevi Eshkol (Mapai)
Foreign AffairsGolda Meir (Mapai)
HealthIsrael Barzilai (Mapam)
InteriorIsrael Bar-Yehudah (Ahdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion)
JusticePinḥas Rosen (Progressives)
LaborMordekhai Namir (Mapai)
PoliceBeḥor Shalom Shitrit (Mapai)
Postal ServicesJoseph Burg (NRP) (until 7.1.58)
Israel Barzilai (Mapam) (from 11.24.58)
Religionsḥayyim Moshe Shapira (NRP) (until 7.1.58)
Ya'akov Moshe Toledano (not an MK) (from 12.3.58 until 11.30.59)
TransportationMoshe Carmel (Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion)
WelfareḤayyim Moshe Shapira (NRP) (until 7.1.58)
Pereẓ Naftali (Mapai) (from 1.25.59)
Without PortfolioPereẓ Naftali (Mapai) (until 1.25.59)

which Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion and Mapam objected to. When the two parties voted in the Knesset against a motion approving the transaction, Ben-Gurion demanded the resignation of the ministers who had voted with the opposition, and when they refused, submitted his resignation. An attempt by Ben-Gurion to form an alternative government with the General Zionists and the nrp failed, leading to new elections.

In the course of the election campaign serious riots by immigrants from North Africa broke out in the Wadi Salib quarter of Haifa, in the development town of Migdal ha-Emek, and in Beersheba, against the background of claims of discrimination and hardship. This was the first open protest by immigrants of Muslim country origin against the Mapai-Ashkenazi establishment, but the latter failed to read the writing on the wall. Among the "new faces" introduced by Mapai into its list prior to the elections to the Fourth Knesset, none were of representatives of the new immigrants.

The Fourth Knesset, 1959–1961

The elections to the Fourth Knesset were held on November 3, 1959, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 27 days later, on November 30, 1959.

Valid votes cast969,337
Qualifying threshold (1%)9,693
Votes per seat7,800
Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 9th Govt
* Members of the coalition but not the government.
Ḥerut Movement130,51513.517
National Religious Party95,5819.912X
General Zionists59,7006.28
Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion58,0436.07X
Religious Front (Ḥaredi parties)45,5694.76X
Progressive Party44,8894.66
Three minority lists associated with Mapai34,3533.55X*
Maki (Communists)27,3742.83

Mapai emerged from the elections to the Fourth Knesset with 47 seats – the largest number of seats that it had ever received in an election. It gained three of its seats at the expense of Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion and another three at the expense of the General Zionists, who lost two additional seats to the Ḥerut Movement.

Mapai's strong position was due to the rapid rise in the standard of living, and the almost total cessation of border incidents on all fronts. The port of Eilat was able to develop, while friendly relations had been forged with several Asian and new African countries. None of the "ethnic" lists, representing "Oriental" immigrants, that participated in the elections managed to pass the qualifying threshold, and this despite the ethnic awakening that had occurred in the aftermath of the Wadi Salib riots.

The fourth Knesset elected Kadish *Luz as its third speaker. Ben-Gurion's new government included three new Mapai Knesset members, two of whom were to become household names: Abba *Eban, who had recently returned to Israel after eight years as ambassador to the U.S. and the un, former Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, and Giora *Josephthal, who had served as treasurer of the Jewish Agency. Shimon *Peres, who had served as director general of the Ministry of Defense and was largely responsible for promoting the close relations with France, was appointed deputy minister of defense.

The nrp rejoined the Coalition, after a satisfactory arrangement was reached regarding the registration problem of the previous government. Ahdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion was represented in the new government by Yiẓḥak *Ben-Aharon, who was also to become a household name over the years.

One of the new government's first tasks was to arrange for the election of the chief rabbis, but due to political controversies the election did not take place for another five years, with the post of Ashkenazi chief rabbi remaining vacant following the death of Chief Rabbi Isaac Halevi *Herzog on July 25, 1959.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and DefenseDavid Ben-Gurion (Mapai)
AgricultureMoshe Dayan (Mapai)
Commerce & IndustryPinḥas Sapir (Mapai)
DevelopmentMordekhai Bentov (Mapam)
Education & CultureZalman Aran (Mapai) (until 5.10.60)
Abba Eban (Mapai) (from 8.3.60)
FinanceLevi Eshkol (Mapai)
Foreign AffairsGolda Meir (Mapai)
HealthIsrael Barzilai (Mapam)
InteriorḤayyim Moshe Shapira (NRP)
JusticePinḥas Rosen (Progressives)
LaborGiora Josephthal (Mapai)
PoliceBeḥor Shalom Shitrit (Mapai)
Postal ServicesBenjamin Minz (Torah Religious Front) (from 7.17.60 until 5.30.61)
ReligionsYa'akov Moshe Toledano (not an MK) (until 10.15.60)
TransportationYiẓḥak Ben-Aharon (Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion)
WelfareJoseph Burg (NRP)
Without PortfolioAbba Eban (Mapai) (until 8.3.60)

A lengthy dispute over the claims of the secondary school teachers for salary increases, and recognition of their separate union, led to the resignation, on April 24, 1960, of Minister of Education Zalman Aran, who was eventually replaced by Abba Eban on August 3.

In May the Religious Front presented a motion of no confidence in the government over the question of how many Jews had left Egypt at the time of the Exodus. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion made it clear that "the Knesset cannot decide on issues of history and faith." Two months later, on July 18 Benjamin *Minz – a member of Po'alei Agudat Israel in the Religious Front – was appointed minister of postal services. Since Rabbi Minz had not received the blessing of the spiritual leaders of the Religious Front, his agreement to assume the post created a crisis within the Religious Front, which split, with Agudat Israel and Po'alei Agudat Israel forming two separate parliamentary groups. It should be noted that after this event and until the Sixteenth Knesset, no Ashkenazi ḥaredimk ever again considered joining a government in a full ministerial post, though several were appointed as deputy ministers.

Toward the end of 1960, the Lavon Affair, which had taken on the shape of a personal vendetta by Ben-Gurion against Lavon, once against shook the Israeli political scene. On January 30, 1961, the Knesset rejected a motion of no confidence in the government against the background of the affair by 77 votes to 26, but in the debate, Mapam, Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion, and the Progressives severely criticized Ben-Gurion's conduct, leading him to submit his resignation on the following day. Ben-Gurion proceeded to get the Mapai Central Committee to vote in favor of the removal of Lavon from his post as secretary general of the Histadrut. However, when President Ben-Zvi called on Ben-Gurion to form a new government, Mapam, Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion, and the Progressives refused to serve under him, while the nrp was unwilling to remain Mapai's only coalition partner. Since Mapai refused to put forward a new candidate for the premiership, the Knesset decided on March 13 to dissolve itself and call for new elections.

Prior to the new elections the General Zionists and the Progressives united into a single parliamentary group, which called itself the Liberal Party.

In the interim period between the announcement of new elections and their actually taking place, the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf *Eichmann, who had been abducted from Argentina in May 1960, began.

The Fifth Knesset, 1961–1965

The elections to the Fifth Knesset were held on August 15, 1961, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 27 days later, on September 9, 1961.

Valid votes cast1,006,964
Qualifying threshold (1%)10,070
Votes per seat8,332
Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 10th Govt 11th Govt 12th Govt
* Members of the coalition but not the government.
** Held post of deputy minister.
Ḥerut Movement138,59913.817
Liberal Party137,59913.617
National Religious Party98,7869.812XXX
Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion66,1706.68XXX
Maki (Communists)42,1114.25
Agudat Israel37,1783.74
Two minority lists associated with Mapai35,3763.54X*X*X*
Po'alei Agudat Israel19,4281.92X**X**X**

Though Mapai tried to ignore the Lavon Affair during the election campaign, the other parties and several academics denounced Ben-Gurion's behavior as a danger to democracy. Mapai ended up losing five seats and its affiliated Arab parties one. The new Liberal Party, which had been formed by the merger of the General Zionists and the Progressives on the eve of the elections to the Fifth Knesset, gained three seats, totaling 17, equaling the Ḥerut Movement.

The Fifth Knesset reelected Kadish Luz as its speaker. The negotiations for a new government, conducted by Levi Eshkol on behalf of Ben-Gurion, were prolonged and difficult, due to the insistence of the other potential coalition members that Mapai, with its reduced strength, should no longer hold a majority of the seats in the cabinet. Finally Aḥdut ha-Avodah, the nrp, Po'alei Agudat Israel, and the Arab parties joined the coalition. Of the latter two, the first appointed a deputy minister while the latter declined to receive a ministerial post. Two changes took place in the Eleventh Government: after minister of housing and development Giora Josephthal passed away he was replaced by Yosef *Almogi, while after Minister of Transportation Yiẓḥak Ben-Aharon resigned due to differences of opinion with his colleagues in Aḥdut ha-Avodah over his advocacy of unification among the three labor parties, he was replaced by Israel Bar-Yehudah.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and DefenseDavid Ben-Gurion (Mapai)
AgricultureMoshe Dayan (Mapai)
Commerce & IndustryPinḥas Sapir (Mapai)
Education & CultureAbba Eban (Mapai)
FinanceLevi Eshkol (Mapai)
Foreign AffairsGolda Meir (Mapai)
Health and InteriorḤayyim Moshe Shapira (NRP)
Housing and DevelopmentGiora Josephthal (Mapai) (until 8.23.62)
Yosef Almogi (from 10.30.62)
JusticeDov Yosef (not an MK in the Fifth Knesset)
LaborYigal Allon (Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion)
PoliceBeḥor Shalom Shitrit (Mapai)
Postal ServicesEliyahu Sasson (not an MK in the Fifth Knesset)
Religious AffairsZeraḥ Wahrhaftig (NRP)
TransportationYiẓḥak Ben-Aharon (Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion) (until 5.28.62)
Israel Bar-Yehudah (Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion) (from 5.28.62)
WelfareJoseph Burg (NRP)
Without PortfolioYosef Almogi (Mapai) (until 10.30.62)

Though Ben-Aharon was not immediately successful, his advocacy of unity was eventually to bear fruit (see below).

During this period there was considerable controversy over the continuation of the strict Military Administration under which the Arab and Druze citizens of the country lived, imposed soon after the establishment of the state. Ḥerut leader Menaḥem Begin was one of the strongest advocates of its abolition, just as he had fought against the continued application of the Emergency Regulations which Israel had inherited from the British Mandatory Government. Begin was supported in his fight against the Military Administration by the Liberals, Mapam, partially by the nrp, and of course by the Communists and Arab parliamentary groups. Attempts to bring about the abolition of the Military Administration were defeated narrowly both in 1962 (though on that occasion the Druze were exempted) and 1963. It was finally abolished in 1966.

President Izhak Ben-Zvi, who had been elected for a third term, passed away on April 23, 1963, and was succeeded by Zalman *Shazar, who defeated the opposition's candidate Pereẓ Bernstein of the Liberal Party.

Ben-Gurion submitted his resignation on June 16, 1963. Formally he resigned on personal grounds, but in fact it was due to the Lavon Affair, of which he refused to let go. On Ben-Gurion's recommendation, Levi Eshkol was nominated by Mapai as his successor. Eshkol completed the negotiations for the formation of the Eleventh Government, with the same party make-up as the previous government, in one week. He was replaced in the Ministry of Finance by Pinḥas Sapir. Abba Eban became deputy prime minister.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and DefenseLevi Eshkol (Mapai)
Deputy Prime MinisterAbba Eban (Mapai)
AgricultureMoshe Dayan (Mapai) (until 11.4.64)
Chaim Gvati (not an MK in the Fifth Knesset) (from 11.9.64)
Housing and DevelopmentYosef Almogi (Mapai)
Education & CultureZalman Aran (Mapai)
Finance and Commerce & IndustryPinḥas Sapir (Mapai)
Foreign AffairsGolda Meir (Mapai)
Health and InteriorḤayyim Moshe Shapira (NRP)
JusticeDov Yosef (not an MK in the Fifth Knesset)
LaborYigal Allon (Ahdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion
PoliceBeḥor Shalom Shitrit (Mapai)
Postal ServicesEliyahu Sasson (not an MK in the Fifth Knesset)
Religious AffairsZeraḥ Wahrhaftig (NRP)
TransportationIsrael Bar-Yehudah (Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion)
WelfareJoseph Burg (NRP)
Without PortfolioAkiva Govrin (Mapai) (from 12.1.63)

Eshkol's style was very different from his predecessor's, and he was more conciliatory towards the Ḥerut Movement, finally enabling the former Revisionists to bring the remains of Ze'ev *Jabotinsky to Jerusalem. Eshkol was also more open to criticism on foreign affairs issues, especially in reference to the Soviet Union.

Though Eshkol considered his government "a government of continuity," tensions developed between those members of Mapai who remained loyal to Ben-Gurion, and the rest. When a strong minority of Ben-Gurion loyalists in the Mapai Central Committee tried to get Eshkol to hold a new inquiry on the Lavon Affair, he resigned as prime minister with the demand that the party stop interfering with the decisions of the government. The party reacted by calling upon him to form a new government, which he presented to the Knesset on December 23, 1964.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
* Left Mapai to form Rafi.
Prime Minister and DefenseLevi Eshkol (Mapai)
Deputy Prime MinisterAbba Eban (Mapai)
AgricultureChaim Gvati
Commerce & IndustryPinḥas Sapir (Mapai) (until 5.23.65)
Haim Zadok (from 5.23.65)
DevelopmentYosef Almogi (Mapai)*
Haim Zadok (Mapai) (from 5.31.65)
Education & CultureZalman Aran (Mapai)
FinancePinḥas Sapir (Mapai)
Foreign AffairsGolda Meir (Mapai)
Health and InteriorḤayyim Moshe Shapira (NRP)
HousingYosef Almogi (Mapai)*
Levi Eshkol (Mapai) (from 5.31.65)
JusticeDov Yosef) (not an MK in the Fifth Knesset)
LaborYigal Allon (Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion)
PoliceBeḥor Shalom Shitrit (Mapai)
Postal ServicesEliyahu Sasson (not an MK in the fifth Knesset)
Religious AffairsZeraḥ Wahrhaftig (NRP)
TransportationIsrael Bar-Yehudah (Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion)
Moshe Carmel (Aḥdut ha-Avodah-Po'alei Zion) (from 5.30.65)
TourismAkiva Govrin (Mapai)
WelfareJoseph Burg (NRP)

Moshe Dayan had resigned as minister of agriculture before the new government was formed, and was replaced by Chaim *Gvati. Ben-Gurion loyalists objected not only to Eshkol's policy over the Lavon Affair but also to an agreement he had reached with the leader of Aḥdut ha-Avodah, Israel *Galili, on the formation of a joint list for the elections to the Sixth Knesset.

The clash between Eshkol's and Ben-Gurion's supporters came to a head at the Mapai Convention of February 1965, following which Eshkol called upon those ministers who supported Ben-Gurion's positions to resign. As a result, Minister of Housing and Development Yosef Almogi and Deputy Minister of Defense Shimon Peres resigned their posts. Haim *Zadok joined the cabinet on May 23 as minister of commerce and industry and development, while Eshkol assumed the position of minister of housing. Minister of Transportation Israel Bar-Yehudah was succeeded, after his death, by Moshe Carmel.

On June 29 Ben-Gurion announced that he intended to run at the head of an independent list for the elections. Two weeks later seven Mapai mks, headed by him, formed a new parliamentary group – Reshimat Po'alei Yisrael – or as it came to be known: *Rafi.

Significant political changes were also taking place in the opposition, when in May 1965 the Ḥerut Movement and the Liberal Party (minus seven former members of the Progressive Party) formed a new political bloc and parliamentary group called *Gaḥal (Gush Ḥerut Liberalim). The former Progressives now formed a new party and parliamentary group called the *Independent Liberal Party.

In August Maki (the Israel Communist Party) split in two. The new party called itself Rakah, which consisted mainly of Arabs (the main exception being Meir *Vilner), while Maki remained predominantly Jewish.

It should be noted that in the course of the Fifth Knesset the government's new economic policy, introduced by Pinḥas Sapir after becoming minister of finance, which dealt with the stabilization of the market by means of price stability and the setting of a single exchange rate for the currency, came under harsh criticism from the opposition. Furthermore, growing awareness of the issue of discrimination on ethnic grounds resulted in frequent questions to ministers and motions for the agenda. The end of the Eichmann trial, the affair of the German scientists working on Egypt's rocket project, and the establishment of diplomatic relations with West Germany also raised storms.

The Fifth Knesset held several serious debates around the issue of religion and state, as a result of violent events against this background.

The Sixth Knesset – 1965–1969

The elections to the Sixth Knesset were held on November 1, 1965, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 21 days later, on November 22, 1965.

Valid votes cast1,206,728
Qualifying threshold (1%)12,067
Votes per seat9,881

In the elections to the Sixth Knesset the Alignment of Mapai-Aḥdut ha-Avodah received 45 seats – four more than the combined pre-election strength of its constituents after Rafi had broken away from Mapai. Rafi increased its representation to 10 mks. An interesting addition to the Knesset was Ha-Olam ha-Zeh Ko'aḥ Ḥadash, headed by Uri *Avneri, editor of the weekly Ha-Olam ha-Zeh. This was the first time that a radical protest list had gotten elected to the Knesset. In the Jerusalem municipal elections, Teddy *Kollek of Rafi, who was to remain in office for 27 years, was elected mayor with the support of Gaḥal and the religious parties.

Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 13th Govt 14th Govt
* Joined the government on June 4, 1967.
** Members of the coalition but not the government.
National Religious Party107,9669.911XX
Independent Liberals45,2993.85XX
Agudat Israel39,7953.34
Two minority lists associated with the Alignment39,4643.34X**X**
Rakaḥ (New Communist Party)27,4132.33
Po'alei Agudat Israel22,0661.82X**
Ha-Olam ha-Zeh Ko'aḥ14,1241.21
Maki (Communist Party)13,6171.11

The Sixth Knesset reelected Kadish Luz as its speaker for the third term, while President Zalman Shazar was elected for a second term.

Golda Meir, who was suffering from ill health, was not a member of the Thirteenth Government, and she was replaced in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs by Abba Eban. Haim Zadok resigned in November 1966 from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry over differences of opinion with the minister of finance, and was succeeded as minister of commerce and industry by Ze'ev *Sherf. Beḥor Shalom Shitrit, who had been minister of police since Ben-Gurion's first government, resigned in November, and was succeeded by Eliyahu Sasson, whose position as the minister of postal services was taken over by Israel Yeshayahu, the first minister of Yemenite origin.

When Eshkol introduced his new government, nothing indicated that this would turn into a historical government – historical in that it was to see Israel through its most brilliant and fateful military victory since its War of Independence, and historical in that for the first time in Israel's history, Menaḥem Begin was invited to join a government.

The new government was soon confronted by a deep economic recession. For the first year and a half of the Sixth Knesset's term, Rafi frequently joined Gaḥal in criticizing the government's economic policy, which, they claimed, had led to the recession. Rafi and Gaḥal also accused Eshkol and Eban of unfounded optimism in foreign and security affairs.

In 1966 the military administration to which the Arab population of Israel had been subjected since the state's establishment was finally removed.

At the end of March 1967 Shmuel *Tamir, and another

Ministerial Position Name (party)
* The first Alignment was between Mapai and Aḥdut ha-Avodah. Mapai, Aḥdut ha-Avodah, and Rafi formed the Labor Party on Jan. 23, 1968. The Labor Party and Mapam formed the second Alignment on Jan. 28, 1969.
Prime MinisterLevi Eshkol (Alignment-Labor Party-Alignment*) (d. 2.26.69)
Deputy PM and AbsorptionYigal Allon (Alignment-Labor Party-Alignment*) (from 7.1.68)
AgricultureHaim Gvati (Alignment-Labor Party-Alignment*) (resigned from the Knesset)
Commerce & IndustryHaim Zadok (Alignment) (until 11.22.66)
Ze'ev Sherf (Alignment-Labor Party-Alignment*) (from 11.22.66)
DefenseLevi Eshkol (Alignment-Labor Party-Alignment*) (until 6.5.67)
Moshe Dayan (Rafi-Labor Party-Alignment*) (from 6.5.67)
Development and TourismMoshe Kol (Independent Liberal) (resigned from the Knesset)
Education & CultureZalman Aran (Alignment-Labor Party-Alignment*)
FinancePinḥas Sapir (Alignment-Labor Party*) (until 8.5.68)
Ze'ev Sherf (Labor Party-Alignment*) (from 8.5.68)
Foreign AffairsAbba Eban (Alignment-Labor Party-Alignment*)
HealthIsrael Barzilai (Mapam-Alignment*) (not an MK)
HousingMordekhai Bentov (Mapam-Alignment*) (resigned from the Knesset)
InformationIsrael Galili (Alignment-Labor Party-Alignment*) (until 6.5.67)
InteriorḤayyim Moshe Shapira (NRP)
JusticeYa'akov Shimshon Shapira (Alignment-Labor Party-Alignment*) (not an MK)
LaborYigal Allon (Alignment-Labor Party*) (until 7.1.68)
Yosef Almogi (Labor Party-Alignment*) (from 7.8.68)
PoliceBeḥor Shalom Shitrit (Alignment) (until 1.2.67)
Eliyahu Sasson (Alignment-Labor Party-Alignment*) (from 1.2.67)
Postal ServicesEliyahu Sasson (Alignment) (2.1.67)
Israel Yeshayahu (Alignment-Labor Party-Alignment*) (from 1.2.67)
Religious AffairsZeraḥ Wahrhaftig (NRP)
TransportationMoshe Carmel (Alignment-Labor Party-Alignment*) (not an MK)
WelfareJoseph Burg (NRP)
Without PortfolioIsrael Galili (Alignment) (until 6.5.67)
Without PortfolioMenaḥem Begin (Gaḥal) (from 6.5.67)
Without PortfolioYosef Sapir (Gaḥal) (from 6.5.67)
Without PortfolioPinḥhas Sapir (Labor Party-Alignment*) (from 8.5.68)

two Ḥerut Movement members of Gaḥal, broke away to form the Free Center parliamentary group. The main reason for the secession was criticism of Begin's leadership.

The threat posed by Egyptian troop concentrations in Sinai in May 1967, and what appeared to many as indecisiveness on Eshkol's part and servility to the gentiles on Eban's part, led to a widespread demand for the establishment of a National Unity Government. Begin proposed that Ben-Gurion return to the premiership in order to reassure the public or, alternatively, that the defense portfolio be given to Moshe Dayan. Eshkol preferred Yigal Allon – Dayan's lifelong political rival – as defense minister, but Dayan was a favorite with the nrp and a large section of Mapai, while Allon happened to be abroad when the crisis began, so Dayan was finally chosen. Begin and Yosef Sapir of Gaḥal were also added to the Government on June 5 – the first day of the war, when the government held its meeting in the Knesset air-raid shelter due to Jordanian shelling of the area of the government compound. Immediately after the fighting ended Prime Minister Levi Eshkol announced the unification of Jerusalem, and the Knesset added to the Government and Legal Procedures Ordinance article 11(b) regarding the application of the Israeli system of justice, jurisdiction, and administration to the territories of Ereẓ Israel liberated, held, or occupied – depending on one's ideological point of view.

In 1968 a wave of airline hijackings and terrorist attacks inside Israel began, which was to bedevil Israeli politics for many years to come.

In the course of the negotiations on the enlargement of the government in May, Peres, on behalf of Rafi, had proposed that Mapai and Rafi reunite. Half a year later, on January 21, 1968, the two parties, together with Aḥdut ha-Avodah, jointed together to form the Israel Labor Party. In the institutions of the new party Mapai received 57% of the seats, while Rafi and Ahdut ha-Avodah received 21.5% each. Ben-Gurion refused to join the new party, and remained in the Knesset as a single mk. Golda Meir was elected secretary general of the Labor Party but was later replaced by Pinḥas Sapir.

To compensate Allon for his failure to appoint him minister of defense, Eshkol appointed him deputy prime minister in addition to giving him the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. Almogi of Rafi replaced Allon in the Ministry of Labor. After being appointed secretary general of the Labor Party Sapir remained in the government as minister without portfolio, and was replaced in the Ministry of Finance by Sherf, who now held the two central economic positions in the government.

On January 20, 1969, before the approaching elections to the Seventh Knesset, a new Alignment was formed between the Labor Party and Mapam, despite the opposition of Rafi. For the first and only time in the history of Israel a single parliamentary group held an absolute majority in the Knesset – 63 seats.

Once Jerusalem had been reunited and the euphoria of the Six-Day War started to subside, serious debates began regarding the appropriate policy that should be followed to make the most of the military victory. Though Eban had informed the un in February 1968 that Israel accepted un Security Council Resolution 242, this fact was only made public in August 1970. In the meantime various policies and plans started to be debated, including the Allon Plan, which called for an Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the incorporation of these territories in a Jordanian-Palestinian state, and Dayan's policy of integrating the territories occupied during the war into the Israeli economy but keeping Israel and the territories functionally separate.

The sudden death of Levi Eshkol on February 26, 1969 resulted in Golda Meir's reentering active politics after being chosen by the Labor Party as his successor. Meir's new government had a similar makeup to Eshkol's, and only the foreign affairs and security chapter in the government's guidelines was redrafted in agreement with Gaḥal.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime MinisterGolda Meir (Alignment)
Deputy Prime Minister and AbsorptionYigal Allon (Alignment)
AgricultureChaim Gvati (Alignment) (not an MK)
DefenseMoshe Dayan (Alignment)
Development and TourismMoshe Kol (Independent Liberal) (not an MK)
Education & CultureZalman Aran (Alignment)
Finance and Commerce & IndustryZe'ev Sherf (Alignment)
Foreign AffairsAbba Eban (Alignment)
HealthIsrael Barzilai (Alignment) (not an MK)
HousingMordekhai Bentov (Alignment) (not an MK)
InteriorḤayyim Moshe Shapira (NRP)
JusticeYa'akov Shimshon Shapira (Alignment) (not an MK)
LaborYosef Almogi (Alignment)
PoliceEliyahu Sasson (Alignment)
Postal ServicesIsrael Yeshayahu (Alignment)
Religious AffairsZeraḥ Wahrhaftig (NRP)
TransportationMoshe Carmel (Alignment) (not an MK)
WelfareJoseph Burg (NRP)
Without PortfolioMenaḥem Begin (Gaḥal)
Without PortfolioIsrael Galili (Alignment)
Without PortfolioPinḥas Sapir (Alignment)
Without PortfolioYosef Sapir (Gaḥal)

The issue of the disappearance of Yemenite children in the early years of the state came up for the first time in this period, and a commission of inquiry was set up to deal with it. The problem of elected representatives changing political allegiance in return for material gain – which was referred to as kalanterism, after a certain Raḥamim Kalanter, who had changed sides in the Jerusalem municipality in return for such benefits – was also an issue that came up for debate in the Knesset.

Other issues over which there were deep differences of opinion were the implementation of a national health insurance system, demanded by Gaḥal on the one hand and Uri Avneri on the other, and the issue of organ transplants, raised by the religious parties.

Towards the end of the Knesset's term, Rafi considered seceding from the Labor Party and running separately in the elections to the Seventh Knesset, but was finally pacified when it was agreed that the former members of Rafi would be allowed to nominate their own candidates to the Labor Party list and as ministers in the government that would be formed after the elections. Ben-Gurion decided to run in the elections within the framework of a new list – Ha-Reshimah ha-Mamlakhtit (the State List).

The election campaign preceding the elections to the Seventh Knesset was comparatively subdued, one of the reasons for this being a new Election Financing Law that limited spending on the campaign. For the first time tv was used for electioneering, while the role of mass public rallies was reduced.

[Misha Louvish /

Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]

The Seventh Knesset, 1969–73

The elections to the Seventh Knesset were held on October 28, 1969, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 25 days later, on November 17, 1969.

Valid votes cast1,367,743
Qualifying threshold (1%)13,677
Votes per seat11,274
Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 15th Govt
* Left the government on 6.8.70.
** Members of the coalition but not the government.
National Religious Party133,2949.712X
Two minority lists associated with the Alignment44,9893.54X**
Agudat Israel44,0023.24
Independent Liberals43,9333.24X
State List42,6543.14
Rakaḥ (New Communist Party)38,8272.83
Po'alei Agudat Israel24,9681.92
Ha-Olam ha-Zeh Ko'aḥ Ḥadash16,8531.42
Free Center16,3931.22
Maki (Communist Party)15,7121.11
Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime MinisterGolda Meir (Alignment)
Deputy PM and Education & CultureYigal Allon (Alignment)
AgricultureChaim Gvati (Alignment)
Commerce & IndustryYosef Sapir (Gaḥal) (until 8.6.70)
Pinḥas Sapir (Alignment) (from 9.1.70 until 3.5.72)
Haim Bar-Lev (Alignment) (from 3.5.72)
Communications (formerly Postal Services and Transportation)Shimon Peres (Alignment) (from 9.1.70)
DefenseMoshe Dayan (Alignment)
DevelopmentḤayyim Landau (Gaḥal) (until 8.6.70)
Chaim Gvati (Alignment) (from 9.1.70)
FinancePinḥas Sapir (Alignment)
Foreign AffairsAbba Eban (Alignment)
HealthChaim Gvati (Alignment) (from 12.22.69 until 7.27.70)
Victor Shemtov (Alignment) (from 7.27.70)
HousingZe'ev Sherf (Alignment)
Immigrant AbsorptionShimon Peres (Alignment) (from 12.22.69 until 7.27.70)
Natan Peled (not an MK)
InteriorḤayyim Moshe Shapira (NRP) (d. 7.16.70)
Joseph Burg (NRP) (from 9.1.70) (resigned from the Knesset)
JusticeYa'akov Shimshon Shapira (Alignment) (until 6.13.72 and from 9.12.72 until 11.1.73)
LaborYosef Almogi (Alignment)
PoliceShelomo Hillel (Alignment)
Postal ServicesElimelekh Shimon Rimalt (Gaḥal) (until 8.6.70)
Religious AffairsZeraḥ Wahrhaftig (NRP)
TourismMoshe Kol (Independent Liberal) (resigned from the Knesset)
TransportationEzer Weizman (Gaḥal) (until 8.6.70)
WelfareJoseph Burg (NRP) (until 9.1.70) (resigned from the Knesset)
Ya'akov Mikhael Hazani (NRP) (from 1.9.70)
Without PortfolioIsrael Galili (Alignment)
Without PortfolioShimon Peres (Alignment) (until 22.12.69)
Without PortfolioIsrael Barzilai (Alignment) (d. 6.12.70)
Without PortfolioVictor Shemtov (Alignment (until 7.27.70)
Without PortfolioMenaḥem Begin (Gaḥal) (until 8.6.70)
Without PortfolioArye Dulzin (Gaḥal) (not an MK)

In the elections to the Seventh Knesset, the new Labor-Mapam Alignment lost the overall majority it had commanded in the Sixth Knesset when it was first formed, but nevertheless won an impressive victory – 56 seats, more than any list had ever received in an election – and together with the two minority lists, it controlled half the Knesset seats.

Gaḥal maintained its strength with 26 seats, even though the Free Center, which had broken away from Gaḥal, received two. The National List, headed by Ben-Gurion, received 4 seats, while the National Religious Party received 12. Ha-Olam ha-Zeh Ko'aḥ Ḥadash doubled its strength, but before long split in half.

In the negotiations for the new government, Gaḥal demanded representation in proportion to its Knesset strength and greater influence over the government's basic principles. In protest against the appointment of the six Gaḥal ministers, of whom four were given portfolios, at first Mapam refused to play an active role in the government, and its two ministers remained without portfolio.

Despite the changes in the government, there was no significant break with the past.

Against the background of a continued wave of airline hijackings and terrorist attacks by Palestinian terrorists, in the condemnation of which nearly all the parties joined, there were several peace initiatives – one on behalf of the un (the Jarring mission) and another led by the U.S. (the Rogers Plan) – on which opinions in Israel were divided. The willingness of the Labor leaders to respond favorably to the second Rogers Plan for negotiations with Egypt resulted in Mapam's finally accepting ministerial responsibilities on July 27, 1970, and in Gaḥal's decision to resign from the National Unity Government, on August 6, even though its Liberal wing believed this to be a mistake. The departure of Gaḥal from the government led to a redistribution of seats among the remaining coalition members, and two portfolios formerly held by Gaḥal – Transportation and Postal Services – were united in the Ministry of Communications under Shimon Peres.

Pinḥas Sapir, who had returned to the Ministry of Finance in the new government, now also assumed the Commerce and Industry portfolio, while Chaim Gvati added the Development portfolio to the previously held Agriculture.

Gaḥal's return to the opposition, in addition to reducing the number of ministers in the government, rejuvenated Israel's parliamentary life. Even though the nrp remained in the government, some of its younger members started to express opposition to the Alignment's declared willingness to consider withdrawal from part of the territories occupied during the Six-Day War in return for peace, marking the beginning of the nrp's gradual shift to the right, and the beginning of the end of its 20-year "historic coalition" with the labor camp.

However, even within the Alignment there were differences of opinion on the issue of the future of the territories, with certain sections of the Labor Party – especially former members of Rafi, and some former members of Aḥdut ha-Avodah (with the marked exception of Yigal Allon) – taking a more hawkish position. Though Allon's Plan – which advocated the return of most of Judea and Samaria, as well as the Gaza Strip to Jordan, leaving the Jordan Valley and Eastern Mountain Range, as well as Gush Eẓyon, the Latrun corridor, and several other areas in Israeli hands – was never formally accepted by the government, it did constitute the basis for Israel's new settlement map in the course of the Seventh and Eighth Knessets. At the same time Dayan, who had started implementing his "open bridges" policy soon after the Six-Day War, developed the concept of the "functional partition."

Nevertheless, at this point, with a prosperous economy and no real prospects for serious negotiations with Israel's neighbors due to the three "noes" of the 1968 Khartoum Arab Summit Conference, the position of the Alignment, and its various components, seemed strong and stable, and as in the past, Gaḥal, and its components, seemed no closer than in the past to unseating the labor camp from power.

The appearance of the Black Panther protest movement in 1970, which held a series of violent demonstrations in Jerusalem, should have lit a red light for the Alignment. But instead of reacting to growing dissatisfaction and disaffection by Israeli citizens of Sephardi origin, who were demanding their fair share in the booming economy, Golda Meir brushed the Black Panthers off as being "not nice," alluding to the criminal records of some of them. Nevertheless, the Knesset dealt extensively with the subject of economic gaps in society, and the term "poverty line" came into use.

Other issues on the political agenda in the course of the Seventh Knesset were the amendment of the Law of Return, which defined a Jew for the purpose of the right of return as "anyone born to a Jewish mother or who has converted, and is not a member of another faith"; the absorption of a wave of immigration from the Soviet Union, which was followed in the Soviet Union itself by the persecution of Jews who identified with Israel; the immigration to Israel of the leader of the *Jewish Defense League rabbi Meir*Kahane, who was to radicalize right-wing politics in Israel, and the attempted immigration to Israel of Meyer *Lansky, one of the Jewish heads of organized crime in the U.S., who sought asylum but was refused entry.

The outbreak of the Yom Kippur War on October 6, 1973, came to Israel as a total surprise, despite early warning signals. The surprise was the outcome of what might be described as cockiness resulting from overconfidence, and a mistaken concept that the neighboring states would not dare attack Israel. Though with the help of U.S. supplies Israel managed to emerge from the war, after close to three weeks of fierce fighting, in a favorable strategic situation, the war had been extremely costly in human lives, economic resources (Israel's enormous national debt dates from that time), and public loss of faith in the political and military leadership.

Though the political consequences of the war did not manifest themselves immediately, there is no doubt that the consequences of what came to be known as the meḥdal – the failure – was a major contributor to the election upset (mahapakh) three and a half years later. The convening of the Geneva Peace Conference towards the end of December, with the participation of Egypt and Jordan but the marked absence of Syria, did not help in any way to mitigate the sense that an earthquake had occurred.

Elections to the Eighth Knesset were to have been held in November 1973, but were put off to December 31 due to the outbreak of the war.

After retiring from the army as a brigadier general in June 1973, Ariel (Arik) *Sharon actually considered joining the Labor Party, but finally decided to join the Liberal Party within Gaḥal, and was instrumental in getting the Ḥerut Movement, the Liberals, the Free Center, and the State List (without Ben-Gurion, who resigned from the Knesset in May 1970) to form the *Likud. However, before entering the politics arena as an active player, Sharon returned to active service during the war, strengthening his reputation as a brilliant tactician with serious disciplinary problems.

The Eighth Knesset, 1973–77

The elections to the Eighth Knesset were held on December 31, 1973, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 21 days later, on January 21, 1974.

Valid votes cast1,566,855
Qualifying threshold (1%)15,668
Votes per seat12,424
Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 16th Govt 17th Govt
* Joined the government on 30.10.74.
** Members of the coalition but not the government.
*** Left the coalition after the NRP joined.
National Religious Party130,3498.310XX*
Religious Torah Front60,0123.85
Independent Liberals56,5603.64XX
Rakaḥ (New Communist Party)53,3533.44
Two minority lists associated with the Alignment39,0122.43X**
Civil Rights Movement (CRM)35,0232.23X***

The full political repercussions of the Yom Kippur War were not to be felt until the elections to the Ninth Knesset. Nevertheless early signs of what lay ahead could be discerned in the results of the elections to the Eighth Knesset. The Labor Alignment lost five of its seats and now had 51, while the Likud received 39 seats. The Alignment lost three of its seats to the new Citizens' Rights Movement (Ratz), established by Shulamit *Aloni, who had left the Labor Party due largely to her personal rivalry with Golda Meir. The new party, besides being more dovish than Labor, advocated a strong human and civil rights agenda. But what was more significant was that the Alignment lost two seats to the Likud.

It took Golda Meir over two months to form a new government, with the participation of the nrp and the Independent Liberals. The distribution of seats in the new Government was almost identical to that at the end of the Fifteenth Government, with the new addition of Yitẓhak *Rabin, who had recently returned from serving as Israel's ambassador to Washington, as minister of labor.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime MinisterGolda Meir (Alignment)
Deputy PM and Education & CultureYigal Allon (Alignment)
AgricultureChaim Gvati (Alignment)
Commerce & Industry and DevelopmentḤaim Barlev (Alignment)
CommunicationsAharon Uzan (Alignment) (not an MK)
DefenseMoshe Dayan (Alignment)
FinancePinḥas Sapir (Alignment)
Foreign AffairsAbba Eban (Alignment)
HealthVictor Shemtov (Alignment)
HousingYehoshua Rabinowitz (Alignment)
Immigrant AbsorptionShelomo Rosen (Alignment) (not an MK)
InformationShimon Peres (Alignment)
InteriorJoseph Burg (NRP)
JusticeḤayyim Yosef Zadok (Alignment)
LaborYitzḥak Rabin (Alignment)
PoliceShlomo Hillel (Alignment)
Religious AffairsYiẓḥak Rafael (NRP)
TourismMoshe Kol (Independent Liberal) (resigned from the Knesset)
TransportationAharon Yariv (Alignment)
WelfareYa'akov Mikhael Hazani (NRP)
Without PortfolioIsrael Galili (Alignment)
Without PortfolioGideon Hausner (Independent Liberal) (resigned from the Knesset)

However, a month after establishing her government, on April 11, 1974, Golda Meir resigned, following the publication of the interim report of the *Agranat Commission, which had investigated the background to the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War. Meir resigned despite the fact that the report had exonerated her from any responsibility for the war's failures, placing the full blame on the military.

It was only on June 3 that a new government was finally established by the political novice Yitzhak Rabin, who was chosen by the Labor Party as Meir's heir, after a political contest between him and Shimon Peres. Rabin's advantage was that his name had not been associated in any way with the Yom Kippur War. Three of the veteran Labor leaders – Moshe Dayan, Abba Eban, and Pinḥas Sapir – were left out of the new government, with Peres becoming defense minister, Yigal Allon foreign minister, and Yehoshua Rabinowitz finance minister. The fact that Rabin was the first Israeli-born prime minister, with another Israeli-born cabinet member, Allon, responsible for foreign affairs, seemed to herald a new and optimistic era of Israeli politics. The presence in the government, at its inception, of Shulamit Aloni, side by side with the Independent Liberals, and the absence of the nrp, also appeared to promise a new direction.

However, soon the nrp joined, Aloni left, and the government proceeded on a bumpy, unstable road that led to the election upset of 1977.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime MinisterYitzḥak Rabin (Alignment)
Deputy PM and Foreign AffairsYigal Allon (Alignment)
AgricultureAharon Uzan (Alignment) (not an MK)
Commerce & Industry and DevelopmentḤaim Barlev (Alignment)
CommunicationsYitzḥak Rabin (Alignment) (until 3.20.75)
Aharon Uzan (from 3.20.75) (not an MK)
DefenseShimon Peres (Alignment)
Education & CultureAharon Yadlin (Alignment)
FinanceYehoshua Rabinowitz (Alignment)
HealthVictor Shemtov (Alignment)
HousingShelomo Rosen (Alignment) (from 1.16.77)
Immigrant AbsorptionShelomo Rosen (Alignment)
InformationAharon Yariv (Alignment) (until 2.4.75)
InteriorShelomo Hillel (until 10.29.74)
Joseph Burg (NRP) (from 10.30.74 until 12.22.76)
Shelomo Hillel (from 1.16.77)
JusticeḤayyim Yosef Zadok (Alignment)
LaborMoshe Baram (Alignment)
PoliceShelomo Hillel (Alignment)
Religious AffairsḤayyim Yosef Zadok (Alignment) (until 10.29.74)
Yiẓḥak Rafael (NRP) (from 10.30.74 until 12.22.76)
Ḥayyim Yosef Zadok (Alignment) (from 1.16.77)
TourismMoshe Kol (Independent Liberal) (not an MK)
TransportationGad Yaacobi (Alignment)
WelfareVictor Shemtov (Alignment) (until 10.29.74)
Ya'akov Mikhael Hazani (NRP) (from 10.30.74 (d. 7.2.75))
Yitzḥak Rabin (Alignment) (from 7.7.75 until 7.29.75)
Joseph Burg (NRP) (until 11.4.75)
Zevulun Hammer (NRP) (until 12.22.76)
Moshe Baram (Alignment) (from 1.16.77)
Without PortfolioIsrael Galili (Alignment)
Without PortfolioGideon Hausner (Independent Liberal) (not an MK)
Without PortfolioShulamit Aloni (CRM) (until 11.6.74)

The Rabin government had to contend with a major foreign debt, created as a result of the Yom Kippur War, but despite generous U.S. economic and military aid, the rate of inflation started to rise sharply, and to the anti-Alignment protest movements that emerged against a political background was added social unrest against an economic and social background.

The shuttle diplomacy of U.S. Secretary of State Henry *Kissinger led to disengagement agreements with Egypt and Syria in 1974, and another interim agreement with Egypt in 1975 that involved the principle of "territories in exchange for peace." An initiative by Allon to continue this process vis-à-vis Jordan with the "Jericho Plan" came to naught after the results of the Rabat Arab Summit Conference of October 1974, which declared that only the plo could negotiate a settlement for Palestine. However, what seemed to some a welcome development in the Arab-Israeli conflict also sharpened the political divide in Israel regarding the future of the territories occupied by Israel in the course of the Six-Day War, between those willing to give up territories for peace and those opposed.

The emergence of *Gush Emunim and the sharp turn to the right among the younger leaders of the nrp must be seen against this background. The growing number of Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israeli territory and against Israeli targets, Israel's growing isolation in the international arena, which reached its peak with the 1975 un General Assembly Resolution 3379 that equated Zionism with racism, and the decision of the Soviet Union to once again close its gates to emigration to Israel contributed to the gradual movement of Israeli public opinion to the right.

The killing of six Israeli Arabs by Israeli security forces on March 30, 1976, in the course of "Land Day" demonstrations, proclaimed by the Arab community to protest against the confiscation of Arab land by the state, was to have a profound effect on political developments among Israeli Arabs.

Several financial scandals connected with senior members of the Labor Party – the first involving Asher Yadlin, who had been a candidate for the position of governor of the Bank of Israel and ended up in prison; the second involving Minister of Construction and Housing Avraham Ofer, who committed suicide before charges were brought against him; and the third involving a bank account held by Rabin's wife in the U.S. in contravention of Israel's foreign currency laws, and which ultimately resulted in Rabin's resignation from the premiership – added to a sharp decline in Labor's popularity.

In fact, the government resigned on December 22, 1976, before the bank account scandal became known, against the background of the abstention of the nrp in a vote on a motion of no confidence, brought by Agudat Israel in connection with the alleged breach of the Sabbath caused by a ceremony held at an air force base, and the removal of its ministers from the government that followed.

In 1976, in preparation for the elections to the Ninth Knesset, various protest movements and individual politicians who had left the labor movement, on the one hand, and the Likud, on the other, formed a new party under the leadership of Yigael *Yadin, which called itself the *Democratic Movement for Change (dmc, popularly known as "Dash").

In the course of the Eighth Knesset there were also early attempts by the government to enact two central Basic Laws, Basic Law: Legislation and Basic Law: Human Rights, but both efforts were cut short due to the opposition of the religious parties.

The Ninth Knesset, 1977–81

The elections to the Ninth Knesset were held on May 17, 1977, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 27 days later, on June 13, 1977.

Valid votes cast1,747,820
Qualifying threshold (1%)17,478
Votes per seat14,173
Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 18th Govt
# Received sufficient votes for two seats, but did not have additional members on his list.
* Joined the government on Oct. 24, 1977. After the DMC fell apart in 1978, most of its members went into opposition.
** Did not hold a ministerial post.
*** Joined the Likud on July 5, 1977.
Democratic Movement for Change202,26511.615X*
National Religious Party160,7879.212X
Agudat Israel58,6523.34X**
Flatto Sharon35,0492.01#
Maḥaneh Sheli27,2811.62
One minority list associated with the Alignment24,1851.41
Po'alei Agudat Israel23,5711.31
Civil Rights Movement20,6211.21
Independent Liberals20,3841.21

The elections to the Ninth Knesset produced what came to be known as the mahapakh or "big upset." The Alignment lost 19 seats and was now left with 32, while the Likud gained four and went up to 43. Most of the remainder of the former Alignment votes went to the dmc, which obtained 15 seats. Soon after the election Moshe Dayan left the Alignment to join the new government formed by Menaḥem Begin and remained in the Knesset for a time as an independent mk. Shlomzion, a party formed by Sharon just before the elections against the background of disagreements within the Likud, gained two seats, and soon joined the Likud.

The main reasons for Labor's defeat were a late reaction to the Yom Kippur War; a general feeling that the movement had been in power for too long, and was both no longer in touch with popular feelings and showing clear signs of corruption; a full-scale revolt by the movement's former Sephardi voters – many of them of the second generation of immigrants from the Muslim countries; and growing dissatisfaction with Labor's economic policy, with the central role played by the state and the Histadrut. However, until after the elections to the Tenth Knesset in 1981, many Labor leaders were inclined to see the defeat as a mishap, or temporary setback – not a change in political trends.

Other noteworthy election results were the gains of Ḥadash, which received five seats. Ḥadash, formed in the course of the Eighth Knesset, was now made up of the Communist Party and the colorful Charlie Bitton of the Black Panther movement, who had held talks with several of the Zionist parties before deciding to opt for Ḥadash. Flatto Sharon, a Polish Jewish businessmen and fugitive from French justice, won enough votes for two seats, but did not have a second member on his list. Later on Sharon was to stand trial on charges of having bribed voters.

While the dmc's electoral success was impressive, the new party's main success was in significantly weakening the Alignment. However, the Likud, under Menaḥem Begin, managed to rally a coalition of 61 mks, even before the dmc decided to join the government, and within a year the new party broke up into a number of parliamentary groups and individual mks, while two of its mks joined the Alignment.

The Ninth Knesset elected Yitzhak *Shamir from the Likud as its speaker, and afterwards when he was appointed minister for foreign affairs, Yiẓḥak Berman. The Knesset also elected Yitzhak *Navon of the Labor Party as president of the state.

It took Begin just over a month to form his government. This was to be a new government in more senses than one. It was the first government without any of the labor parties, even though Moshe Dayan, as an individual, agreed to assume the post of minister for foreign affairs. Most of the ministers had never held ministerial posts, despite the brief participation of Gaḥal in the National Unity Government of 1967–70. Simḥah *Ehrlich, of the Liberal branch of the Likud, became minister of finance and embarked on a policy of liberalization. The two religious parties in the coalition – the nrp and Agudat Israel – which gave Begin his parliamentary majority without the dmc, were also able to bring about changes in the famous "religious status quo," through the introduction of amendments in the Anatomy and Pathology Law, the Abortion Law, and the regulations relating to the service of women in the idf. Agudat Israel refused ministerial posts in the government, but received the chairmanships of two important Knesset committees: Finance and Labor, and Welfare.

Paradoxically, it was this government that was to sign the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab state. Though the first steps towards a rapprochement with Egypt had been taken by the Rabin government, it was the Begin government that hosted Egyptian President Anwar *Sadat, who delivered a speech in the Knesset on November 20, 1977. Dayan and Ezer Weizman, who became minister of defense in the new government, played a central role, together with Begin, in first attaining

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime MinisterMenaḥem Begin (Likud)
Deputy PMSimḥah Ehrlich (Likud)
Yigael Yadin (DMC) (from 10.24.77)
AgricultureAriel Sharon (Likud)
Commerce & Industry and TourismYigael Hurwitz (Likud) (until 10.1.78)
Gideon Pat (Likud) (from 1.15.79)
CommunicationsMenaḥem Begin (Likud) (until 10.24.77) (with Transportation)
Meir Amit (DMC) (until 9.15.78) (with Transportation)
Yitzḥak Modai (Likud) (from 1.15.79 until 12.22.80)
Yoram Aridor (Likud) (from 1.5.81) (with Finance)
Construction & HousingGideon Pat (Likud) (until 1.15.79)
David Levy (Likud) (from 1.15.79)
DefenseEzer Weizman (Likud) (until 5.26.80)
Menaḥem Begin (Likud) (from 1.28.80)
Education, Culture & SportZevulun Hammer (NRP)
Energy & InfrastructuresYitzhak Modai (Likud)
FinanceSimḥah Ehrlich (Likud) (until 11.7.79)
Yigael Hurwitz (Likud) (until 1.13.81)
Yoram Aridor (Likud) (from 1.21.81) (with Communications)
Foreign AffairsMoshe Dayan (Single MK) (until 10.23.79)
Menaḥem Begin (Likud) (until 3.10.80)
Yitzhak Shamir (Likud) (from 3.10.80)
HealthEliezer Shostak (Likud)
Immigrant AbsorptionDavid Levy (Likud)
Interior and PoliceJoseph Burg (NRP)
JusticeMenaḥem Begin (Likud) (until 10.24.77)
Shmuel Tamir (DMC) (until 8.5.80)
Moshe Nissim (Likud) (from 8.13.80)
Labor and WelfareMenaḥem Begin (Likud) (until 10.24.77)
Israel Katz (not an MK) (from 10.24.77)
Religious AffairsAharon Abuhaẓeira (NRP)
Transportation Communications)Menaḥem Begin (Likud) (until 10.24.77) (with
Meir Amit (DMC) (until 9.15.78) (with Communications)
Ḥayyim Landau (Likud) (not an MK) (from 1.15.79)
Without PortfolioḤayyim Landau (Likud) (not an MK) (from 1.10.78 until 1.15.79)
Without PortfolioMoshe Nissim (Likud) (from 1.10.78 until 8.13.80)

the Camp David Accords of September 1978 and then the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of March 1979.

The Peace Treaty with Egypt, which was based on a complete withdrawal of Israel from the Sinai Peninsula, was not accepted by some Likud members, but was approved by the Knesset with a large majority, due to the support of the Alignment. However, the signing of the treaty led to the departure of two members from the Likud – Geulah *Cohen and Moshe *Shamir – who formed a new parliamentary group, Teḥiyyah-Banai, to the right of the Likud.

While the new government pushed forward the achievement of peace in the south, it also engaged in a military operation in the north – the Litani Operation of March 1978, led by Chief of Staff Mordechai (Motta) *Gur – the goal of which was to hit the Palestinian terrorist organizations that had gained a controlling foothold in Southern Lebanon. The Litani Operation was in reaction to a terrorist attack along Israel's coastal road carried out by Palestinians who had come from Lebanon.

As minister of agriculture, Ariel Sharon played a major role in promoting Jewish settlement in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip. A permanent settlement was set up at Elon Moreh, Bet Hadassah in Hebron was occupied, and the number of Jews in the territories rose to around 8,300. The polarization of Israeli society against this background started to manifest itself, with the Peace Now movement being established in 1978 and the so-called "Jewish Underground" in 1980.

Despite its promising beginning, Begin's coalition proved to be extremely unstable. After the dmc fell apart, some of its former members, including Minister of Justice Shmuel Tamir, left the government. Dayan and Weizman also left the government, because of their dissatisfaction with the lack of progress in the negotiations for the establishment of autonomy for the Palestinians, which had been included in the Camp David Accords. Dayan was replaced in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs by Yitzhak Shamir, while Begin replaced Weizman. Changes also took place in the Ministry of Finance, when a massive deterioration in Israel's balance of payments and rising inflation forced Ehrlich to resign. After his resignation Yigael Hurwitz became Minister of Finance, with a declared economic policy of "not a penny to spare." Hurwitz then resigned when his policy did not gain the government's support, and he was replaced by Yoram Aridor, who embarked on what could be called election economics. These were just a few of the changes that took place in the government. By December 1980 the government's majority in the Knesset had shrunk from 76 to 63.

In the Labor Party, in 1979 Yigal Allon decided to challenge Shimon Peres' leadership. However, Allon passed away suddenly in February 1980, and the challenge to Peres' leadership reverted to Yitzhak Rabin, who in 1979 had published a book in which he referred to Peres as a "tireless schemer." The contest, which took place in December 1980, ended with Rabin suffering a bitter 71–29 defeat, and Peres being reconfirmed as the party's chairman and candidate for prime minister.

In the course of the Ninth Knesset an unprecedented number of new parliamentary groups was formed, and of mks changing their allegiance – some as many as three times.

Early in 1981 the Knesset voted to hold early elections on June 30. The election campaign was accompanied by a good deal of verbal and physical violence. In addition to Minister of Finance Aridor's raising salaries and keeping prices down by lowering customs duties, the decision to bomb the Iraqi nuclear reactor Osiraq, a month before the elections, was also viewed as an election ploy.

The Tenth Knesset, 1981–1984

The elections to the Tenth Knesset were held on June 30, 1981, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 20 days later, on July 20, 1981.

Valid votes cast1,937,366
Qualifying threshold (1%)19,373
Votes per seat15,312
Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 19th Gov't. 20th Gov't.
* Did not hold a ministerial post.
** Joined the coalition on July 26, 1982.
National Religious Party95,2324.96XX
Agudat Israel72,3123.74X*X*
Civil Rights Movement27,9211.41

Despite the fact that the opinion polls had predicted that the Alignment would be victorious in the elections to the Tenth Knesset, the Likud emerged from the elections as the largest parliamentary group with 48 seats to the Alignment's 47. The Alignment had hoped for an upset vistory of its own but it failed to materialize. Since the results were close, one may assume that what finally made the difference were the successful attack on Iraq and Aridor's election economics, but the Alignment had begun to realize that the results of the elections to the Ninth Knesset were not simply a temporary setback. For the sake of parliamentary convenience, Shulamit Aloni, with the crm's single seat – down from three – joined the Alignment for the duration of the Tenth Knesset.

Four new lists – Shinui, Telem, Teḥiyyah, and Tami – entered the Knesset. All four lists were formed by members of the Knesset who had broken away from other parliamentary groups in the course of the Ninth Knesset. Shinui, led by Prof. Amnon *Rubinstein, was the only parliamentary group that had broken away from Dash and survived, receiving two seats. Telem, headed by Moshe Dayan, who had left the Alignment soon after the previous election, also received two seats. Dayan was to pass away soon after the elections. Teḥiyyah, led by Geula Cohen, who had broken away from the Likud, fared better with three seats, as did Tami, an ethnic party formed by Aharon Abuhaẓeira, who had broken away from the nrp after being acquitted of criminal charges that had been leveled against him in 1980. Abuhazeira felt that his former colleagues – predominantly Ashkenazi – had not stood by him because of his Moroccan ethnic origin.

The nrp, which had always received 10–12 Knesset seats, now fell to six. It lost some of its Sephardi voters to Tami, while Teḥiyyah gained some of its right-wing voters.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime MinisterMenaḥem Begin (Likud)
Deputy PMSimḥah Ehrlich (Likud) (d. 6.19.83)
Deputy PMDavid Levy (Likud) (from 11.3.81)
AgricultureSimḥah Ehrlich (Likud) (d. 6.19.83)
Menaḥem Begin (Likud) (from 6.19.83)
CommunicationsMordekhai Ẓippori (Likud)
Construction & HousingDavid Levy (Likud)
DefenseAriel Sharon (Likud) (until 2.14.83)
Moshe Arens (Likud) (not an MK) (from 2.23.83)
Education, Culture & SportZevulun Hammer (NRP)
Energy & InfrastructuresYiẓḥak Berman (Likud) (until 9.30.82)
Yitzhak Modai (Likud) (from 10.19.82)
FinanceYoram Aridor (Likud)
Foreign AffairsYitzhak Shamir (Likud)
HealthEliezer Shostak (Likud)
Industry & TradeGideon Pat (Likud)
Interior and Religious AffairsJoseph Burg (NRP)
JusticeMoshe Nissim (Likud) (from 8.13.80)
Labor and Welfare and Immigrant AbsorptionAharon Abuhaẓeira (Tami) (until 5.4.82)
Aharon Uzan (Tami) (from 5.4.82)
Science & DevelopmentYuval Ne'eman (Teḥiyyah) (from 7.26.82)
TourismGideon Pat (Likud) (until 8.11.81)
Avraham Sharir (Likud) (from 8.11.81)
TransportationḤayyim Korfu (Likud)
Without PortfolioMordekhai Ben-Porat (Telem) (from 7.5.82)
Without PortfolioSarah Doron (Likud) (until 10.19.82)
Without PortfolioYitzhak Modai (Likud) (until 10.19.82)
Without PortfolioAriel Sharon (Likud) (from 2.14.83)

The Tenth Knesset elected Menaḥem Savidor of the Likud as its speaker. It was also to elect Chaim *Herzog of the Labor Party as president of the state.

It took Begin three weeks to form his new government. In many respects it resembled the makeup of his previous government at the end of its term of office, with one significant change: Ariel Sharon was appointed minister of defense, despite some misgivings on Begin's part. Of the new parties Tami and Telem joined the coalition when it was formed, while Teḥiyyah joined in July 1982. A novelty in this government was the large number of deputy ministers, whose number now reached 11. This was to become a regular feature in Israel's governments, which were to become increasingly large, thus leaving fewer of the Knesset's 120 members to perform parliamentary work.

The new government followed its predecessor in making major concessions to the religious parties in the sphere of religious legislation, such as an amendment to the Law of Return on the issue of Who is a Jew, the suspension of El Al flights, and drastic limitations on the granting of work permits on the Sabbath and religious holidays, increased funding for yeshivot and religious institutions, and amendments to the laws dealing with kashrut. Efforts by the new government to bring about administrative changes in the ministries met with labor unrest and sanctions. Whereas during the first Likud-led government few personnel changes were made in the civil service, now there were many new political appointments – a sign that the Likud had gained confidence as a ruling party.

In the political sphere, the new government remained committed to the peace treaty with Egypt, and Sharon – one of the architects of Jewish settlement in the territories occupied in the course of the Six-Day War – oversaw the dismantlement of the remaining Jewish settlement in the Sinai, including the town of *Yammit. In the course of the Tenth Knesset no progress was made regarding autonomy for the Palestinians, as agreed in the Camp David Accords. However, a new experiment was made, led by the head of the Civil Administration in the territories, Menaḥem Milson, to create an alternative leadership to the plo, in the form of the village leagues. Settlement activities in Judea and Samaria continued with vigor, and at the end of 1981 the Knesset passed a law to extend Israeli law to the Golan Heights. Seven Alignment mks voted in favor of the new law.

Half a year later, in June 1982, Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon convinced the government to invade Southern Lebanon in order to oust the plo, which had created bases there from which it attacked Israel, though the official pretext for what was called "Operation Peace for Galilee" was the attempted assassination of the Israeli ambassador to London, Shlomo Argov.

In its first stage, as long as the operation was limited to a 25-mile (40 km) strip in Southern Lebanon, there was broad Israeli consensus in favor of its goals. However, Sharon was determined to continue advancing, and went on to capture most of the Lebanese capital of Beirut and other strategic positions. A debate was later to develop as to whether Sharon had duped Begin into approving his more ambitious plans, which included the installation of a government in Lebanon that would be friendly to Israel and which would sign a peace treaty with it. However, the massacre by members of the Lebanese Christian Phalange in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in September 1982 following the assassination of newly elected Lebanese President Bashir Jumayyil resulted in a major public outcry in Israel. A mass demonstration, reportedly attended by 400,000 in Tel Aviv, which was organized by the *Peace Now movement and supported by the Alignment, the crm, and Shinui, called for Sharon's resignation and was followed by the appointment of a National Commission of Inquiry headed by Supreme Court Justice Yizhak Cohen, to investigate the responsibility for the massacre. The Commission exonerated the army from direct responsibility for the massacre, but found that Sharon had not acted to prevent it, and called for his resignation. In a Peace Now demonstration calling for the implementation of the Commission's recommendations, a hand grenade was thrown into the crowd by a right winger, killing one of the demonstrators and wounding several, including future member of the Knesset Avraham *Burg.

Sharon resigned from the Ministry of Defense in the middle of February 1983 and was replaced by Moshe Arens, an aeronautics engineer who was not a member of the Knesset. Six months later Begin resigned. The reasons for the resignation were his beloved wife's death, failing health, and distress over developments in the war in Lebanon, especially the large number of Israeli casualties.

Surprisingly, Begin's resignation, after nearly 40 years of leading the iẒl, the Ḥerut Movement, Gaḥal, and the Likud, was not followed by a power struggle in the Likud, and Yitzhak Shamir – a former leader of Leḥi (*Loḥamei Ḥerut Israel) and of Begin's generation – was accepted by all the groups within the Likud as the heir apparent, despite his much more subdued and passive political style.

The government that Shamir formed in October 1983 was almost identical to Begin's second government.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and Foreign AffairsYitzhak Shamir (Likud)
Deputy PM and Construction & HousingDavid Levy (Likud)
AgriculturePessaḥ Grupper (Likud)
CommunicationsMordekhai Ẓippori (Likud)
DefenseMoshe Arens (Likud) (not an MK)
Education, Culture & SportZevulun Hammer (NRP)
Energy & InfrastructuresYitzhak Modai (Likud)
FinanceYoram Aridor (Likud) (until 10.15.83)
Yigal Cohen Orgad (Likud) (from 10.18.83)
HealthEliezer Shostak (Likud)
Industry & TradeGideon Pat (Likud)
Interior and Religious AffairsJoseph Burg (NRP)
JusticeMoshe Nissim (Likud)
Labor and Welfare and Immigrant AbsorptionAharon Uzan (Tami)
Science & DevelopmentYuval Ne' man (Teḥiyyah)
TourismAvraham Sharir (Likud)
TransportationḤayyim Korfu (Likud)
Without PortfolioMordekhai Ben-Porat (Movement for Social Renewal) (until 1.31.84)
Without PortfolioSarah Doron (Likud)
Without PortfolioAriel Sharon (Likud)

The new government had to contend with the complications of the war in Lebanon, growing hostility abroad, growing dissension at home, the collapse of the shares of all Israeli banks except the First International Bank, and a deteriorating economic situation, with an inflation rate that reached three-digit figures. To save the banks from insolvency, the state became their de facto owner – a strange twist of events for a government that advocated a free economy and privatization. To deal with the mounting inflation, Minister of Finance Yoram Aridor came up with a "dollarization" plan that would turn the U.S. dollar into the official currency of Israel, and this because, due to the hyperinflation, most prices in Israel were in any case being quoted in dollars. However, the plan was generally received with ridicule, Aridor was forced to resign and was replaced by Yigal Cohen Orgad.

Two major economic projects (ex post facto, both found to be beyond Israel's economic means) were launched in the course of the Tenth Knesset: the Mediterranean-Dead Sea Canal for the generation of electricity and desalination and the Lavi fighter plane. It was also at this time that members of the extreme right "Jewish Underground," led by Yehudah Etzion, which had planned terrorist attacks against Arabs and the blowing up of the mosques on the Temple Mount, were apprehended, and the No. 300 bus affair, in which the General Security Service was responsible for killing two Palestinian terrorists after they had been caught, took place. The latter two events had significant, long-term political implications.

The Eleventh Knesset, 1984–88

The elections to the Eleventh Knesset were held on July 21, 1984, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 23 days later, on August 13, 1984.

Valid votes cast2,073,321
Qualifying threshold (1%)20,733
Votes per seat16,786

Tami joined the Likud in August 1988 and Ometz joined the Likud in September 1988.

Even though the Alignment emerged from the election with a larger number of seats than the Likud – 44–41 – neither side could muster a majority to establish a government without the other. The result was a decision to establish a National Unity Government, with the novel idea that in the first two years Shimon Peres would serve as prime minister, with Yitzhak Shamir as vice premier and foreign minister, and in the following two years they would switch places. It took the two parties 54 days to reach an agreement on all the details of this unique coalition scheme, with the idea of rotation of the premiership at its center. Sharon was appointed minister of industry and trade, from which position he continued to encourage Jewish settlement in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip.

Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 21st Govt 22d Govt
* Mapam left the Alignment and formed its own parliamentary group in opposition, and Yossi *Sarid left the Labor Party and joined the CRM in opposition, so that soon after the elections the Alignment was left with only 40 seats.
** Yaḥad joined the Alignment and ceased to exist as a separate parliamentary group.
*** Left the government on May 25, 1987.
National Religious Party73,5303.54XX
Civil Rights Movement49,6982.43
Progressive List for Peace38,0121.82
Agudat Israel36,0791.72
Morashah-Po'alei Agudat Israel33,2871.62X

The six members of Mapam, who opposed the idea of the National Unity Government, formally left the Alignment on October 22, 1984, and formed their own parliamentary group. On the same day mk Yossi Sarid also left the Labor Party to join the crm, which had received three seats, while Yaḥad – a party formed by Ezer Weizman after he had sat out the elections to the Tenth Knesset and which had also received three seats – formally joined the Alignment.

Of the 13 smaller lists that had entered the Knesset in addition to the Likud and the Alignment, six joined the coalition, in which the right-wing-religious bloc had a majority.

In this Knesset *Shas, the ḥaredi Sephardi Party whose spiritual leader was Rabbi Ovadiah *Yosef, was first elected to the Knesset. The party, which was supported by the spiritual leader of the "Litvak" ḥaredim, Rabbi Eliezer Menaḥem*Shach, was formed against the background of the dissatisfaction of the Sephardi rabbis with the status of their followers in the Ashkenazi ḥaredi parties. The appearance of Shas halved the strength of Agudat Israel from four to two members.

Two other religious parties elected to the Eleventh Knesset were Morashah-Po'alei Agudat Israel with two seats and the extreme right wing party of Rabbi Meir *Kahane – Kach – which won one seat. Kach had failed to pass the qualifying threshold in the two previous elections, and in the course of the Eleventh Knesset legislation was passed which would exclude Kahane – who advocated a transfer of the Arabs from Israel and proposed several racist bills that the Knesset Presidium refused to place on the Knesset agenda – from running in future elections. At the other end of the political spectrum, a new radical Arab-Jewish party – the Progressive List for Peace – received two seats. Its two representatives were Mohammed Mi'ari, who back in 1964 had been a member of the El Ard movement, which was banned from participating in the elections to the Sixth Knesset, and reserve Major General Matityahu (Matti) Peled, who had been one of the Israeli personalities to hold talks with representatives of the plo in the course of the late 1970s.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime MinisterShimon Peres (Alignment)
Vice Premier and Foreign AffairsYitzhak Shamir (Likud)
Deputy PM and Construction & HousingDavid Levy (Likud)
Deputy PM and Education & CultureYitzhak Navon (Alignment)
AgricultureArie Nehamkin (Alignment)
CommunicationsAmnon Rubinstein (Shinui)
DefenseYitzhak Rabin (Alignment)
Economics & Inter-Ministerial Coordination (changed name to Economics and Planning)Gad Yaacobi (Alignment)
Energy & InfrastructuresMoshe Shahal (Alignment)
FinanceYitzhak Modai (Likud) (until 4.16.86)
Moshe Nissim (Likud) (from 4.16.86)
Foreign AffairsYitzhak Shamir (Likud)
HealthMordechai Gur (Alignment)
Immigrant AbsorptionYa'akov Tzur (Alignment)
Industry and TradeAriel Sharon (Likud)
InteriorShimon Peres (Alignment) (until 12.24.84)
Yiẓḥak Ḥayyim Peretz (Shas) (from 12.24.84)
JusticeMoshe Nissim (Likud) (until 4.16.86)
Yitzhak Modai (Likud) (from 4.16.86 until 7.23.86)
Avraham Sharir (Likud) (from 7.30.86)
Labor & WelfareMoshe Katzav (Likud)
PoliceHaim Bar Lev (Alignment)
Religious AffairsShimon Peres (Alignment) (until 12.23.84)
Joseph Burg (NRP) (from 12.23.84 until 10.5.86)
Zevulun Hammer (NRP) (from 10.7.86)
Science & DevelopmentGideon Pat (Likud)
TourismAvraham Sharir (Likud)
TransportationḤayyim Korfu (Likud)
Without PortfolioMoshe Arens (Likud)
Without PortfolioJoseph Burg (until 12.23.84)
Without PortfolioYigael Hurwitz (Ometz)
Without PortfolioYiẓḥak Ḥayyim Peretz (Shas) (until 12.18.84)
Without PortfolioYosef Shapira (not an MK)
Without PortfolioEzer Weizman (Alignment)

The Eleventh Knesset elected Shlomo Hillel from the Alignment, as its speaker. Despite the fact that 15 parties were elected to the new Knesset, the work of the Knesset ran relatively smoothly, as the government enjoyed the support of over 95 mks. However, the vast size of the coalition damaged the democratic fabric of the Knesset, and its Rules of Procedure had to be amended to enable the opposition, which numbered fewer than the mandatory 30 members required to call a special session during the recess, to function properly.

One of the first decisions of the government was for a three-stage withdrawal of the idf from Lebanon. This decision, taken in January 1985, was only made possible because Likud Deputy Prime Minister and Construction and Housing Minister David *Levy voted on this issue with the Alignment. Due to the inability to reach an agreement with Lebanon, and its patron Syria, guaranteeing that it would maintain quiet along Israel's border, Israel decided to remain in a security zone in Southern Lebanon and support the local Christian militia known as the South Lebanese Army (sla). Israel was to remain in Southern Lebanon for another 15 years.

Another urgent issue dealt with by the National Unity Government was the economic crisis that had led to a three-digit rate of inflation. The Economic Stabilization Plan, prepared by Minister of Finance Yitzhak *Modai with the full support of the prime minister, which inter alia involved extremely high interest rates, managed to contain the inflation, but at the cost of a sharp rise in unemployment and a serious financial crisis that was a deadly blow to many private and public companies, including the Histadrut-owned holding company Koor, small private businesses, and kibbutzim, moshavim, and many private farms.

In response to a proposal by the Knesset State Control Committee, the government also appointed a National Inquiry Commission, chaired by Supreme Court Justice Moshe Bejski, to investigate the crash of the bank share market that had occurred during the term of the previous government. The Commission published its very grave conclusions in April 1986, and the government set up a ministerial committee to deliberate its recommendations.

Even though Modai's economic policy was generally considered very successful, his sharp tongue caused a falling out with Peres and several other ministers, and on April 16, 1986, he was forced to switch places with Minister of Justice Moshe Nissim. Before finally being forced to resign from the government in July, after once again falling out with Peres, Modai dealt with the gss affair (Bus No. 300) that had taken place during the term of the previous Knesset (see above).

The *Pollard Affair hit the headlines in November 1985, when Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish U.S. naval intelligence employee, was caught spying for Israel. The Israeli Embassy in Washington, d.c., refused to give Pollard sanctuary, even though it had been Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir's adviser on terror who had taken Pollard on when Shamir was prime minister. The government washed its hands of the affair, and cooperated with the U.S. in its investigation, much to the chagrin of several members of the Knesset.

Two months before the rotation, following a deal between the Alignment and the Likud, two significant amendments were passed by the Knesset to the Penal Law and to the Order for the Prevention of Terror. The first made racial incitement a criminal offense, while the second prohibited unauthorized meetings by Israeli citizens with representatives of terrorist organizations.

Despite misgivings on Peres' part, the rotation in the premiership took place as planned on October 20 and a new government was formed, with only minor personal changes.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime MinisterYitzhak Shamir (Likud)
Vice Premier and Foreign AffairsShimon Peres (Alignment)
Deputy PM and Construction & HousingDavid Levy (Likud)
Deputy PM and Education & CultureYitzhak Navon (Alignment)
AgricultureArie Nehamkin (Alignment)
CommunicationsAmnon Rubinstein (Shinui) (until 5.26.87)
Gad Ya'akobi (Alignment) (from 6.9.87)
DefenseYitzhak Rabin (Alignment)
Economics and PlanningGad Ya'akobi (Alignment)
Energy & InfrastructuresMoshe Shaḥal (Alignment)
FinanceMoshe Nissim (Likud)
Foreign AffairsYitzhak Shamir (Likud)
HealthShoshana Arbeli Almoslino (Alignment)
Immigrant AbsorptionYa'akov Tzur (Alignment)
Industry and TradeAriel Sharon (Likud)
InteriorYiẓḥak Ḥayyim Peretz (Shas) (until 1.6.87)
Yitzhak Shamir (Likud) (from 1.6.87)
JusticeAvraham Sharir (Likud)
Labor & WelfareMoshe Katzav (Likud)
PoliceHaim Bar-Lev (Alignment)
Religious AffairsZevulun Hammer (NRP) (from 10.7.86)
Science & DevelopmentGideon Pat (Likud)
TourismAvraham Sharir (Likud)
TransportationḤayyim Korfu (Likud)
Without PortfolioMoshe Arens (Likud) (until 9.4.87 from 4.18.88)
Without PortfolioMordechai Gur (from 4.18.88)
Without PortfolioYigael Hurwitz (Ometz)
Without PortfolioYitzhak Modai (Likud)
Without PortfolioYiẓḥak Ḥayyim Peretz (Shas) (from 5.25.87)
Without PortfolioYosef Shapira (not an MK)
Without PortfolioEzer Weizman (Alignment)

Soon after Shamir became prime minister, the controversy with Egypt over the fate of Taba, just south of Eilat, was handed over to international arbitration, despite objections in the Likud. The arbitrators decided, just before the elections to the Twelfth Knesset, that Taba belonged to Egypt.

On April 11, 1987, Peres, as foreign minister, reached a secret agreement in London with King Hussein of Jordan for the holding of a peace conference, with the goal of reaching a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and its neighbors and resolving all aspects of the Palestinian problem. However, when the agreement, of which Peres had not informed Shamir in advance, was brought to the 10-member cabinet (in which the Likud and the Alignment were equally represented) in the beginning of May, there was a tie vote and the agreement was not approved. Seven months later the Intifada broke out, which led to an "iron fist" policy by the idf, which was led by Minister of Defense Yitzhak Rabin. One of the consequences of the outbreak of the Intifada was the decision of Arab mk Abdel Wahab Darawshe, to leave the Labor Party and form his own parliamentary group – the Arab Democratic Party.

Several months before the elections to the Twelfth Knesset, the Ḥerut Movement and the Israel Liberal Party united into a single party called the Likud.

The Twelfth Knesset, 1988–92

The elections to the Twelfth Knesset were held on November 1, 1988, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 20 days later, on November 21, 1988.

Valid votes cast2,073,321
Qualifying threshold (1%)20,733
Votes per seat16,786
Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 23rd Govt 24th Govt
# Broke away from the Likud.
* Left the government on March 15, 1990.
** Left the government on Jan. 21, 1992.
*** Left the government on Dec. 31, 1991.
**** Joined the government on Feb. 5, 1991 and left it on Jan. 21, 1992.
Agudat Israel102,7144.55XX
Civil Rights Movement97,5134.35
National Religious Party89,7203.95XX
Degel ha-Torah34,2791.52XX
Progressive List for Peace33,2791.51
Arab Democratic Party27,0121.21
The Party for the Advancement of the Zionist Idea#000X

As in the case of the Eleventh Knesset, so in the Twelfth 15 lists were elected, and the steady decline in the number of members elected on the Likud and Alignment lists continued. A new right-wing party, Moledet, led by former Major General Rehavam *Ze'evi, which advocated voluntary transfer of the Arab population from Ereẓ Israel, emerged, gaining only two seats, but enjoying greater legitimacy than Kach owing to the makeup of its membership. The three Zionist parties left of the Alignment – the crm, Shinui, and Mapam (which ran on its own for the first time since the elections to the Sixth Knesset) – together gained 10 seats, and towards the end of the term of the Twelfth Knesset merged into a single parliamentary group, though for the time being the three parties continued to exist separately outside the Knesset. For the first time the ḥaredi "Litvaks" ran in the election as a separate list from Agudat Israel, on a list called Degel ha-Torah. Though the changes from the Eleventh Knesset did not seem too great, this time the right-wing-religious bloc was markedly stronger than the left-wing-Arab bloc.

The new Knesset elected Dov Shilansky from the Likud as its speaker.

It took Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir close to two months to form his new government. Even though he could have formed a right-wing-religious government, Shamir preferred to continue his coalition with the Alignment. Within the Alignment – now made up exclusively of the Labor Party – there were those who objected to entering a new National Unity Government under worse conditions than the two previous governments. One of those who fought against the entry into the government was the secretary general of the party, Uzi Baram, who before the elections had tried to get former President Yitzhak *Navon elected as Labor's leader in place of Peres. But the majority decided in favor of joining the government. While Yitzhak Rabin continued to hold the Ministry of Defense, Peres now assumed the thankless task of minister of finance. Ariel Sharon was once again appointed minister of industry and trade.

As the Intifada continued, and became increasingly more violent and vicious, the United States showed renewed interest in actively trying to find a settlement to the Palestinian problem, indicating that the plo could be a party to such a settlement if it were to agree to recognize Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and depart from the path of terror. On May 14, 1989, the Israeli government, not willing to consider any dealings with the plo, came out with a peace initiative of its own. At the center of the plan was the opening of talks with Palestinians from the territories – not representatives of the plo – with the idea of the holding of elections there to choose leaders with whom Israel could negotiate an interim self-government plan. The idea of holding elections in the territories had originally been broached by Rabin before the elections, and the fact that it was adopted by the Likud and the Alignment together was seen as a positive development.

However, soon opposition to the plan emerged within the Likud, led by Sharon, David Levy, and Yitzhak Modai.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime MinisterYitzhak Shamir (Likud)
Second to the Prime Minister and FinanceShimon Peres (Alignment) (until 3.15.90)
Deputy Prime Minister and Construction & HousingDavid Levy (Likud)
Deputy Prime Minister and Education & CultureYitzhak Navon (Alignment) (until 3.15.90)
AgricultureAvraham Katz Oz (Alignment) (until 3.15.90)
CommunicationsGad Ya'akobi (Alignment) (until 3.15.90)
DefenseYitzhak Rabin (Alignment) (until 3.15.90)
Economics and PlanningYitzhak Modai (Likud, after 3.15.90 the Party for the Advancement of the Zionist Idea)
Energy & InfrastructuresMoshe Shaḥal (Alignment) (until 3.15.90)
EnvironmentRoni Milo (Likud) (until 3.7.90)
Rafael Edri (Alignment) (until 3.15.90)
Foreign AffairsMoshe Arens (Likud)
HealthYa'akov Tzur (Alignment) (until 3.15.90)
Immigrant AbsorptionYiẓḥak Ḥayyim Peretz (Shas)
Industry and TradeAriel Sharon (Likud) (until 2.20.90)
Moshe Nissim (Likud) (from 3.7.90)
InteriorAryeh Deri (Shas) (not an MK)
JusticeDan Meridor (Likud)
Labor & WelfareYitzhak Shamir (Likud) (until 3.7.90)
Roni Milo (Likud) (from 3.7.90)
PoliceHaim Bar-Lev (Alignment) (until 3.15.90)
Religious AffairsZevulun Hammer (NRP) (from 12.27.88)
Science & DevelopmentEzer Weizman (Alignment) (until 3.15.90)
TourismGideon Pat (Likud)
TransportationMoshe Katzav (Likud)
Without PortfolioEhud Olmert (Likud)
Without PortfolioMordechai Gur (until 3.15.90)
Without PortfolioRafael Edri (Alignment) (until 3.7.90)
Without PortfolioMoshe Nissim (Likud) (until 3.7.90)
Without PortfolioAvner Ḥai Shaki (NRP) (from 12.27.88)
Without PortfolioDavid Magen (Likud) (from 3.7.90)

As practical steps were taken by the new Bush Administration and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to implement the plan, major differences of opinion appeared between the two main coalition partners, with Labor warmly supporting Baker's five points and Mubarak's ten points while the Likud hemmed and hawed.

Led to believe by Shas that it would support an alternative government to the one led by Shamir, Peres embarked on what Rabin was later to term "the stinking ploy." The Labor ministers all resigned from the government on March 13, 1990, the resignation going into effect on March 15, when a vote on a motion of no confidence in the government was brought to the Knesset and passed thanks to the absence of five of the six Shas mks. This was the first and only time that a government in Israel was brought down by a vote of no confidence. Peres was then summoned by the president to form a new government, but in the end he failed. A new right-wing-religious government was finally formed by Shamir in the middle of June, not before some extreme cases of individual mks switching sides in return for promises of office or other emoluments.

On March 15, 1990, the day of the vote of no confidence, five members of the Likud – all former members of the Liberal Party – broke away from the Likud to form a new parliamentary group called the Party for the Advancement of the Zionist Idea. In Shamir's new government, formed on June 11, 1990, Modai, the leader of the new group, was appointed minister of finance, but not before demanding a scandalous financial guarantee that Shamir would stick to his agreement with him.

At first two of the parties to the right of the Likud – Teḥiyyah and Tzomet – joined the new government, and in the beginning of February 1991, Moledet joined as well, despite opposition by several Likud mks, including Menaḥem Begin's son, Ze'ev Binyamin *Begin, who felt that the policies advocated by Ze'evi with regard to the Arabs were unacceptable.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and Environment and Jerusalem Affairs and Labor & WelfareYitzhak Shamir (Likud)
Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign AffairsDavid Levy (Likud)
Deputy Prime Minister and Industry & TradeMoshe Nissim (Likud)
AgricultureRafael Eitan (Tzomet) (until 12.31.91)
CommunicationsRafael Pinḥasi (Shas)
Construction and HousingAriel Sharon (Likud)
DefenseMoshe Arens (Likud)
Economics and PlanningDavid Magen (Likud)
Education Culture & SportZevulun Hammer (NRP)
Energy & Infrastructures and Science & TechnologyYuval Ne'eman (Teḥiyyah (not an MK) (until 1.21.92)
FinanceYitzhak Modai (Party for the Advancement of the Zionist Idea; after 3.3.92 the New Liberal Party)
HealthEhud Olmert (Likud)
Immigrant AbsorptionYiẓḥak Ḥayyim Peretz (Shas)
Industry and TradeMoshe Nissim (Likud)
InteriorAryeh Deri (Shas) (not an MK)
JusticeDan Meridor (Likud)
PoliceRoni Milo (Likud)
Religious AffairsAvner Ḥai Shaki (NRP)
TourismGideon Pat (Likud)
TransportationMoshe Katzav (Likud)
Without PortfolioRehavam Ze'evi (Moledet) (from 2.5.91 to 1.21.92)

One of the issues that the new government had to deal with soon after it was formed was the flood of immigrants that started to arrive from the former Soviet Union. The main problem faced by the government was housing, which was the responsibility of Ariel Sharon, who was appointed minister of construction and housing in the new government. A new concept of "direct absorption" was introduced in an attempt to do away with some of the bureaucracy associated with immigrant absorption. Another major immigration feat directed by the new government was "Operation Solomon," which took place on May 24, 1991, and involved flying 15,000 Ethiopian Jews directly from Addis Ababa to Israel in a single day.

The new government strongly promoted a policy of further economic liberalization and privatization, and one of its notable achievements was ending the monopoly on radio and television broadcasts of the Israel Broadcasting Association.

Following the Gulf War, in which, at the behest of the U.S., Israel remained passive, even though it had suffered at least 40 direct hits by Iraqi scud missiles, the peace process was given a new impetus and changed course, with the Madrid Conference at its center.

The Conference convened in the Spanish capital at the end of October 1991 and was followed by bilateral talks between Israel and its neighbors, as well as multilateral talks on specific issues. Israel conditioned its participation on the Palestinians not being represented by the plo but by representatives of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who formed part of a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Though all the other delegations to the Conference were headed by foreign ministers, Israel's delegation was headed by Prime Minister Shamir, who refused to commit Israel to any territorial concessions or to discuss the establishment of a Palestinian state. All Israel was willing to discuss was an autonomy plan for the Palestinians. Israel's most eloquent spokesman at the Conference was the deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Office, Binyamin *Netanyahu, who had been elected to the Twelfth Knesset on the Likud list after a successful term as Israeli ambassador to the un.

Following Israel's policy of constraint in the course of the Gulf War, and the Madrid Conference, a significant improvement occurred in Israel's international status, with numerous states reestablishing diplomatic relations with it, or – like China and India – establishing relations with Israel for the first time. The 45-year Arab boycott (which had been declared by the Arab League in 1946) was also implemented now less rigorously, and the U.S. involvement in the peace process intensified. However, towards the end of this period the tension between Israel and the U.S. grew against the background of Washington's making a grant of $10 billion worth of American loan guarantees for the absorption of immigrants conditional on Israel's stopping all settlement activities in the territories.

Despite the impressive achievements of the government in the foreign arena, Shamir's government faltered as a result of the opposition of the three right-wing parties – Tzomet, Teḥiyyah, and Moledet – to the Madrid process. All three left the government in the course of December 1991 and January 1992.

In the last few months of its existence, the Knesset passed several important pieces of legislation. In March 1992 the Knesset passed two Basic Laws dealing with civil rights – Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation and Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom. Other important legislation addressed the problem of members of the Knesset who for personal political gain deserted their parties and changed sides, and the problem of political instability, both of which led to growing public cynicism and disaffection with the political system. The latter problem was addressed by means of a new version of Basic Law: the Government, which introduced the system of the direct election of the prime minister. The new law, which was to go into effect only in the elections to the Fourteenth Knesset in 1996, had been introduced by four members of the Knesset from four different groups: Ariel Lynn of the Likud, David Libai of the Labor Party, Amnon *Rubinstein of Shinui, and Yehoash Tzidon of Tzomet.

One of the manifestations of the political instability and disaffection in this period was the increase in the number of petitions to the High Court of Justice – some of them presented by members of the Knesset – in connection with the work of the Knesset.

Left without a Knesset majority for his government after the departure of Tzomet, Teḥiyyah, and Moledet, Shamir called for early elections. Prior to the elections Yitzhak Rabin decided once again to contend for the Labor Party leadership, winning in primaries held for the first time in the Labor Party, with just over the mandatory 40 percent of the vote, over Peres, Ora Namir, and Yisrael Kessar. Primaries were also held in the Labor Party for its list to the Thirteenth Knesset.

The Thirteenth Knesset 1992–1996

The elections to the Thirteenth Knesset were held on June 23, 1992, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 20 days later, on July 13, 1992.

Valid votes cast2,616,841
Qualifying threshold (1.5%)39,253
Votes per seat20,715

In the elections to the Thirteenth Knesset, the Labor Party under the leadership of Rabin won an impressive victory, increasing its Knesset representation by 50 percent – from 30 to 44 seats. Meretz also managed to increase the number of its seats from 10 to 12, while the Likud suffered a bitter defeat, losing eight of the 40 seats it had held in the Twelfth Knesset. While some of the Likud votes undoubtedly went to Labor, some former Likud voters opted this time for Tzomet, which quadrupled its strength from two to eight seats. While the left made real gains in the election, the defeat of the right was, in fact, marginal, and it might well have won the election

Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 25th Govt 26th Govt
* Left the government on September 14, 1993.
** Broke away from Tzomet on Feb. 7, 1994 and joined the government on January 9, 1995.
# Supported the government from outside the coalition.
National Religious Party129,6635.06
Yahadut ha-Torah86,1673.34
Arab Democratic Party40,7881.62##

had it not lost several tens of thousands of votes cast for several right-wing splinter groups that did not pass the 1.5% qualifying threshold. The Ashkenazi ḥaredi Party, Yahadut ha-Torah, which was made up of Agudat Israel and Degel ha-Torah, lost three seats, while the Sephardi ḥaredi party, Shas, kept its strength at six.

It took Rabin three weeks to form a new coalition, and he was able to present his new government at the first meeting of the Thirteenth Knesset, in which Shevaḥ Weiss was elected speaker of the Knesset. The coalition was made up of Labor, Meretz, and Shas, which together commanded the support of 62 members of the Knesset and was supported by an additional five mks from Ḥadash and the Arab Democratic Party, who did not join the coalition, but reached an agreement with Labor.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime MinisterYitzhak Rabin (Labor) (assassinated on 11.4.95)
Second to the Prime Minister and Foreign AffairsShimon Peres (acting Prime Minister from 11.5.95)
Agriculture & Rural DevelopmentYa'acov Tzur (Labor) (not an MK)
CommunicationsMoshe Shaḥal (Labor) (until 6.7.93)
Shulamit Aloni (Meretz) (from 6.7.93)
Construction & HousingBinyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor)
DefenseYitzhak Rabin (Labor) (assassinated on 11.4.95)
Shimon Peres (Labor) (acting from 11.5.95)
Economics and PlanningShimon Sheetrit (Labor) (until 6.18.95)
Yossi Beilin (Labor) (from 6.18.95)
Education & CultureShulamit Aloni (Meretz) (until 5.11.93)
Yitzhak Rabin (Labor) (until 6.7.93)
Amnon Rubinstein (Meretz) (from 6.7.93) (the Ministry changed its name to Education, Culture and Sport)
Energy & InfrastructuresAmnon Rubinstein (Meretz) (until 6.7.93)
Moshe Shaḥal (Labor) (until 1.9.95)
Gonen Segev (Yi'ud) (from 1.9.95)
EnvironmentOra Namir (Labor) (until 12.31.92)
Yossi Sarid (Meretz) (from 12.31.92)
FinanceAvraham Beiga Shoḥat (Labor)
HealthHaim Ramon (Labor) (until 2.8.94)
Yitzhak Rabin (Labor) (from 2.8.94 until 6.1.94)
Efraim Sneh (Labor) (from 6.1.94)
Immigrant AbsorptionYair Tsaban (Meretz)
Industry and TradeMicha Harish (Labor)
InteriorArie Deri (Shas) (until 5.11.93)
Yitzhak Rabin (Labor) (from 5.11.93 until 6.7.93)
Aryeh Deri (Shas) (from 6.7.93 until 9.14.93)
Yitzhak Rabin (Labor) (from 9.14.93 until 2.27.95)
Uzi Baram (Labor) (until 6.7.95)
David Libai (Labor) (until 7.18.95)
Ehud Barak (Labor) (from 7.18.95) (not an MK)
Jerusalem AffairsYitzhak Rabin (Labor) (until 12.31.92 when Ministry was canceled)
JusticeDavid Libai (Labor)
Labor & WelfareYitzhak Rabin (Labor) (until 12.31.92)
Ora Namir (Labor) (from 12.31.92)
PoliceMoshe Shaḥal (Labor)
Religious AffairsYitzhak Rabin (Labor) (until 2.27.95)
Shimon Sheetrit (Labor) (from 2.27.95)
Science & TechnologyAmnon Rubinstein (Meretz) (until 12.31.92)
Shimon Sheetrit (Labor) (until 6.7.93)
Shulamit Aloni (Meretz) (from 6.7.93) (Ministry changed name to Science and Arts on 8.1.93)
TourismUzi Baram (Labor)
TransportationYisrael Kessar (Labor)
Without PortfolioShulamit Aloni (Meretz) (from 5.11.93 until 6.7.93)
Without PortfolioAryeh Deri (Shas) (from 5.11.93 until 6.7.93)

In the economic sphere, the Labor-led government, with Avraham Beiga *Shoḥat as minister of finance, did not withdraw from the basically liberal policy of previous governments and affirmed the idea of privatization in principle. It should be noted that the most successful process of privatization had been carried out in the previous few years within the framework of the Histadrut-owned industrial conglomerate Koor by Benny *Gaon.

While Labor did not stop allocating funds to the Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, and to the yeshivot, it did pay greater attention to the development towns and the Arab sector. At the beginning of 1995 the government decided not to introduce a tax on stock market earnings, which Shohat had prepared. A watered-down version of this law was finally introduced in the course of the Fifteenth Knesset.

The first year of the coalition's existence was riddled with internal bickering between the ḥaredi Shas and the secular Meretz. One of the main foci of tension was Shas's objection to Shulamit Aloni's position as minister of education and culture, and some of her outspoken remarks that offended its leaders. A compromise was finally reached in June 1993, when Aloni was replaced in the Ministry of Education and Culture by Amnon Rubinstein, also from Meretz, while a new portfolio of Science, Arts and Communications was concocted for Aloni. The Ministry of Interior, originally given to Aryeh *Deri of Shas, saw numerous changes of minister – at first due to the Shas-Meretz imbroglio and later, after Shas had left the coalition, due to various internal Labor constraints.

A significant development in the course of the Thirteenth Knesset, which had both political and economic implications, was an upheaval in the Histadrut, which had been controlled by the Labor Party, and its predecessors, Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir and Mapai, since its establishment in 1920. Though the Histadrut started losing power in the 1980s, largely because of the financial difficulties of Koor, the kibbutzim, and the Kupat Ḥolim health fund, it was still considered one of the important power centers of the Labor Party. In the beginning of February 1994, Minister of Health Haim *Ramon resigned his position due to opposition in the Labor Party to his National Health Insurance Bill, which involved the separation of Kupat Ḥolim from the Histadrut. In April, perceiving the weakness of the official Labor candidate, Haim Haberfeld, for the position of secretary general of the Histadrut in the forthcoming elections, Ramon decided to run for the position, at the head of his own list. In the elections held on May 10, Ramon won an impressive victory. Even though he was temporarily suspended from the Labor Party, Ramon finally managed to get his National Health Insurance Law through the Knesset on June 15, 1994, and was eventually reinstated in the Labor Party.

Around the time that Ramon left the government, three members of Tzomet broke away from it to form Yi'ud, and in January 1995 one of the three, Gonen Segev, joined the government as minister of energy and infrastructure.

The first year of the Labor-led government did not seem to bode well for the peace process. In December 1992, the government decided to expel over 400 *Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists to Lebanon, and the Washington talks that followed the Madrid Conference came to a standstill. However, at first unknown to the Israeli public and even the American government, secret negotiations were held with plo representatives in Oslo. The Oslo process, which had begun as a private initiative, with the direct involvement of Deputy Minister of Finance Yossi *Beilin, finally became in May 1993 an official process, backed by both Prime Minister Rabin and his deputy and foreign minister, Shimon Peres. When news of the forthcoming agreement became known at the end of August 1993, the Israeli public was taken by surprise by the sudden willingness to recognize the plo and hand over to it control over Gaza and an area around Jericho in the first stage and the rest of the major Palestinian towns in the second stage. Nevertheless, at this stage there was no talk of the dismantling of settlements.

On September 13 Rabin and Yasser *Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles (dop) in Washington and addressed letters to President Clinton in which Israel recognized the plo and the plo recognized Israel. Shas left the government the following day. Nevertheless, the Accords were approved by the Knesset on September 23. The vote took place in the form of a vote on a motion of no confidence in the government, in which 61 mks supported the government (Labor, Meretz, and the Arab parties), 50 voted against it, eight members abstained, and one stayed away. The eight who abstained were five of the six members of Shas and three members of the Likud.

The Agreement with the Palestinians was followed on October 26, 1994, by the signing of a peace treaty with Jordan, with which de facto relations had existed for many years. This agreement involved only minor territorial changes and was approved by the Knesset on October 25 by a majority of 105, with the three Moledet mks voting against, six members abstaining, and six absent.

While the initial public reaction to the Oslo Accords was relatively mild, the signing of the second stage in the process – the Taba Agreement of September 28, 1995, which involved Israeli withdrawal from all the major towns in Judea and Samaria, except Hebron, and the holding of elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for a Palestinian self-governing authority – was met with a wave of demonstrations against the government and its policy. Some of these demonstrations, organized by various right-wing groups and frequently attended by leaders of the Likud, were accompanied by violence and incitement against the government in general and Rabin in particular. Even though several members of the Likud had abstained in the vote on the dop and were willing to keep an open mind on the whole process, the Likud as a whole was opposed to it. The Likud's campaign against the Oslo process was led by its new leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, who had been elected in primaries in March 1993.

At the end of a counterdemonstration by supporters of the peace process, held at Kikar Malkhei Yisrael (now Rabin Square) in Tel Aviv on November 4, 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, a Jewish assassin who acted independently. The event caused deep shock throughout the country, and was almost unanimously condemned by everyone, including some of Rabin's most bitter opponents. Eighteen days after the assassination Shimon Peres formed a minority government that was nevertheless approved by the Knesset. Ramon was now reinstated as minister of the interior.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime MinisterShimon Peres (Labor)
Minister in PM's OfficeYossi Beilin (Labor)
Construction & HousingBinyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor)
Agriculture & Rural DevelopmentYa'akov Tsur (Labor) (not an MK)
CommunicationsShulamit Aloni (Meretz)
DefenseShimon Peres (Labor)
Education, Culture & SportAmnon Rubinstein (Meretz)
Energy & InfrastructuresGonen Segev (Yi'ud)
EnvironmentYossi Sarid (Meretz)
FinanceAvraham Beiga Shoḥat (Labor)
Foreign AffairsEhud Barak (Labor) (not an MK)
HealthEfraim Sneh (Labor)
Immigrant AbsorptionYair Tsaban (Meretz)
Industry and TradeMicha Harish (Labor)
InteriorHaim Ramon (Labor)
Internal SecurityMoshe Shaḥal (Labor)
JusticeDavid Libai (Labor)
Labor & WelfareOra Namir (Labor) (until 5.21.96 – appointed ambassador to China)
Religious AffairsShimon Sheetrit (Labor)
Science & ArtsShulamit Aloni (Meretz)
TourismUzi Baram (Labor)
TransportationYisrael Kessar (Labor)

Though the shock of Rabin's assassination made it seem unlikely that Peres would lose the approaching elections, in which for the first time the prime minister was to be elected directly together with the Fourteenth Knesset, there were several factors working against Labor. The first was a rise, in the course of March 1996, in the number of terrorist attacks carried out by members of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, starting in March 1996. The second was the departure from the Labor Party of two of its members – Avigdor Kahalani and Emanuel Zissman – against the background of Labor's willingness to withdraw from the Golan Heights within the framework of a peace agreement with Syria. In March 1996, the two set up a new parliamentary group called The Third Way, which formally opposed any Israeli concessions on the Golan.

However, towards the end of the Knesset's term the Likud too lost two of its members – David Levy and David Magen – who in March 1996 broke away to form an ethnic party with a social orientation, called Gesher.

The Fourteenth Knesset – 1996–99

The elections to the Fourteenth Knesset were held on May 29, 1996, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 19 days later, on June 17, 1996.

In the elections to the Fourteenth Knesset the Likud, running in a single list with Tzomet and Gesher, received only 32 seats, compared to the 40 that the Likud and Tzomet had received in the Thirteenth Knesset. Labor, losing 10 of the

Valid votes cast2,973,580
Qualifying threshold (1.5%)44,604
Votes per seat24,779
Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 27th votes
National Religious Party240,2718.19X
Yisrael be-Aliyah174,9945.87X
Yahadut ha-Torah98,6573.34X
The Third Way96,4743.24X
United Arab List89,5143.04
Candidate Votes Percentage
Binyamin Netanyahu1,501,02350.5
Shimon Peres1,471,56649.5

seats it had originally held in the Thirteenth Knesset, received 34, but since Binyamin Netanyahu received close to 30,000 votes more than Shimon Peres in the direct elections for the prime minister, it was he who formed the new government.

One of the unforeseen results of the direct elections for prime minister, which gave the voters a double vote – one for a Knesset list and one for prime minister – was a further weakening of the two main parties, which together received only 66 seats compared to the 76 that they had received in the Thirteenth Knesset. This resulted from the splitting of votes between the two big parties on the prime minister vote and the smaller parties on the Knesset vote.

The religious lists together increased the number of their seats from 16 to 23. Shas gained four additional seats, the nrp gained three, and Yahadut ha-Torah kept its four. The Arab parties – Ḥadash and the United Arab List (ual) – together increased their strength from five to nine seats. For the first time, members of the more moderate faction in the Muslim Movement entered the Knesset, within the framework of the ual.

Amongst the new lists, running for the first time, the new immigrant list Yisrael be-Aliyah, led by Natan *Sharansky, received seven seats. Yisrael be-Aliyah, representing immigrants from the former Soviet Union, was the first Ashkenazi ethnic party to emerge since the foundation of the state, when the pre-state Aliyah Ḥadashah ran as the Progressive Party. The Third Way received four seats.

The Fourteenth Knesset elected Dan Tichon of the Likud as its speaker. Netanyahu presented his government – made up of all the right-wing and all the religious parties, which together controlled 66 Knesset seats – on the morrow of the new Knesset's first sitting. Yitzhak (Itzik) Mordechai was appointed minister of defense and David Levy minister for foreign affairs. Ariel Sharon was not included in Netanyahu's original distribution of portfolios, but three weeks after the government was formed, the Ministry of National Infrastructures, given powers that in the past had been vested in various other ministries, was created for Sharon.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and Construction & HousingBinyamin Netanyahu (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet)
Deputy PM, Agriculture & Rural Development and EnvironmentRafael Eitan (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet, from 3.4.99 Tzomet)
Deputy PM, Tourism and in charge of Arab SectorMoshe Katzav (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet)
Deputy PM and Foreign AffairsDavid Levy (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (until 1.6.98)
Deputy PM and Education, Culture & SportZevulun Hammer (NRP) (d. 1.20.98)
CommunicationsLimor Livnat (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet)
DefenseYitzhak Mordechai (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (until 1.25.99)
Moshe Arens (Likud) (from 1.27.99) (not an MK)
Education, Culture & SportZevulun Hammer (NRP) (d. 1.20.98)
Yiẓḥak Levy (NRP) (from 2.25.98)
Energy & InfrastructuresYiẓḥak Levy (NRP) until 7.8.96)
FinanceDan Meridor (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (until 6.20.97)
Ya'akov Ne'eman (from 7.9.97 until 12.18.98) (not an MK)
Meir Sheetrit (Likud) (from 2.23.99)
Foreign AffairsDavid Levy (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (until 1.6.98)
Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (from 1.6.96 until 10.13.98)
Ariel Sharon (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (from 10.13.98)
HealthTsaḥi Hanegbi (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (until 11.12.96)
Yehoshua Maẓa (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (from 11.12.96)
Immigrant AbsorptionYoel-Yuli Edelstein (Yisrael be-Aliyah)
Industry and TradeNatan Sharansky (Yisrael be-Aliyah)
InteriorEliyahu Suissa (Shas) (not an MK)
Internal SecurityAvigdor Kahalani (Third Way)
JusticeYa'akov Ne'eman (until 8.10.96) (not an MK)
Tzaḥi Hanegbi (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (from 4.9.96)
Labor & WelfareEliyahu Yishai (Shas)
National InfrastructuresAriel Sharon (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (from 7.8.96)
Religious AffairsBinyamin Netanyahu (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (until 8.7.96)
Eliyahu Suissa (Shas) (from 8.7.96 until 8.12.97) (not an MK)
Zevulun Hammer (NRP) (from 8.22.97, d. 1.20.98)
Yiẓḥak Levy (NRP) (from 2.25.98 until 9.13.98)
Eliyahu Suissa (Shas) (from 9.13.98) (not an MK)
ScienceZe'ev Binyamin Begin (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (until 1.16.97)
Binyamin Netanyahu (until 7.9.97)
Science and TechnologyMikhael Eitan (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (from 7.9.97 until 7.13.98)
Silvan Shalom (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (from 7.13.98)
Tourism and in charge of Arab SectorMoshe Katzav (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet)
TransportationYiẓḥak Levy (NRP) (until 2.25.98)
Shaul Yahalom (NRP) (from 2.25.98)
Without PortfolioShaul Amor (Likud-Gesher-Tzomet) (from 1.20.99)

The new system was designed to strengthen the power of the prime minister at the expense of the Knesset, but this goal was not achieved, because of the weakness of the prime minister's own party. The new system was also to have reduced the horse-trading that traditionally took place before the formation of each new government. But instead, it increased the number of such deals, since now each of the candidates for prime minister tried to gain the support of the smaller lists for his candidature before the elections, and once one of the candidates was elected, he still had to negotiate terms with each potential coalition partner. The new system also further weakened party discipline in the Knesset. Party discipline had started to weaken following the introduction of primaries for the selection of the Knesset lists in the big parties. Members of the Knesset, who had gotten on their parties' lists after being chosen by the members of their parties, now felt greater loyalty to those who had voted for them than to the leadership of their parties.

Netanyahu's government was characterized by a succession of scandals, some around his own political style, some around controversial decisions, such as the appointment of attorney Ya'akov Ne'eman, who was not a member of the Knesset, as minister of justice, the appointment of Tzaḥi Hanegbi as Ne'eman's successor, and the appointment of attorney Roni Bar-On as state attorney. Ne'eman resigned when a police investigation was launched against him, which did not prevent his being appointed minister of finance, and once again resigning when he was indicted (though he was subsequently acquitted). Tzaḥi Hanegbi was also investigated, but the state attorney did not object to his appointment as minister of justice. Bar-On's curious appointment as state attorney in January 1997 lasted for just one day. Though Bar-On's credentials as an attorney were not denied, he was not viewed as having the appropriate background and experience for the job, and was perceived as the candidate of certain public and political figures, including former Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri, against whom a police investigation was underway on suspicion of misappropriating funds. Bar-On was later elected to the Sixteenth Knesset on the Likud list.

Even though Netanyahu had opposed the Oslo process from the beginning, he continued to fulfill Israel's obligations under the Taba Agreement, and in the Protocol Concerning the Redeployment in Hebron of January 15, 1997, reached an agreement with Arafat on an Israeli withdrawal from the Arab parts of Hebron and a continued withdrawal from additional territories in the West Bank, in return for a Palestinian undertaking to complete the process of amending the Palestine National Covenant and to fight terror. The new agreement was passed by the Knesset, with the support of the opposition, by a vote of 87 in favor, 17 against, one abstention, and five members absent. On October 23, 1998, Netanyahu signed the Wye River Memorandum, dealing with steps to facilitate the implementation of the Taba Agreement. This agreement was approved by the Knesset in a vote of confidence in the prime minister on November 17, 1998, again with the support of the opposition, by a vote of 75 in favor, 19 against, nine abstentions, and 17 members absent.

On June 3, 1997, a year after the elections, former Chief of Staff Ehud *Barak, the most highly decorated Israeli officer in the history of the state, who had been elected to the Fourteenth Knesset, was elected in primaries as leader of the Labor Party after he defeated mks Dr. Yossi *Beilin, Prof. Shelomo Ben-Ami, and Dr. Efraim Sneh with around 50% of the vote.

Throughout the term of the Fourteenth Knesset the ḥaredi parties bitterly attacked the judicial system in general, which in the eyes of these parties had an anti-religious bias, and the president of the Supreme Court, Aharon *Barak, in particular, for his activist approach to the functioning of the Court.

In the course of the Fourteenth Knesset there were numerous changes within and among the parliamentary groups, which besides creating an atmosphere of instability at the time, were to bring about changes – some temporary, some more permanent – in the Israeli political map. Among the more significant changes were the following:

Two Knesset members broke away from Yisrael be-Aliyah to form a new immigrant group to its right; Ze'ev Binyamin Begin and two additional members left the Likud to form a group to its right, taking the name Herut; while one member of Tzomet joined Moledet. Prior to the elections to the Fifteenth Knesset and in their aftermath, all these various groups to the right of the Likud started to merge into what was to finally emerge as the National Union.

Several members of the Labor Party, the Likud, and Tzomet left their parliamentary groups to form the new Center Party, with ambitions to become a new political force in the center of the political map. The Center Party was led by Itzik Mordechai, who resigned from the Likud and his post as minister of defense. Another center party that reemerged in the course of the Fourteenth Knesset was Shinui, which was reinstated as an independent political group by Avraham Poraz after he left Meretz and was joined by a member who left Tzomet.

Finally, three members, headed by the chairman of the New Histadrut, Amir *Peretz, left the Labor Party to form a new workers group with a social agenda, under the name Am Eḥad.

Despite frequent changes of ministers in the Ministry of Finance, the government's policy was generally based on budgetary constraint, for the purpose of containing the rate of inflation, while the Bank of Israel implemented a high interest rate policy. The combination of these two policies led to a slowdown in the economy, and bitter criticism of the government's policy by the opposition. The main reason for the calling of early elections to the Fifteenth Knesset was the government's difficulty in getting the budget approved by the Knesset.

The Fifteenth Knesset, 1999–2003

The elections to the Fifteenth Knesset were held on May 17, 1999, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 21 days later, on June 7, 1999.

Valid votes cast3,309,416
Qualifying threshold (1.5%)49,672
Votes per seat25,936

In the direct elections for prime minister Ehud Barak, the newly elected chairman of the Labor Party, won an impressive and clear-cut victory over his rival from the Likud, Binyamin Netanyahu. However, despite the fact that the Labor Party had run in a single list with David Levy's ethnic party Gesher and the moderate religious party Meimad, One Israel, as the list was called, received only 26 seats in the Fifteenth Knesset – eight seats less than Labor had received in the Fourteenth. The Likud also crashed, receiving only 19 seats compared to 32 in the previous Knesset. Thus, One Israel and the Likud together commanded together only 45 seats in the Fifteenth Knesset compared to 66 in the Fourteenth Knesset. Soon after his defeat, Binyamin Netanyahu resigned from the Knesset and the leadership of the Likud, and was replaced by the veteran Ariel Sharon.

Shas emerged as the big winner of the elections, increasing its representation from 10 to 17, largely at the expense of the

Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 28th Govt 29th Govt
* Left the government on July 11, 2000.
** Left the government on June 24, 2000.
*** Left the government on July 12, 2000.
# Left the government on November 2, 2002.
## Left the government on May 23, 2002 and returned on June 3, 2002.
### Left the government on March 14, 2002.
#### Left the government on February 22, 2002.
##### Broke away from One Israel and left the government on August 4, 2000; rejoined the government on April 8, 2002 and left on July 30, 2002.
One Israel (Labor-Gesher-Meimad)670,48420.226XX#
Yisrael be-Aliyah171,7055.16X*X
The Center Party165,6225.06X
National Religious Party140,3074.25X***X
Yahadut ha-Torah125,7413.75X
United Arab List114,8103.45
The National Union100,1813.04X###
Yisrael Beitenu86,1532.64X
Am Eḥad66,1431.92X####
Candidate Votes Percentage
Ehud Barak1,791,02056.1
Binyamin Netanyahu1,402,47443.9

Likud. Though Shas had emerged as a Sephardi ḥaredi party, and most of its Knesset representatives were ḥaredim, the vast majority of its supporters were traditional in religious outlook, attracted to Shas because of the sense of pride and power that the party bestowed on them. The Center Party, which everyone expected to become a new and more successful version of Dash, disappointed with only six seats. Shinui, with a new leader – journalist and tv personality Yosef (Tomi) *Lapid – and an agenda clearly calling for a reduction in the power of the religious parties, received votes that the Center Party had hoped to get. On the extreme right two lists – the National Union and Yisrael Beitenu – received four seats each. Yisrael Beitenu, which had started off as a predominantly Russian new immigrant party to the right of Yisrael be-Aliyah and was led by a former member of Prime Minister Netanyahu's staff, Avigdor Lieberman, soon merged with the National Union – a list made up of three small parties: Moledet, Tekumah, and Ḥerut. Two parties that vanished from the political map were Tzomet and The Third Way.

The Fifteenth Knesset elected Avraham Burg from the Labor Party as its speaker. Burg, who had not received a ministerial appointment in Barak's government, had contested Barak's candidate for speaker, Shalom Simhon, in the One Israel parliamentary group, and won. In the course of his term he insisted on his right to carry out an independent policy. The Knesset also elected Moshe *Katzav of the Likud as Israel's eighth president. Katzav defeated Labor candidate Shimon Peres.

Barak had hoped to form a government rapidly, but it took him almost two months to put a coalition together. Owing to the weakness of One Israel, and seeking to form as broad and stable a government as possible, Barak finally put together an unlikely coalition. The coalition was joined by Meretz from the left, the Center Party, two religious parties – Shas and the nrp – and Yisrael be-Aliyah. Altogether, the new coalition was supported by 70 mks but was to prove to be fickle and unstable, and this largely due to the fact that Meretz – abhorred by the religious parties – was the most influential coalition partner, and the fact that the religious parties and Yisrael be-Aliyah felt that Barak was willing to make too many concessions to the Palestinians.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime Minister and DefenseEhud Barak (One Israel)
Deputy PM and CommunicationsBinyamin Ben-Eliezer (One Israel)
Deputy PM and TransportationYitzhak Mordechai (Center Party) (until 5.30.00)
Deputy PM and Foreign AffairsDavid Levy (One Israel) (until 8.4.00)
Minister in PM's OfficeHaim Ramon (One Israel)
Minister in PM's Office for Social Issues and DispersionsMichael Melchior (One Israel)
Agriculture & Rural DevelopmentḤayyim Oron (Meretz) (8.5.99–6.24.00) (resigned from Knesset)
Ehud Barak (One Israel) (until 8.5.99 and from 9.24.00)
Construction and HousingYiẓḥak Levy (NRP) (until 7.12.00) (resigned from Knesset)
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (One Israel) (from 10.11.00)
EducationYossi Sarid (Meretz) (until 6.24.00)
Ehud Barak (from 9.24.00)
EnvironmentDalia Itzik (One Israel)
FinanceAvraham Beiga Shoḥat (One Israel)
Foreign AffairsDavid Levy (One Israel) (until 8.4.00)
Shelomo Ben-Ami (One Israel) (from 11.2.00)
HealthShelomo Benizri (Shas) (until 7.11.00)
Roni Milo (Center Party) (from 8.10.00)
Immigrant AbsorptionEhud Barak (One Israel) (until 8.5.99)
Yuli Tamir (One Israel) (from 8.5.00) (not an MK)
Industry and TradeRan Cohen (Meretz) (until 6.24.00)
Ehud Barak (One Israel) (from 9.24.00)
InteriorNatan Sharansky (Yisrael be-Aliyah) (until 7.11.00)
Haim Ramon (One Israel) (from 10.11.00)
Internal SecurityShelomo Ben-Ami (One Israel)
JusticeYossi Beilin (One Israel) (resigned from Knesset)
Labor & WelfareEliyahu Yishai (Shas) (until 7.11.00)
Ra'anan Cohen (One Israel) (from 8.10.00)
National InfrastructuresEliahu Suissa (Shas) (until 7.11.00)
Avraham Beiga Shoḥat (One Israel) (from 10.11.00)
Regional CooperationShimon Peres
Religious AffairsYiẓḥak Cohen (Shas) (until 7.11.00)
Yossi Beilin (One Israel) (from 10.11.00) (resigned from Knesset)
ScienceEhud Barak (One Israel) (until 8.5.99)
Science, Culture and SportMattan Vilnai (One Israel) (from 8.5.99) (resigned from Knesset)
TourismEhud Barak (One Israel) (until 8.5.99)
Amnon Lipkin-Shaḥak (Center Party) (from 8.5.00)
TransportationAmnon Lipkin-Shaḥak (Center Party) (from 10.11.00)

When Barak began his term as prime minister, there was still great optimism in most parts of the public regarding the chances that the peace process would enter its third and final stage, leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state. There was also optimism regarding progress on the Syrian front. However, the only political move that Barak succeeded in implementing was a unilateral withdrawal from Southern Lebanon, which he had promised in his election campaign. Despite the far-reaching territorial concessions that Barak was willing to make to the Palestinians, including the subject of Jerusalem and involving over 90 percent of the territory of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, negotiations with Arafat in Camp David in July 2000, under the auspices of President Clinton, came to naught. Between June and August 2000, all of Barak's coalition partners except the Center Party left the government, while the Center Party was on the verge of disintegration, partially due to charges of sexual harassment brought against its leader, former Minister of Defense Itzik Mordechai, which caused him to resign from the government and then from the Knesset.

Following a provocative visit to the Temple Mount by Opposition leader Ariel Sharon on September 28, 2000, the second Intifada broke out in October. Sharon's visit was, however, merely a pretext. The decision of the Palestinian leadership to embark on a violent road was apparently a strategic one. Violence also erupted in October in the Israeli Arab sector, resulting in 13 Israeli Arabs being killed.

Having lost his parliamentary majority, and with growing economic difficulties resulting from the world economic crisis and the Intifada, Barak decided to call for new elections for prime minister, but not for the Knesset. Barak, who faced Ariel Sharon in these elections, suffered a stinging defeat, losing close to half the votes he had received 19 months earlier.

Candidate Votes Percentage
Ariel Sharon1,698,07762.4
Ehud Barak1,023,94437.6

Not long after the election Barak followed Netanyahu's footsteps and resigned his Knesset seat and the Labor leadership, though not before considering joining the government Sharon was about to form.

It took Sharon one month to form his government. He convinced Labor-Meimad (after Gesher had left One Israel) to join, appointing Shimon Peres as foreign minister and Binyamin (Fuad) *Ben-Eliezer as minister of defense. In addition to Labor-Meimad, all the religious parties, all the right-wing parties, and Am Eḥad joined the coalition. The government was so big that it was necessary to add a table in the Knesset plenary hall to accommodate its ministers.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime MinisterAriel Sharon (Likud)
Deputy PM and FinanceSilvan Shalom (Likud)
Deputy PM and Construction & HousingNatan Sharansky (Yisrael be-Aliyah)
Deputy PM and InteriorEliyahu Yishai (Shas) (until 5.23.02 and from 6.3.02)
Deputy PM and Foreign AffairsShimon Peres (Labor-Meimad) (until 11.2.02)
Agriculture & Rural DevelopmentShalom Simḥon (Labor-Meimad) (until 11.2.02)
Tzipi Livni (Likud) (from 12.17.02)
CommunicationsReuven Rivlin (Likud)
DefenseBinyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor-Meimad) (until 11.2.02)
Shaul Mofaz (Likud) (not an MK) (from 11.4.02)
EducationLimor Livnat (Likud)
EnvironmentTzaḥi Hanegbi (Likud)
Foreign AffairsShimon Peres (Labor-Meimad) (until 11.2.02)
Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) (from 11.6.02) (not an MK)
HealthNissim Dahan (Shas) (until 5.23.02 and from 6.3.02)
Immigrant AbsorptionAriel Sharon (Likud)
Industry and TradeDalia Itzik (Labor-Meimad) (until 11.2.02)
Ariel Sharon (Likud) (from 11.2.02)
Internal SecurityUzi Landau (Likud)
Jerusalem AffairsEliyahu Suissa (Shas) (until 5.23.02 and from 6.3.02)
JusticeMeir Sheetrit (Likud)
Labor & WelfareShlomo Benizri (Shas) (until 5.23.02 and from 6.3.02)
National InfrastructuresAvigdor Lieberman (National Union) (until 3.14.02)
Efi Eitam (NRP) (from 9.18.02) (not an MK)
Regional CooperationTzipi Livni (Likud) (until 8.29.01)
Roni Milo (Center Party, then Likud) (from 8.29.01)
Religious AffairsAsher Ohana (Shas) (until 5.23.02 and from 6.3.02) (not an MK)
Science, Culture and SportMattan Vilna'i (One Israel) (until 11.2.02)) (not an MK)
Social CoordinationShmuel Avital (Am Eḥad) (until 2.22.02)
Tourism and in charge of Arab SectorRehavam Ze'evi (National Union) (murdered 10.17.01)
Binyamin Elon (National Union) (10.31.01–3.14.02)
Yiẓḥak Levy (NRP) (from 9.18.02 (not an MK)
TransportationEfraim Sneh (Labor-Meimad) (until 11.2.02)
Tzaḥi Hanegbi (Likud) (from 12.15.02)
Without PortfolioDani Naveh (Likud)
Without PortfolioSalah Tarif (Labor-Meimad) (until 1.29.02)
Without PortfolioRa'anan Cohen (Labor-Meimad) (until 8.18.02)
Without PortfolioDan Meridor (Center Party) (from 8.29.01)
Without PortfolioTzipi Livni (Likud) (8.29.01–12.17.02)
Without PortfolioDavid Levy (Gesher) (4.8.02–7.30.02)
Without PortfolioEfi Eitam (NRP) (4.8.02–9.18.02) (not an MK)
Without PortfolioYiẓḥak Levy (NRP) (4.8.02–9.18.02) (not an MK)

The most urgent task of the new government was to pass the 2001 budget. Sharon also insisted on the immediate cancellation of the direct elections of the prime minister, which had decimated the power of the two major parties. Another important bill that the Knesset passed soon after Sharon was elected was one known as the "Tal Law," which tried to contend with the problem of military service for ḥaredi youth – an issue that was causing increasing bitterness and mutual recriminations between the religious and secular parts of Israeli society.

As the Intifada became progressively more violent, with suicide bombers committing increasingly frequent acts of terror, the idf reacted with growing ferocity. On October 17, 2001, Minister of Tourism Rehavam Ze'evi was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in a Jerusalem hotel. Though international efforts were underway to try and stop the escalating violence, little progress was made.

The cost of fighting the Intifada and the deterioration in Israel's international standing – both diplomatically and economically – continued to exacerbate the economic situation, with growing rates of unemployment and failed businesses. At the same time the cutback in Palestinian workers employed in Israel greatly increased the number of foreign workers, both legal and illegal, from Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa, performing jobs that Israelis would not take.

Within the Labor Party a leadership contest between Burg and Binyamin *Ben-Eliezer in December 2001 ended in a very narrow victory for the latter, and accusations of fraud. Eleven months later, a leadership contest between Ben-Eliezer and Amram Mitzna – a former major general and mayor of Haifa – ended in a conclusive victory for the latter. Two weeks before Mitzna's victory, and with growing differences of opinion with the Likud on economic and social issues on the one hand and on relations with the Palestinians on the other, Labor-Meimad decided to leave the government.

By the end of the term of the Fifteenth Knesset, of the six members of the Center Party, the party's leader had been forced to resign from the Knesset, one member joined Labor-Meimad, two returned to the Likud, and another – Dan *Meridor – rejoined the Likud but formally remained in the Center Party parliamentary group with another member for technical reasons. However, while at the end of the Knesset, technically speaking the Center Party still existed, to all intents and purposes it had suffered the same fate as Dash 24 years earlier.

From a political point of view, the term of the Fifteenth Knesset was one of the most complex and unstable that Israel had ever known. It was the second Knesset – the first being the Eleventh – in which two governments served with prime ministers coming from different parties. The difference was, however, that while in the Eleventh Knesset there was a National Unity Government with a rotation agreement between the leaders of the two major parties, this time each of the two prime ministers had been elected directly. As a result of the growing weakness of the government, a peak number of private members, bills were put to a vote – 4,236, of which 239 were adopted. In the same period only 162 government bills were passed and 39 committee bills. After no Parliamentary Inquiry Committees had been established in the Fourteenth Knesset, no fewer than nine were appointed in the Fifteenth. In the course of this Knesset 19 members had resigned – the largest number in the course of a single Knesset.

The Sixteenth Knesset, 2003–2006

The elections to the Sixteenth Knesset were held on January 28, 2003, and the first meeting of the Knesset was held 20 days later, on February 17, 2003.

The elections to the Sixteenth Knesset were once again held on the basis of the old system, without elections for the prime minister. The Likud, doubling the number of its voters, also doubled the number of its seats, and was soon joined by Yisrael be-Aliyah, which suffered a bitter defeat, gaining only two seats. Yisrael be-Aliyah, which had lost two members to the Right in the course of the Fourteenth Knesset, and two members to the Left in the course of the Fifteenth Knesset, appeared to have lost its raison d'être as a new immigrants party. The leader of Yisrael be-Aliyah, Natan Sharansky, immediately resigned his Knesset seat, but joined Sharons' new government as minister responsible for Jerusalem affairs. Labor-Meimad,

Valid votes cast3,148,364
Qualifying threshold (1.5%)47,226
Votes per seat25,138
Name of list Number of valid votes % of total votes Number of seats 30th Govt.
* Merged with the Likud on March 10, 2003.
** Fired from the government on June 6, 2004.
*** Joined the government on March 3, 2003, left the government on November 11, 2004.
**** Left the government on December 4, 2004.
# Joined the government on January 10, 2005.
## Joined the coalition on March 30, 2005.
### Merged with Labor-Meimad on May 23, 2005.
Shinui386,53512.315 X****
National Union173,9735.57X**
Yahadut ha-Torah135,0874.35X##
National Religious Party132,3704.26X***
Am Eḥad###86,8082.83
Yisrael be-Aliyah67,7192.22X*
United Arab List65,5512.12

under Mitzna, suffered a bitter defeat, going down to 19 seats – the same number that the Likud had received in the previous elections. Shinui, which campaigned against what it considered the excessive strength that the ḥaredi parties had gained over the previous decade, was the great success story of the elections to the Sixteenth Knesset, repeating the success of Dash in 1977, with 15 seats, taking votes away from both Labor-Meimad and Meretz. Even though Yossi Beilin and Yael Dayan joined the Meretz list after failing to be elected to realistic places on the Labor list, Meretz suffered a bitter defeat and lost four of its ten seats. For the first time since it entered the Knesset in 1984, Shas lost seats, going down from 17 to 11, most of which returned to the Likud.

The Sixteenth Knesset elected Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin from the Likud as its speaker.

Sharon formed his new government on February 29, 2003. He had hoped to form a coalition with Labor-Meimad and Shinui that would not have to rely on the religious and extreme-right parties. But even though Shinui leader Tomi Lapid did his utmost to convince the Labor Party to join a secular government headed by Sharon, Mitzna preferred to remain in Opposition, and Sharon formed a government that included Shinui, the nrp, and the National Union, leaving Shas and Yahadut ha-Torah outside. In May 2003 Mitzna resigned from the Labor Party leadership, and once again Shimon Peres assumed the leadership as a caretaker, promising to step down later on prior to a future leadership contest.

Ministerial Position Name (party)
Prime MinisterAriel Sharon (Likud))
Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Industry, Trade and LaborEhud Olmert (Likud)
Vice Premier and Minister for Regional CooperationShimon Peres (Labor-Meimad) (from 10.1.05)
Deputy PM and Foreign AffairsSilvan Shalom (Likud)
Deputy PM and Minister of JusticeYosef Lapid (Shinui) (until 4.12.04)
Minister in the PM's OfficeGideon Ezra (Likud) (until 31.8.04)
Minister in the PM's OfficeUzi Landau (Likud) (until 28.10.04)
Minister in the PM's OfficeTsaḥi Hanegbi (Likud) (from 6.9.04)
Minister in the PM's OfficeMattan Vilnai (Labor-Meimad) (from 10.1.05)
Agriculture & Rural DevelopmentIsrael Katz (Likud)
CommunicationsAriel Sharon (Likud) (until 17.8.03)
Ehud Olmert (Likud) (29.9.03–10.1.05)
Dalia Itzik (Labor-Meimad) (from 10.1.05)
Construction and HousingEfi Eitam (NRP) (3.3.03–10.6.04)
Tzipi Livni (Likud) (acting minister 31.8.04–10.1.05)
Yitzhak Herzog (Labor-Meimad) (from 10.1.05)
DefenseShaul Mofaz (Likud) (not an MK)
Education, Culture and SportLimor Livnat (Likud)
EnvironmentYehudit Na'ot (Shinui) (until 17.10.04)
Ilan Shalgi (Shinui) (17.10.04–4.12.04)
Shalom Simḥon (Labor-Meimad) (from 10.1.05)
FinanceBinyamin Netanyahu (Likud) (until 9.8.05)
Ehud Olmert (Likud) (acting minister from 9.8.05)
Minister in the Ministry of FinanceMeir Sheetrit (Likud) (until 5.7.04)
Foreign AffairsSilvan Shalom (Likud)
HealthDanny Naveh (Likud)
Immigrant AbsorptionTzipi Livni (Likud)
InteriorAvraham Poraz (Shinui) (until 4.12.04)
Ofir Paz-Pines (Labor-Meimad) (from 10.1.05)
Internal SecurityTsaḥi Hanegbi (Likud) (until 6.9.04)
Gideon Ezra (Likud) (from 6.9.04)
Jerusalem AffairsNatan Sharansky (not an MK) (3.3.03–4.5.05)
JusticeTomi Lapid (Shinui) (until 4.12.04)
Tzipi Livni (Likud) (from 10.1.05)
National InfrastructuresYosef Paritzky (Shinui) (until 13.7.04)
Eliezer Sandberg (Shinui) (19.7.04–4.12.04)
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor-Meimad) (from 10.1.05)
Religious AffairsAriel Sharon (Likud) (until 31.12.03, when Ministry was abolished)
Science & TechnologyEliezer Sandberg (Shinui) (until 19.7.04)
Ilan Shalgi (Shinui) (24.7.04–29.11.04)
Victor Bralovsky (Shinui) (29.11.04 – 4.12.04)
Mattan Vilnai (Labor-Meimad) (28.8.05)
TourismBinyamin Elon (National Union) (until 6.6.04)
Gideon Ezra (Likud) (4.7.04–10.1.05)
Avraham Hirshson (Likud) (from 10.1.05)
TransportationAvigdor Lieberman (National Union) (until 6.6.04)
Meir Sheetrit (Likud) (from 4.7.04)
WelfareZevulun Orlev (NRP) (3.3.03–11.11.04)
Without PortfolioHaim Ramon (Labor-Meimad) (from 10.1.05)

One of the characteristics of the Sixteenth Knesset was the entry of a large group of new members to the Knesset both on the Likud and Shinui lists. While those of Shinui were mostly professionals, many of whom had been active in Shinui for many years, those of the Likud were relatively young, with little previous political experience, and strongly committed to those who voted for them in the Likud Central Committee rather than the old-time leadership. Soon a succession of political scandals broke out among both new and old members of the Likud, some bordering on criminal acts, involving election financing, cronyism, and double voting in the Knesset plenum. A police investigation concerning Sharon's 1999 election finances implicated his two sons, mk Omri Sharon and Gilad, but since both chose to remain silent, the investigation dragged on, and only in the summer of 2005 was it decided that charges would be brought against Omri. As a result of the disinclination of the Knesset House Committee to lift the immunity of Knesset members at the request of the state attorney, the Knesset amended the law in July 2005 to facilitate the procedure.

In terms of the peace process with the Palestinians no progress was made until the death of the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, in November 2004, and the idf continued to act vigorously to prevent acts of terror being committed by Palestinians inside Israel, including the assassination of Palestinians known to be involved in acts of terrorism as planners and perpetrators, and the construction of a security fence to separate Israel from the West Bank. The latter policy was strongly criticized by the international community, primarily due to the delineation of the fence east of the Green Line.

As minister of finance, Binyamin Netanyahu devised a new economic policy designed to pull the Israeli economy out of the deep crisis it had goten into as a result of the world economic slump, the bursting of the hi-tech bubble, and the ongoing Intifada. The crisis reduced economic growth to an all-time low, led to unprecedented levels of unemployment that crossed the 10% line, and brought the annual inflation rate down to 1–2%. In his effort to encourage economic growth Netanyahu followed a policy of drastic budgetary cuts, including a steep reduction in all welfare payments, and policies designed to bring the chronically unemployed back to work. Though the policy brought about an improvement in the performance of the economy on the macro level, it caused a good deal of social distress, resulting in numerous strikes and demonstrations, most noteworthy that by single mothers as personified by Vicki Knafo in May 2003. In 2004 efforts also began to cut down on the number of illegal foreign workers in Israel, estimated to have reached 100,000–200,000. Netanyahu initiated major reforms in the banking, tax, pensions, local government, and sea port systems.

In December 2003 Sharon officially announced his policy of unilateral Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip, and the dismantlement of all the Jewish settlements there, as well as several settlements in Northern Samaria. The plan was first debated in the Knesset the following month. There were those who argued that Sharon proposed his revolutionary policy in order to divert attention from the criminal investigations being carried out against him. However, the timing of the move could be laid to a combination of American pressure for some Israeli move vis-à-vis the Palestinians following the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, the stalemate with the Palestinians as the second Intifada entered its fourth year, and growing international criticism of Israel for constructing the security fence to protect itself against Palestinian suicide bombers. Within the government the plan enjoyed the enthusiastic support of Shinui only. The plan was also fully supported by the Israel Labor Party and Yahad from the Opposition. Though a majority of the Likud ministers and the majority of the Likud Knesset members also supported it, within the Likud Central Committee a majority objected to the plan. A group of rebels from within the Likud joined the settlers, Mo'eẓet Yesha (the formal leadership of the settlers in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza), the National Union, and the National Religious Party in placing growing pressure on the Government and the Knesset to reject the plan. This pressure manifested itself in mass demonstrations and, as time went on, clashes with the security forces.

In order to reduce opposition to the plan within the government, Sharon fired the ministers from the National Union in June 2004. Efi Eitam, still formally leader of the nrp, resigned soon thereafter, and together with mk Yitzhak Levy established a new parliamentary group that eventually joined the National Union. The remainder of the nrp remained in the government until November 2004, but then resigned as the disengagement plan was approved by the Knesset and Sharon refused to consider a referendum on the issue. Netanyahu tried, together with a few other Likud ministers, to lead a rebellion against Sharon during the Knesset vote on the implementation of the plan in October 2004, but his attempt failed and he ended up voting for it.

Shinui, which continued to support the disengagement plan, left the government in November 2004, due to Lapid's objection to the proposed increase in financial allocations to the religious parties in the 2005 budget. Left with a minority government, Sharon finally reached an agreement with the Labor Party, which entered the government in January. Besides Peres, who became vice premier and minister for regional cooperation, Labor's two most senior ministers were two of its younger leaders, elected by the party's Central Committee: Ofir Paz-Pines and Yitzhak Herzog. Nevertheless, since the Likud rebels continued to vote against the government on most issues, the government now depended in many votes on Shinui, Yahad, and even the Arab parties.

On August 9, 2005, on the eve of the implementation of the disengagement plan, Netanyahu resigned from the government dramatically, claiming that he did not want to be associated with this act, even though he admitted that there was no chance of preventing it. Netanyahu was replaced in the Ministry of Finance by Ehud *Olmert.

Despite clashes between the settlers, who were to be removed from their homes, and groups of radical youngsters who had joined them before the removal, on the one hand, and large contingents of policemen and soldiers, on the other, the fear of major violence and fatalities in the course of the disengagement did not materialize, and the removal of the settlers, followed by the destruction of their homes, was completed within a week in the middle of August 2005.

[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]

The 2006 Elections

Though Prime Minister Sharon's popularity in the world soared as a result of the disengagement, and he enjoyed extensive support within the Israeli population at large, within the Likud his popularity sank. In November 2005, faced with the threat of being deposed as party chairman by the Likud Central Committee, Sharon dissolved the Knesset, quit the Likud, and formed Kadimah, a new political party. He was joined by Tzipi *Livni, Shaul *Mofaz, Meir *Sheetrit, Gideon Ezra, and Tzaḥi Hanegbi from the Likud and Shimon Peres, Haim *Ramon, and Dalia *Itzik from the Labor Party. Previously, Amir Peretz had defeated Peres in the contest for the Labor Party chairmanship, and in December Binyamin Netanyahu was elected to the Likud chairmanship in place of Sharon.

Sharon suffered a massive brain hemorrhage in early January 2006. Ehud Olmert became acting prime minister. Elections were held on March 28, 2006, with a low turnout of 3,186,739 voters (63.5%). Kadimah received 29 seats and Olmert was invited by the president to form the new government. Labor received 19 seats, the Likud 12, Shas 12, Yisrael Beitenu (led by Avigdor Lieberman) 11, and the pensioners' party, Gil, a suprising 7 seats, seen as reflecting a protest vote among disaffected younger voters.

add. bibliography:

Knesset website,; A. Arian (ed.), Elections in Israel: 1969 (1972); 1973 (1975); 1977 (1980); 1981 (1983); A. Arian and M.L. Shamir (eds.), Elections in Israel: 1984 (1986); 1988 (1990); 1992 (1995); 1996 (1999); 2003 (2005); G.S. Mahler, Bibliography of Israeli Politics (1983); A. Arian, Politics in Israel: The Second Generation (1989); Ha-Enẓiklopedyah ha-IvritMedinat Yisrael (1993); S.H. Rolef, The Political Dictionary of the State of Israel (19932); A. Diskin, Ha-Beḥirot la-Kenesset ha-12 (1990); idem, Ha-Beḥirot la-Kenesset ha-13 (1993); A. Diskin and M. Hofnung (eds.), Ha-Beḥirot la-Kenesset u-le-Rashut ha-Memshalah 1996 (1997); S.H. Rolef, Leksikon Politi shel Medinat Yisrael (1998); Y. Schatz, Leksikon ha-Medinah: Ezraḥut, Ḥevrah, Kalkalah (1998); A. Carmel, Ha-Kol Politi: Leksikon ha-Politikah ha-Yisraelit (2001); J. Mendilow, Ideology Party Change and Electoral Campaigns in Israel 19652001 (2003).

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