A Layman's Guide To WWIII:
Who's Who in Israeli Politics
By Kevin Filan
Israeli Arabs |
| Nat. Religious Party | Shas
On September 16, 1982, IDF forces operating under Ariel Sharon's watch allowed Phalangist Christian militias to enter refugee camps in Sabra and Shatilla, Lebanon, ostensibly to root out terrorist elements therein. This operation quickly turned into a bloodbath, as the Phalangists took revenge for the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, the Maronite Christian President of Lebanon, by slaughtering hundreds of men, women and children. The Kahan Commission, an Israeli group set up to study this massacre, determined "responsibility is to be imputed to the Minister of Defense for having disregarded the danger of acts of vengeance and bloodshed by the Phalangists against the population of the refugee camps, and having failed to take this danger into account when he decided to have the Phalangists enter the camps." In the ensuing storm of controversy, Sharon was forced to step down as Minister of Defense. Twenty years later Sharon is head of the Likud Party and shares with Shimon Peres the office of Israeli Prime Minister.
Since 1973 Likud has been either the ruling party in the Knesset or the leading opposition party. Four Likud leaders - Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Benjamin Netanyahu and Sharon - have served as Prime Minister. Its philosophy is an outgrowth of Ze'ev Jabotinsky's hard line "New Zionism." During the British Mandate, Jabotinsky's followers in the New Zionist Organization and the Irgun were responsible for numerous attacks against the British rulers, including the notorious King David Hotel bombing. While the Likud is somewhat more temperate, they generally take a harder line toward Palestinian statehood than the Labor Party. They have been less than enthusiastic about the Oslo Accords, and have continued to subsidize West Bank settlements while turning a blind eye to illegal "outposts" and expansion within those settlements. This has caused a growing public outcry around the world, particularly when combined with efforts in Belgium and elsewhere to have Sharon declared a "war criminal" for the Sabra and Shatilla massacres.
As with Labor, the Likud Party is plagued by infighting. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to return again to the PM's office, and the relationship between him and Sharon can best be summed up as "cordial dislike." When he came to power Sharon was considered the most hawkish Prime Minister in Israeli history. World opinion and the need to maintain a coalition has kept him from acting as freely as he might like… but has not stopped Netanyahu or others on the sidelines from criticizing him or accusing him of "appeasing terrorists." (Indeed, one might say that Sharon has received the worst of both worlds: the right in Israel accuses him of being too soft, while the left in Israel and around the world call him a butcher, thug and "Nazi").
As Israel's center-right party, Likud occupies a place similar to our own Republican Party. While it will likely remain a major force for some time to come, it is rapidly losing ground to Israel's far right. Continued tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, and the ever-mounting death toll from suicide bombings, will likely serve only to drive more and more Israelis toward more hard-line parties… and Likud will likely suffer most from these defections.