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Israel: Constitution, Government and Politics

The Two-Bloc System: A New Development in Israeli Politics

Israel's Odd Couple: The 1984 Elections and the National Unity Government, Introduction

Daniel J. Elazar and Shmuel Sandler

The forty years since the June 1984 elections have been unique in Israeli politics. For the first time in Israel's political history, the Jewish state emerged from an election so closely divided that no major party could form a ruling coalition. The period was also unique in terms of the government that emerged as a result of the election. Realizing that a new round of elections would not have changed the political distribution significantly, the major parties chose to share power in a national unity government.

Although Israel had national unity governments in the past, this was the first time that such an arrangement was instituted for lack of an alternative. Like the heros of Neil Simon's play, the national unity government was an "odd couple." Two partners, very different from each other in character and outlook, constantly quarreling and ready to leave each other were in fact living together well enough because neither of them had any place else to go. While not ready to admit it publicly, each partner knew that no other political accommodation was available.

The 1984 Knesset elections and the resulting government reflected quite accurately the political divisions in Israeli society in the last decade. Hence this volume goes beyond electoral analysis of the kind that served as the focus of the first two volumes in the Israel at the Polls series, covering the 1977 and 1981 elections, to examine the working of the national unity government.1 The basic shifts and divisions in Israeli politics that began in the mid-1970s have not yet run their course. However, the capability of diametrically opposed parties to join forces -- even if plagued by conflict and recurring crisis -- is a basic characteristic of Israel's political life. A short analysis of the major trends prior to the 1984 elections is, therefore, essential to understanding what has happened since 1984.

The Political System

Israeli politics of the mid-1980s were definitely those of a two-bloc system, as distinct from the previous period that was characterized by a single-dominant-party system, or from the two-party systems characteristic of many Western democracies. The bi-polar structure that began to emerge after the 1973 elections and crystalized in 1984 was different from the previous system, in which one party -- Mapai and later Labor -- had dominated all the coalitions that ruled Israel since its establishment in 1948 and the pre-state Jewish community even earlier. In the 1973 election, Likud, led by Menahem Begin, gained 39 seats in the 120-member Knesset as compared to Labor's 51. In 1977 Likud won 43 seats while Labor dropped to 32, whereby Labor was sent into opposition for the first time in Israel's history. In the 1981 elections Likud increased its parliamentary strength to 48 and formed the next government, also demonstrating that the 1977 results were not an accident but rather represented a basic shift in the country's distribution of political power. While the 1984 elections resulted in a virtual tie, they demonstrated further strengthening of the new political pattern.

The 1981 and 1984 elections indicated that while Labor's dominance was broken, its strength in Israeli society was by no means eliminated and that it remained a major force in Israeli political life. This strength was demonstrated by Labor's comeback in the 1981 elections when it increased its electoral strength to 47 seats, its emergence in the 1984 elections as the strongest political party, and its constant lead in the opinion polls since the inception of the national unity government. Similarly, Labor victories in the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor) and municipal elections reflect that party's continuing prominence and vitality within Israeli politics.

The role and performance of the small parties is a central feature of Israel's two-bloc system. One trend in the new configuration of power is the decline of midsized parties. The National Religious Party (NRP), which traditionally won 10-12 seats, dropped to 6 in 1981 and 4 in 1984. Similarly, in the center of the political map, parties such as the Liberals or the Democratic Movement for Change were either swallowed by one of the two major blocs or disintegrated while their remnants, like Shinui, continued to exist as small parties with 2-3 seats. Another trend was the almost total identification of the small parties with one of the two major blocs. Thus the Citizens' Rights Movement (CRM) and Shinui belonged to the center-left bloc, while Tehiya and Shas (the new religious Sephardi party) identified with the center-right bloc. The NRP and Agudat Israel tried to remain neutral, but with only limited success since only the Likud was able to promise them to support the religious legislation they sought. Other small parties like Kach (Meir Kahane) on the right and the Communist Hadash and Arab-Jewish Progressive List for Peace on the left were situated outside the consensus and therefore could not join either of the two blocs.

The political map that began to develop in the mid-1970s differed from the previous political map in another aspect. Previously, Labor would choose parties from each camp -- socialist, civil and religious -- according to its political interests and form a ruling coalition. In the new configuration of power, the choice of either of the big parties was limited to their immediate ideological camp or the religious camp, where Likud enjoyed an advantage.

The end result was not a two-party system; the electoral system of proportional representation ensured the existence of small parties and prevented either of the two major blocs from achieving a clear majority. Each of the large parties needed the small parties in order to form a coalition and was limited, in its ability to choose from among the plethora of parties, to those with ideological proximity. As in international politics, where a bi-polar system is characterized by inflexibility, the two-bloc system was also quite rigid. In 1984 the two-bloc system reached a state that could have paralyzed the polity.

Division of Israeli Parties Into Three Camps

With all that has changed in recent years, including the fading concern with parties and ideologies within the Israeli body politic, the division of Israel's political parties into three camps has persisted. These camps continue to exist partly for party-political reasons and partly as a reflection of the differences that divide Israel's voters even at a time when the old ideologies are much weakened.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the three camps do not relate to each other on a left-right continuum but stand in something like a triangular relationship to one another. For a long time, preoccupation with European modes of political thought prevented us from seeing this triangular relationship, although there never was a time when Israel -- and the Zionist movement before it -- did not operate on this basis. Thus for certain purposes, each of the camps is more to the left or more to the right than any of the others. What each has staked out for itself is a particular vision of what the Zionist enterprise and its creation, the Jewish state, is all about. At times that vision has assumed an intensely ideological form; at other times, it has been more flexible.

The camps themselves are comprised of several parties, some of which are quite antagonistic to others within the same camp. (It is within the camps that left-right divisions do exist, with all that implies.) The size of each camp is not fixed, either in relation to the total population or in relation to one another, but whatever the fluctuations in size, the camps themselves persist. Their persistence is manifested in the stability of camp (as distinct from party) allegiance in Knesset elections.

After the Six Day War, the camps seemed to be diminishing as political as well as social factors in Israeli society as part of a general movement from ideological to territorial democracy. During the pioneering days of the prestate Yishuv the whole political and social system was organized through ideological groupings, but the system was evolving into one in which the important ties and vital interests of the vast majority of its citizens would stem from nonideological considerations derived from the sheer fact of living in Israel.

Shift from Ideological to Territorial Democracy

The movement from ideological to territorial democracy was a predominant feature of the first generation of Israeli statehood (1948-1977). David Ben-Gurion led the way after 1948 through his emphasis on mamlakhtiut (statism) in place of the earlier political ideologies. He insisted on the provision of public services by the state, services formerly provided by the parties or camps to their members, and in the economic sphere oversaw a shift from socialism to a quasi state capitalism for pragmatic reasons. But Ben-Gurion merely prefigured and strengthened what is a natural phenomenon in any new society: the decline of the founding ideologies as the society takes shape and as the founders are succeeded by later generations. Those in the new generations are where they are because they happen to have been born there, not because they chose to be builders of the new society motivated by an ideological credo.2

Thus, a two-fold process took place in that first generation. The prestate parties, based on their respective ideologies, were forced to transfer functions and responsibilities to state institutions and thereby lost much of the basis for their hold on their constituencies. At the same time, their constituencies no longer found the ideologies compelling or relevant.

By the late 1960s the new political leadership of the country was, with a few exceptions, also nonideological, having leanings in one direction or another derived from the old ideologies but basically pragmatic in their orientation. These leaders faced a new set of problems about which the old ideologies had little to say. Though the parties kept up some semblance of ideological commitment, it was understood to be merely a means of paying obeisance to the halutzic (pioneering) spirit of the past. This was most true of the Labor party, which had become a broad-based coalition of sectors and factions, and least true of the religious parties, which did have religious ideologies from which they drew (although there, too, the largest of the religious parties -- the National Religious Party -- had become so pragmatic that the ideological dimension was only minimally relevant.)

Hence, it was not surprising that after the Six Day War, the emergence of new issues -- such as the future of the administered territories and negotiation of peace with the Arabs -- should have led to various fringe elements breaking off from one camp and moving to another, something that had not occurred before in Israeli politics. That -- plus the defection of many Labor voters to the Likud and the tendency on the part of the young to vote Likud no matter how their parents voted -- caused many to believe that the camps themselves were breaking down.

The 1984 elections suggest that just the opposite is the case. It is true that the old ideologies are even less effective now than they were 15 years ago and that territorial democracy has become even more entrenched on the Israeli scene, because the new ideologies correspond only roughly to existing party configurations. Yet after the transformation of the party system, it is clear that the camps are holding together quite well and that voter shifts and party divisions are more often than not taking place within camps rather than across them.

Thus the Labor camp embraces the Labor Alignment, which joined Mapam in an uneasy alliance with the Labor party until the former split away as a result of the establishment of the national unity government. The Labor camp also includes Shulamit Aloni's Citizens' Rights Movement, an earlier Labor party breakaway.

The Likud was founded as an amalgam of the two major parties of the civil camp -- the Herut and the Liberals -- and acquired La'am in 1969, the one defection from the Labor camp that moved as a body across camps. In the 1980s, under Herut's leadership, the name of the camp was changed to the national camp In 1981 Tehiya broke away from the Likud yet remained in the same camp. So, too, did smaller fragments under Yigal Hurvitz and Ezer Weizman, which broke away in 1984. Both were identified by voters as being fully within the civil camp. Weizman's later decision to join the Labor party led to a negative reaction among his voters, who never expected such a turn of events.

In every election since the establishment of the state of Israel, the religious camp has won between 12 and 18 seats as a camp, with the number usually ranging between 13 and 16. On one occasion almost the entire camp was united; on others it was divided between two parties: the National Religious Party and Agudat Israel. Occasionally Poalei Agudat Israel would run independently and win a seat on its own. In 1984 the religious camp was fragmented among five parties that gained a total of 14 seats. What was significant is that all five religious parties -- NRP, Agudat Israel, Matzad-Morasha, Sephardi Torah Guardians (Shas), and Tami -- stayed within their shared camp, however hostile the relationships were among them.

Amnon Rubinstein's Shinui seems the most problematic in terms of its location in a particular camp. Although Rubinstein has tried to avoid being identified with any one bloc, it is now quite clear that his voters and for that matter his running-mates, fall within the Labor camp. He himself demonstrated this in 1977, when he dissolved the Democratic Movement for Change after the late Yigael Yadin agreed to join the Begin government.

If not for ideological reasons, why do the camps survive? We would suggest that they have come to reflect diverse facets of Israel's emerging political culture and differing affinities among Israeli voters in matters of political expectation and style. Political scientists have referred to these preferences as matters of "persuasion" rather than ideology, meaning a loose set of orientations rather than a clear-cut doctrine focusing on specific programs and goals. However these differences are perceived, they continue to shape the configurations of Israeli politics and the limits of voter change. Such shifts as are taking place among Sephardim and younger voters (a majority of whom are Sephardim) reflect a sorting out of persuasions as a result of generational change.

Labor Versus Likud and the Transformation of Israeli Society

The May 1977 electoral upheaval was not only marked by the fact that Likud emerged as the strongest political party, it also represented the emergence of a new majority resulting from demographic and ideological changes that were taking place in Israeli society. As in many Western democracies, the new majority was a coalition of minorities that were faced with the task of governing in order to qualify as a ruling majority.

Labor -- or its predecessor, Mapai -- ruled the Jewish polity, although it never enjoyed a clear majority. Beginning in 1935, when David Ben-Gurion became the chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, Mapai formed a ruling majority that was sustained for almost 30 years following the establishment of the Jewish state. The core of this ruling coalition was a combination of socialists, secular Zionists and a predominant Eastern European Ashkenazi elite. While sharing power to a limited extent with the NRP from the religious camp and the Progressive List from the civil camp, it also came to command most of the power centers and institutions of the World Zionist movement and Israel. Enjoying these advantages and lacking a serious opposing contender for power, it also proved itself as a governing party. It succeeded in overcoming the hardships of the early years of statehood, the absorption of over a million immigrants and the external security threat from the Arab states. However, as is the case with many ruling elites in other political systems, it was unable to adjust itself to the changes in the ideological and social realities of Israeli society. Labor in the mid-1980s was ideologically committed to a secular, socialist Zionist state, searching for a territorial compromise with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and filling its Sephardi leadership slots with figures lacking grass roots support. A major source of support for Labor was the Histadrut, which controlled the labor unions as well as a large share of nongovernmental corporations and companies through Hevrat Ha-Ovdim (the Histadrut holding company that controlled the largest single share of the state's economic enterprises). Consequently, even after losing power in 1977, Labor continued to be perceived as the party of the establishment, Ashkenazi and more willing to make the cencessions for peace with the Arabs.

In the interim the state was going through a major demographic transformation. From a society predominantly Eastern European in its origins, the demographic balance changed due to a major influx of immigrants from Afro-Asian countries. Settling in moshavim (farming villages), development towns, or new neighborhoods in older cities, they found it difficult to identify with the ruling elite. Alienated by the organizational embrace of Mapai, they slowly shifted their loyalties to Herut (the major party in the Likud alignment), which was more open to young Sephardi leaders, especially in the development towns. As they advanced in society, feelings of relative deprivation grew and were translated into electoral power during the 1970s. The Sephardi vote might not have been sufficient had it not been joined by growing nationalist forces in the aftermath of the Six Day War and by religious voters who felt closer to Herut and alienated by Labor's secularist attitudes. In short, a coalition of Sephardi, religious, and voters supporting a harder line in peace negotiatins was translated into a new majority, voting directly for Likud or joining with it through other parties in a government coalition following the 1977 elections.

The Likud, while capable of assembling a new majority, was not as successful in governing effectively. Following a successful diplomatic breakthrough with Egypt, which was translated into a peace treaty in 1978, it ran into difficulties in economics and security. The high rate of inflation that plagued both Likud-led governments, of 1977 and 1981, almost led the country to financial bankruptcy. The Peace for Galilee operation in Lebanon, which at the outset enjoyed broad public support, slowly turned into a protracted war with a steady erosion of public backing. At the end of two administrations, the Likud's image was that of a party unable to govern.

In effect, part of Likud's problem was the new majority that brought it to power. In an attempt to reward its supporters, both Likud governments poured resources into development towns and underdeveloped neighborhoods in the big cities either through Project Renewal (an Israel-diaspora project of urban revitalization) or directly through government programs. At the same time, the Likud government launched a major settlement drive in Judea and Samaria that also consumed resources. Unable to resist a Histadrut controlled by the opposition, with its demands for cost-of-living-linked salary adjustments, and facing growing defense expenditures as a result of the withdrawal from Sinai and the ensuing war in Lebanon, Likud was faced with a hyperinflation unprecedented in Israel's economic history.

Much of the blame, however, was due to Finance Minister Yoram Aridor, who on the eve of the 1981 elections initiated loose fiscal and monetary policies that he did not restrain following the elections. By 1983 Israel was faced with economic disaster, forcing Aridor to resign. It was only during the national unity government that Israel succeeded in pulling out of both the economic crisis and the war in Lebanon.

One would have expected that in light of such a performance the Likud would have been punished at the polls in 1984. Indeed, the Likud declined from 48 to 41 seats, but some of its losses were absorbed by right-wing parties such as Tehiya (+2) and Kach (+1). With the overall strength of the religious camp unchanged (13 seats), the nationalist-religious coalition declined by only 4 seats in the 1984 elections. Yet this drop was sufficient to keep Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir from forming a majority coalition.

The other camp fared no better. Labor lost three seats, which apparently were absorbed by other parties in the center-left camp. Labor's inability to form a coalition encompassing parties from the left and the religious camp indicated that the nationalist-religious-Sephardi coalition was holding and that if it could not rule on its own, at least it could block the other camp from forming a government. In short, the 1984 elections represented a showdown between a party able to hold together a built-in coalition but with a weak record in governing and a veteran party that could no longer form a majority coalition even though it controlled the major power centers and claimed to represent the original values of Israeli society. The result of this showdown was a stalemate in which each bloc was able to prevent the other from ruling alone. (The actual campaigns of the two major parties are analyzed by Efraim Torgovnik and Jonathan Mendilow).

The 1984 elections offered an additional test. It was the first campaign in the history of the Jewish state in which Menahem Begin did not participate. One of the questions that was always posed was how the Likud would perform without its charismatic leader. Lacking conclusive empirical data on the Begin factor, we can still observe that the Likud's ability to pull a percentage of the votes that was close to that of Labor (31.9 percent compared to 34.9 percent), especially under very adverse conditions, means that the party had survived the Begin era. The Begin factor may have been important, but not critical.

Begin's absence was felt more during the two years that followed the election when Herut went through a bitter power struggle among leaders who sought to be Begin's heir, but ultimately Yitzhak Shamir succeeded in rallying the party behind him. Although the power struggle may resume, it seems that the first period of the post-Begin era has not been as disastrous for Herut as many expected. This phenomenon seems to be in accord with Israel's political culture, where the departure of charismatic veteran leaders does not tear their parties apart. The departure of Ben-Gurion in 1963 led to a similar situation for Mapai; it -- and later Labor -- even increased their power in the immediate post-Ben-Gurion era. In each case the structural realities outweighed the importance of a single individual.

The Small Parties

The 1984 elections and the ensuing national unity government seem on the surface to have benefited the small parties. In contrast to the 1981 elections, the combined strength of the two major parties declined from 73.7 percent to 66.8 percent of the total vote. Shinui and the CRM increased their Knesset representation from two to thre and one to three seats respectively, while Tehiya grew from three to five and Shas's debut brought it four seats. In addition, several other new parties succeeded in entering the Knesset for the first time. During the national unity government's tenure, Shas caused recurring government crises, while other small parties and individual Knesset members succeeded in capturing attention far beyond their electoral strength. How do we explain this phenomenon in light of the overall trend of the electorate to vote for one of the two major parties?

As indicated above, the performance and role of the small parties was limited to their respective camps. Most of the small parties were identified a priori with one of the two major blocs, thus drawing votes that might have gone to the major parties. Overall, the small parties remained loyal to their respective blocs. The two parties that attempted to present themselves as unlinked to either coalition, the NRP and Agudat Israel, both suffered losses, declining from six to four and four to two Knesset seats respectively. (See Ilan Greilsammer's review of the election campaigns of the religious parties). Moreover, the new parties that succeeded in 1984, such as the Progressive List for Peace (see Hillel Frisch on the Arab vote) and Kach (see Michal Shamir's chapter), represented the extreme margins of Israeli society -- one recommending a PLO-led Palestinian state and the other the expulsion of Israel's Arab population. Shas, which was also a newcomer to the Knesset following the 1984 elections, deserves a special analysis.

Shas is a party representing a unique combination of two key elements in Israel society -- the religious and the Sephardi. In 1981 Tami, which represented a similar -- although religiously more moderate -- combination, succeeded in winning three seats after many elections in which purely Sephardi parties had not succeeded. Tami, however, declined from three seats to one in the 1984 elections, leaving only its leader, Aharon Abuhatzeira, in the Knesset. Abuhatzeira, a controversial figure who toppled the Shamir government in April 1984, could not compete against Shas, which was inspired by the most respected rabbi and scholar of Sephardi Jewry -- former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef. In both cases, however, it was the religious element that enabled those parties to succeed where other such parties had failed. (For a broader analysis, see Hannah Herzog's article). Shas, however, learned from the Tami experience and its main activity during the tenure of the national unity government was to promote religious legislation, thus competing more with the NRP and Aguda than with Likud. The latter continued to represent many Sephardi voters' discontent with their share in the allocation of resources in Israel's political system. Moreover, despite a brief flirtation with Labor and a short-lived resignation from the government in order to increase pressure on the Likud, Shas was considered, and also acted as, a party of the right-wing bloc.

Finally, the combination of a large number of small parties (13) in a system of two major blocs does not contribute to stability. Overall, Israeli voters indicated that they supported one of the two major parties, whether by direct vote or through the small parties that identified themselves with one of the two blocs. The proportional representation electoral system allows for such a large number of parties to succeed at the polls. In order to reduce this inherent instability in the system, a change in the electoral system is required.

While demands for electoral reform have increased in the wake of the July 1984 elections, they are still being voiced by those on the political periphery and are being met with deliberate silence by those in the centers of political power. It is not well known that in March 1984, on the eve of the Knesset vote to call for new elections, then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir proposed to Shimon Peres that the two major parties agree to raise the legal minimum percentage needed to obtain a seat in the Knesset, to prevent the proliferation of miniparties. Peres rejected the proposal out of hand, making a strategic judgment that turned out to be a very poor one for his party. He and his party held to their position after the election and did not agree to the inclusion of electoral reform in the coalition agreement establishing the national unity government. In 1988, however, Labor ostensibly reversed itself to support a quasi-popular movement for electoral reform that succeeded in passing the first reading in the Knesset but was then buried in committee.

Proposals for Electoral Reform

The simplest type of electoral reform would be just what Shamir proposed, namely, raising the threshold for obtaining a seat in the Knesset, which presently stands at 1 percent of the total vote. As things now stand, Meir Kahane was able to win election even though he had a minuscule number of voters behind him. If the threshold were raised to 3 percent, virtually all the small parties elected to this Knesset would be eliminated. The medium-sized parties that fragmented -- a phenomenon most notable in the religious camp -- would have to reunite in order to win seats. Such a step might bring about a situation not dissimilar to that in the German Federal Republic -- two major parties, plus a third one of medium size. Although this third party might hold the balance of power, it would also have greater incentives to exercise that power responsibly. Or it might lead to two large and four sattelite parties -- Arab, Left, Right, and Religious -- similar to the situation in the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

More far-reaching electoral reforms have been proposed, including a simple system of constituency elections for all 120 Knesset seats; complicated formulas involving multimember districts, with a certain percentage elected at large; and a proposal to divide the country into permanent electoral districts corresponding to its geopolitical regions, which would be allocated seats according to population. Whatever their merits, none of these plans have attracted real support among those who control the government or sufficient support among the people themselves to generate the overwhelming popular demand necessary to force the decision makers to act. Hence, for all intents and purposes we must envision a future in which the present situation, or something very much like it, will prevail.

Strategies for the Major Parties

Given this situation, the only strategy open to the major parties within the present electoral system is to try to maintain as much party unity as possible, to continue to build bridges with other parties in their respective camps, and to fight for the 5-10 percent of voters likely to shift their support at election time, principally within -- but to some extent between -- blocs. This might suggest that both parties should move toward a common center and, indeed, to a great extent they have done just that. But it seems that the small floating vote is not necessarily a centrist vote. Rather, it appears to be a vote that wants strong leadership and clear-cut positions and will support the party that seems to offer more of both than its rival.

In the 1984 elections, both major parties made the mistake of assuming that the floating vote was centrist and moderate. Hence, both tried to move toward the middle in their election campaigning and to gloss over the issues in the process. This, in turn, led to a shift among those voters not irrevocably wedded to either party. Disgusted with the wishy-washy character of the major party campaigns, they turned toward the smaller parties. It was only when the Likud caught on to what was happening and began to project a firmer image that it recovered enough of those voters within its camp and on the margins to prevent a significant Labor victory.

It may be that the Israeli voter is a different animal from other voters in this respect. In any case, Israeli party strategists would do well in the future to pursue the floating vote by taking stands on issues rather than by avoiding them. Otherwise, the floating vote will continue to go to the smaller parties, which almost by definition take firm stands.

As far as the religious bloc is concerned, it should become clear to its ranks that without greater unity they will only dissipate the influence that they have had in the past. The outcome of the last elections actually represented something of a victory for the old NRP, despite its further loss of seats. The disaster that befell Agudat Israel removed much of the pressure on the NRP from the right, which had forced it to adopt more extreme stances on questions of religion and state than its accommodationist orientation required. The old NRP was uncomfortable whenever Agudat Israel insisted on matters like easier exemption of women from army service, amending the Law of Return with regard to the definition of who was a Jew, or insisting on more stringent state enforcement of public Sabbath observance. Still, the NRP felt compelled to go along in order to maintain its credibility in the religious camp (which may or may not have actually been necessary). Indeed, Agudat Israel was often as interested in embarrassing the NRP with its proposed legislation as it was in gaining passage of the legislation itself.

The Shas crisis is a case in point. NRP and Shas are mortal rivals, as were NRP and Tami before Shas's creation. Likud has a stake in keeping Shas in the coalition because since 1977 its electoral strategy has been to keep the religious camp tied to it, to give it the edge it needs to form a government and to preserve that alliance for the future. The Likud leadership understands the key to coalition politics in Israel, namely, that no government has ever been formed that did not command majorities in at least two of the three camps. That is why talk of a government without the religious parties flies in the face of the realities of Israeli politics, no matter how much strength the non-religious parties have.

The key to truly effective government under such circumstances does not lie in the issue orientations of the two large party blocs but rather in the quality of leadership that they bring to the government. Israel's situation demands the kind of strong leadership that characterizes a democratic republic at its best -- not in the sense of oppressive power but in the sense of a self-assured leadership possessing moral strength. Leaders of that caliber will be able to make needed hard policy choices and then be firm in the execution of their decisions because they would be capable of going to the people and mobilizing support for those difficult choices. The leadership of the post-1984 government at times demonstrated that strength, and at times did not, almost totally without regard to its partisan divisions.


Israel of the mid-1980s was a polity equally divided between two political blocs. While the early signs of this could be detected a decade earlier, the stalemate of the 1984 elections verified it in the most vivid way. Neither of the two major parties could assemble a majority coalition in the Knesset. The national unity government tried to bridge this division for purposes of governance but all too often each party tried to block the other. At the same time, the mere fact that such a government was established and functioned for its full term reenforced two realities. First, necessity can bring about strange bedfellows and political realities can overcome ideological differences. Second, despite its internal political divisions, Israel still enjoys a core of values shared by most of its political parties as well as the civil society they represent.


1. See Howard R. Penniman, ed., Israel at the Polls: The Knesset Elections of 1977 (Washington: American Enterprise Institute, 1979) and Howard R. Penniman and Daniel J. Elazar, eds., Israel at the Polls, 1981 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986).

2. See Daniel J. Elazar, Israel: Building a New Society (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986).

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