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Israel - Government and Politics


ISRAELI GOVERNMENTAL AND POLITICAL structures stem from certain premises and institutional arrangements generally associated with West European parliamentary democracies, East European and Central European institutions and traditions, and even some Middle Eastern sociopolitical patterns. These influences were transmitted though the unique history, political culture, and political institutions of Israel's formative prestate period and the Middle Eastern environment in which it is situated. The legitimacy of Israeli society and the identification by the majority Jewish population with the state and its institutions rest on several foundations: Zionist Jewish nationalism, the existence of an outside threat to Israeli security, Judaism, collectivism, and democracy. These bases are affected by the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict (hereafter the Arab-Israeli conflict) and by the pluralist nature of Israeli society, in which a substantial Arab minority participates in the country's political system, but has an ambivalent role within the majority Jewish society.

The Israeli political system is characterized by certain West European democratic arrangements: elected government, multiparty competition, a high level of voter participation in local and national elections, an independent judiciary that is the country's foremost guardian of civil liberties, a vigorous and free press, and the supremacy of civilian rule. Other features, such as collectivism and a lack of expension of the liberal component in Israeli politics, are distinctly East European and Central European in origin. These features are expressed by the absence of a written constitution limiting the powers of government and imposing restraints on the majority to safeguard the rights of individuals, particularly in matters of civil rights and relations between state and religious interests. In the late 1980s, increasing disagreement over some fundamental questions, for instance, the state's territorial boundaries and the role of religion in the state, led to a breakdown in the pre-1967 national consensus over such issues. Such disagreement has resulted in intense ideological polarization as reflected in electoral and parliamentary stalemates between the two major political parties--Likud (Union) and the Israel Labor Party (generally referred to as the Labor Party or simply Labor)-- and their allies.

In July 1984, the political system faced a challenge of unprecedented magnitude. For the first time in the country's thirty-six-year postindependence history, neither major party was able to form a coalition government without the other's equal participation. The result, the National Unity Government formed in September 1984, represented a milestone in the country's political development. That development had already undergone an unprecedented shock in May 1977, when the left-of-center Labor Party was voted out of office for the first time after nearly half a century of unbroken political dominance in pre- and post-state Israel. In 1977 a newly mandated regime was ushered in under Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who led the right-of-center Likud Bloc and who differed sharply with the Labor Party over political philosophy and both domestic and foreign policy. Likud was reconfirmed in power by the 1981 elections, but it suffered an almost irreparable blow with Begin's resignation in September 1983, which followed a series of failed policies concerning the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the domestic economy. The less charismatic and more cautious Yitzhak Shamir succeeded Begin. Under the terms of the National Unity Government, established in September 1984, the leader of the Labor Party, Shimon Peres, was entrusted with the formation of a government with himself as prime minister, on the written understanding that he would relinquish the prime ministership in two years' time--halfway through the parliamentary term--to his designated "vice prime minister" (or vice premier) Shamir. The next elections to the Knesset (parliament) were held in November 1988; by reproducing the same inconclusive electoral results as in 1984, they led to the formation of a second Likud-and-Labor-led National Unity Government, except that this time Labor joined as a junior partner. Following a period of protracted coalition bargaining, Shamir was reinstated as prime minister, with Peres moving from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Ministry of Finance. Moshe Arens, a former Likud minister of defense and a Shamir ally, was appointed minister of foreign affairs, and Labor's Yitzhak Rabin became minister of defense.

From 1984 to 1988, the National Unity Government acted as a joint executive committee of Labor and Likud. Under its direction, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) withdrew to an Israeli-dominated security zone in southern Lebanon; Israel's runaway inflation, which had plagued the economy under previous Likud rule, was curbed; and divisive political debates on major national issues were, to some extent, subdued. Nevertheless, on major issues such as participation in United States-sponsored peace initiatives to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, the exchange of "land for peace," and the political future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip territories, unity between Labor and Likud was lacking. The unity cabinet became deadlocked as each partner continuously strove to advance its own foreign policy agenda. In the latter half of the unity government's term, from 1986 to 1988, consensus on domestic issues disintegrated as the parties prepared for the 1988 Knesset elections. For the most part, this breakdown in consensus continued following the elections; although the United States began a dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the government continued to preserve the status quo on security issues.





The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, proclaimed by the Provisional Government and the Provisional Council of State on May 14, 1948, mentions a draft constitution to be prepared by a constitutional committee and to be adopted by an elected constituent assembly not later than October 1, 1948. After convening on February 14, 1949, the Constituent Assembly, however, instead of drafting a constitution, on February 16 converted itself into a legislative body (the first Knesset) and enacted the Transition Law, commonly referred to as the "small constitution." The Constituent Assembly could not agree on a comprehensive written constitution, primarily for fear that a constitution would unleash a divisive conflict between religious and state authorities, a fear that continued to exist in late 1988. The ensuing parliamentary debate, from February 1 through June 13, 1950, between those favoring a written constitution and those opposing it was a microcosm of the conflict between state and religious interests that would continue to agitate Israeli political life.

Proponents argued that under a bill of rights incorporated into a constitution Israel would benefit from the experience of other nations that had adopted written safeguards to ensure religious freedom, minority rights, equal rights, and civil liberties. A written constitution, they asserted, would also safeguard the principle of the separation of powers and, in a period of rapid immigration, referred to in Israel as the "ingathering of exiles," would be a unifying factor, unequivocally establishing the supremacy of civil law.

Opponents contended that the domestic and external circumstances of Israel in 1949 were not auspicious for the adoption of a constitution. They stressed that a written constitution would be politically divisive because the controversial issue of the boundaries between state and religion would inevitably be raised in formulating the principles, goals, and nature of the state as codified in a constitution. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, the leading opponent of a written constitution, maintained that the Proclamation of Independence, however great an event, was merely the beginning of a long process in Israel's evolution as a democratic state and not "the redemption." Perhaps most significantly, Ben-Gurion and Mapai (Mifleget Poalei Eretz Ysrael, Israel Workers' Party--see Appendix B), the Labor Party's predecessor, had already formed an alliance with Orthodox religious parties by entering into a "historical partnership" with Mizrahi (Spiritual Center--see Appendix B) in 1933. As part of the Mapai- Mizrahi agreement of June 19, 1947, they obtained unity among the various groups in the Yishuv (the prestate Jewish community) by promising the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel (Society of Israel--see Appendix B) that the status quo on issues involving state and religion would be maintained in the new state. Some observers felt that Ben-Gurion and other Labor leaders grossly underestimated the long-term consequences of delaying resolution of the role of religion in a modern Jewish state. In later years, the Orthodox-dominated Ministry of Religious Affairs, Ministry of Interior, rabbinate, rabbinic courts, and municipal religious councils gained a virtual monopoly in patronage and resources over Israel's organized Jewish religious institutions to the detriment of the more moderate Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism. As a consequence of the resurgence of right-wing fundamentalist religious movements, the influence of secular elements in Israeli society, especially of Labor and its allies, was ultimately diminished.

The Israeli solution to the lack of a constitution has been a "building-block" method. In June 1950, the Knesset passed a compromise resolution, known as the "Harari decision" (named after Knesset member Izhar Harari), approving a constitution in principle but postponing its enactment until a future date. The resolution stated that the constitution would be evolved "chapter by chapter in such a way that each chapter will by itself constitute a fundamental law." It stipulated: "The chapters will be submitted to the Knesset to the extent to which the Committee [for Constitution, Law, and Justice of the Knesset] completes its work, and the chapters will be incorporated in the constitution of the State." By 1988 nine Basic Laws had been enacted to deal with the Knesset (1958), Israeli Lands (1960), the Presidency (1964), the Government (1968), the State Economy (1975), the Army (1976), Jerusalem (1980), the Judiciary (1984), and Elections (1988). These Basic Laws, transcending regular legislation, may be amended or changed only by a special majority; in most cases the majority required is at least 80 members of the 120-member Knesset. Moreover, to ensure the country's stability, the Basic Laws may not be amended, suspended, or repealed by emergency legislation.

Apart from the nine Basic Laws, as of the end of 1988 there were a number of ordinary laws that legitimized the structure, functions, and actions of state institutions. These ordinary statutes were intended eventually to take the form of Basic Laws, presumably with appropriate revisions to account for changing needs and circumstances. Among these laws were the Law of Return (1950), Nationality Law (1952), the Judges Law (1953), the State Education Law (1953), the Courts Law (1957), the State Comptroller Law (1958), and the Knesset Elections Law (1969). Legislation such as the Law of Return, the Nationality Law, and the State Education Law sought to resolve fundamental secular-religious disagreements. In the judgment of most Israeli observers, however, the enactment of such laws did not resolve fundamental controversies because Orthodox figures later sought to overturn them. For example, in 1988 the government was engaged in a legislative struggle involving renewed attempts by Orthodox religious parties to amend the 1950 Law of Return, the country's basic immigration law, by granting Orthodox religious authorities exclusive power to decide who is Jewish and to exclude people who had converted to Judaism through the Reform or Conservative movements. On June 14, 1988, the Knesset defeated two such bills by votes of sixty to fifty-three and sixty to fifty-one.

The question of human rights and civil liberties has been an important concern of all Israeli governments. It is reflected, for instance, in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, sometimes considered analogous to the United States Declaration of Independence. The Israeli declaration reads in part: "The State of Israel will . . . foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture." The declaration contains sections that were intended to grant constitutional authority for the establishment and operation of state organs during the immediate postindependence years. Apart from that legal significance, however, the declaration lacks the status of a formal constitution against which the legality of other enactments can be tested. This is especially true regarding the issue of fundamental civil rights.

In the absence of an expressed bill of rights, Israeli governments have relied on the court system to safeguard civil rights and liberties. Israeli citizens have enjoyed a large measure of civil rights as a result of high standards of fairness in the administration of justice in Israel proper. Nonetheless, certain infringements have been caused by the dictates of internal security. According to a United States Department of State report on human rights practices in Israel released in February 1988, "Israel is a parliamentary democracy which guarantees by law and respects in practice the civil, political, and religious rights of its citizens . . . As in the past, the most significant human rights problems for Israel in 1987 derived from the strained relations between the Israeli authorities and some Israelis on the one hand and the Arab inhabitants of the occupied territories on the other hand."

A number of attempts have been made to introduce proposals for a detailed constitution. The latest occurred in August 1987, when the Public Council for a Constitution for Israel, a group of Tel Aviv University professors led by Uriel Reichman, dean of its faculty of law, launched a campaign to enact a constitution. The group argued that the existing Basic Laws were not tantamount to a constitution because such topics as judicial review and a bill of rights were not covered and because most of the Basic Laws were regular laws that could be amended by a simple majority vote of the Knesset. A written constitution, in contrast, would spell out the relationship among the different branches of government and establish a type of secularized bill of rights between the individual and the state. The group advocated three necessary reform measures as essential for a democratic and constitutional state: the direct election of the prime minister; the safeguarding of all Basic Laws so that they could be rescinded only by a two-thirds or three-fifths Knesset majority; and the establishment of a well-defined system of judicial review. While the proposal had little chance of Knesset passage, it aroused renewed interest in the reform of the Israeli electoral, legislative, and judicial systems.

<>The President
<>The Cabinet
<>The Civil Service
<>The Knesset
<>The State Comptroller
<>The Judicial System
<>Local Government
<>Civilian Administration in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip


Israel - The President


The 1964 Basic Law provides that the president is the titular head of state. The president is elected through secret balloting by an absolute majority of the Knesset on the first two ballots, but thereafter by a plurality, for a term of five years. Israeli presidents may not serve more than two consecutive terms, and any resident of Israel is eligible to be a presidential candidate. The office falls vacant upon resignation or upon the decision of three-quarters of the Knesset to depose the president on grounds of misconduct or incapacity. Presidential tenure is not keyed to that of the Knesset in order to assure continuity in government and the nonpartisan character of the office. There is no vice president in the Israeli governmental system. When the president is temporarily incapacitated or the office falls vacant, the speaker of the Knesset may exercise presidential functions.

Presidential powers are usually exercised based on the recommendation of appropriate government ministers. The president signs treaties ratified by the Knesset and laws enacted by the legislature except those relating to presidential powers. The president, who has no veto power over legislation, appoints diplomatic representatives, receives foreign envoys accredited to Israel, and appoints the state comptroller, judges for civil and religious courts, and the governor of the Bank of Israel.

Although the president's role is nonpolitical, Israeli heads of state perform important moral, ceremonial, and educational functions. They also play a part in the formation of a coalition cabinet, or "a government" as the Israelis call it. They are required to consult leaders of all political parties in the Knesset and to designate a member of the legislature to organize a cabinet. If the member so appointed fails, other political parties commanding a plurality in the Knesset may submit their own nominee. The figure called upon to form a cabinet is invariably the leader of the most influential political party or bloc in the Knesset.

As of 1988, all Israeli presidents have been members of, or associated with, the Labor Party and its predecessors, and all have been considered politically moderate. These tendencies were especially significant in the April 1978 election of Labor's Yitzhak Navon, following the inability of the governing Likud coalition to elect its candidate to the presidency. Israeli observers believed that, in counterbalance to Prime Minister Begin's polarizing leadership, Navon, the country's first president of Sephardi origin, provided Israel with unifying symbolic leadership at a time of great political controversy and upheaval. In 1983 Navon decided to reenter Labor politics after five years of nonpartisan service as president, and Chaim Herzog (previously head of military intelligence and ambassador to the United Nations) succeeded him as Israel's sixth president.


Israel - The Cabinet


The separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches in the Israeli political system generally follows the British pattern. The cabinet is the top executive policy-making body and the center of political power in the nation. It consists of the prime minister and an unspecified number of ministers. The head of government must be a Knesset member, but this is not a requirement for ministers. In practice, most ministers have been Knesset members; when non-Knesset members are considered for cabinet posts, their selection is subject to Knesset approval. A deputy prime minister and deputy ministers may be appointed from among the membership of the Knesset, usually as a result of coalition bargaining, but in this instance only the deputy prime minister is considered a regular cabinet member. As stated above, in September 1984, the National Unity Government established the position of vice prime minister, or vice premier. The vice prime minister, who was the leader of one of the two major parties in the unity coalition, was considered the second leading cabinet minister.

The cabinet takes office upon confirmation by the Knesset, to which it is collectively responsible for all its acts. To obtain this consent, the prime minister-designate must submit a list of cabinet members along with a detailed statement of basic principles and policies of his or her government. The cabinet can be dissolved if it resigns en masse, if the Knesset passes a motion of censure against it, or if the prime minister resigns or dies. The prime minister's resignation invalidates the cabinet, but resignations of individual ministers do not have this effect. Since independence all cabinets have been coalitions of parties, each coalition having been formed to achieve the required total of sixty-one or more Knesset seats. Although often based on political expediency, coalition formation is also concerned with ideological and issue compatibility among the participating groups. Cabinet posts are divided among coalition partners through behind-the-scenes bargaining and in proportion to the parliamentary strength of the parties involved, usually at the ratio of one cabinet portfolio for every three or four Knesset seats. This formula may be dispensed with, however, in times of national emergency or electoral and political stalemate. The first precedent in this direction occurred after the June 1967 War when a "national unity government" was formed by co-opting three opposition party leaders as cabinet ministers. This move, which was achieved without the standard cabinet formation procedure, was designed to demonstrate internal solidarity in the face of an external threat.

The members of coalition governments are obligated to fulfill their commitments to the coalition at the time of seeking a vote of confidence from the Knesset. A cabinet member may be dismissed for failing to support the government on any matter that is included in the original coalition pact except where the minister's dissenting vote in the Knesset for reasons of "conscience" is specifically approved in advance by the minister's party. This obligation also applies in the formation and maintenance of a national unity government, with the exception of times of emergency when opposition elements co-opted into the cabinet may disagree with the mainstream of the coalition on any matters other than those they have pledged to support. At a minimum, coalition members must vote with the government on issues of national defense, foreign policy, the budget, and motions of censure. Failure to do so constitutes grounds for their expulsion; ministers may simply withdraw from the government in protest if they cannot reconcile themselves to the mainstream.

As a rule, the cabinet meets at least once a week on Sunday morning or whenever extraordinary reasons warrant. Cabinet deliberations are confidential; this is especially true when the body meets as a session of the ministerial Committee for Security Affairs.

The cabinet conducts much of its work through four standing committees dealing with economic affairs, legislation, foreign affairs and security, and home affairs and services. The committees meet once a week and may set up special ad hoc committees of inquiry to scrutinize issues affecting coalition unity or other urgent questions. A cabinet member may be assigned to one or more committees. Committee decisions are final unless challenged in plenary cabinet sessions.

As compensation for serving in the cabinet, Knesset members' salaries and accompanying benefits are supplemented by the government. Ministers are given a car and a driver and offices in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The government provides them with an official residence in Jerusalem and covers personal expenses such as travel, hotels, and food on official business. They also receive comprehensive medical insurance and other allowances.

Until November 1988, the unity cabinet included, in addition to Prime Minister Shamir, nineteen ministers with portfolio, including the vice-prime minister and two deputy prime ministers. The jurisdictions of their portfolios were agriculture, communications, defense, economics and planning, education and culture, energy and infrastructure, finance, foreign affairs, health, housing and construction, immigration and absorption, industry and trade, interior, justice and tourism (both ministries were headed by one minister), labor and social affairs, police, religious affairs, science and development, and transportation. In addition, there were six ministers without portfolio. Upon approval of the second unity government by the Knesset in December 1988, the new cabinet consisted of twenty-eight ministers, the largest in the country's history. Its size was expanded to accommodate political demands by the coalition partners.

Interministerial coordination is the responsibility of the four standing cabinet committees and the Office of the Prime Minister, especially the Government Secretariat, which is located in that office. Headed by the secretary to the government (the position is also known as government secretary or cabinet secretary), the secretariat prepares the agenda for meetings of the cabinet and cabinet committees, maintains their records, coordinates the work of ministries, and informs the public of government decisions and policies.

Also in the Office of the Prime Minister are the Prime Minister's Bureau, which deals with confidential matters concerning the chief executive, and a staff of advisers on political and legal issues, national security, terrorism and counterterrorism, the media, petitions and complaints, Arab affairs, and welfare affairs. The most influential advisory personnel carry the title of "director general and political adviser" to the prime minister. Other constituent units of the office include the State Archives and Library, Government Names Committee, Government Press Office, National Council for Research and Development, Technological and Scientific Information Center, Atomic Energy Commission, Institute for Biological Research, National Parks Authority, and Central Bureau of Statistics.


Israel - The Civil Service


As of late 1988, government employees were recruited through a merit system, with appointment, promotion, transfer, termination, training, discipline, and conditions of employment regulated by law. They were prohibited, especially in the senior grades, from engaging in partisan politics by the Civil Service (Restriction of Party Activities and Fund-Raising) Law of 1959. As of 1988, there were approximately 100,000 government employees, excluding the Israel Police, teachers (who were technically municipal employees), civilian workers in the defense establishment, and employees of the State Employment Service and the autonomous Israel Broadcasting Authority.

The civil service was headed by a commissioner appointed by the cabinet and directly responsible to the minister of finance. The commissioner, who like other senior government officials carried the rank of director general, had broad responsibility for the examination, recruitment, appointment, training, and discipline of civil service personnel. In practice, however, except in the senior grades, these matters were left to the discretion of the various ministries. The commissioner was also chairman of the Civil Service Board, consisting of three directors general representing government ministries and three members representing the public. The purpose of the board was to administer the civil service pension system. In addition, the office of the commissioner directed the operation of the Central School of Administration in Jerusalem and furnished administrative services to the Civil Service Disciplinary Court. Civil servants were automatically members of the Civil Servants' Union--a practice that has been in effect since 1949 when the union became part of the General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel (HaHistadrut HaKlalit shel HaOvdim B'Eretz Yisrael, known as Histadrut--literally, organization). Any basic changes in the conditions of government employment must have the concurrence of the union. The mandatory retirement age for civil service workers was sixty-five, and pensions ranged from 20 to 70 percent of terminal salary, depending on length of service.


Israel - The Knesset


The Knesset is a unicameral parliament and the supreme authority of the state. Its 120 members are elected by universal suffrage for a four-year term under a system of proportional representation. Basic Law: the Knesset provides for "general countryside, direct, equal, secret, and proportional" elections. This provision means that if, for example, in a national election a given party list received approximately 36,000 votes, it would be entitled to two seats in the Knesset. As a result, the top two names on the party's list would obtain Knesset seats. The legislative authority of the Knesset is unlimited, and legislative enactments cannot be vetoed by either the president or the prime minister nor can such enactments be nullified by the Supreme Court. The regular four-year term of the Knesset can be terminated only by the Knesset, which can then call for a new general election before its term expires.

The Knesset also has broad power of direction and supervision over government operations. It approves budgets, monitors government performance by questioning cabinet ministers, provides a public forum for debate of important issues, conducts wide-ranging legislative inquiries, and can topple the cabinet through a vote of no confidence that takes precedence over all other parliamentary business. The Knesset works through eleven permanent legislative committees, including the House Committee, which handles parliamentary rules and procedures, and the Law and Justice Committee, usually referred to as "Law." The jurisdictions of the remaining committees are the constitution, finance, foreign affairs and security, immigration and absorption, economics, education and culture, internal affairs and environment, labor and welfare, and state control. Committee assignments are made by the Arrangements Committee, a committee consisting of representatives of the various parties established at the beginning of each Knesset session, enabling each party to determine for itself where it wants its stronger delegates placed. Committee assignments are for the duration of the Knesset's tenure. Committee chairmen are formally elected at the first meeting of each respective committee upon the nomination of the House Committee. As a rule, however, the chairmanship of important committees is reserved for members of the ruling coalition. If a member resigns from his or her party, the place on the committee reverts to the party, even if the member remains in the Knesset.

Among the first tasks of a new Knesset is to assign members to the various standing committees and to elect a speaker, his or her deputies, and the chairmen of committees. The speaker is assisted by a presidium of several deputies chosen by the Knesset from the major parties. At a minimum, the Knesset is required to hold two sessions a year and to sit not fewer than eight months during the two sessions. The Knesset meets weekly to consider items on its agenda, but not on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in deference to its Muslim, Jewish, and Christian members. Agendas are set by the speaker to permit the questioning of ministers and the consideration of proposals from the government or motions from members. Time allocations to individual members and parties are made in advance by the speaker so as to preclude filibusters or cloture. Other than national emergencies, budgetary issues have usually been the most important items dealt with by the Knesset at any of its session.

Following the British pattern, legislation is generally introduced by the cabinet; to a lesser extent it is initiated by various Knesset committees; and in limited cases, private bills are initiated by individual Knesset members. Bills are drafted by the ministries concerned in consultation with the Ministry of Justice. By majority vote of the cabinet, draft bills are sent to the speaker of the Knesset for legislative action. Proposed bills are considered by appropriate committees and go through three readings before being voted on by the Knesset after the third reading. Any number of Knesset members present constitutes a quorum, and a simple majority of those present is required for passage. Exceptions to this rule apply in the election or removal of the president of the state, removal of the state comptroller, changes to the system of proportional elections, and changes to or repeal of Basic Laws; in these instances, required majorities are specified by law.

Apart from the Knesset, which is the principal source of legislation, such public institutions as ministries, local authorities, and independent bodies can frame rules and regulations or subsidiary legislation on a wide range of matters. Subsidiary legislation has the effect of law, but it can be declared invalid by the courts when it contravenes any enactment of the Knesset.

Knesset members are granted extensive legal immunity and privileges. Their special legal status, which many observers regard as excessive, ranges from parliamentary immunity to protection from criminal proceedings for the entire period of Knesset membership. Immunity extends to acts committed before becoming a Knesset member, although such immunity can be removed by the Knesset upon the recommendation of the House Committee. Knesset members are also exempt from compulsory military service. The official language of the Knesset is Hebrew, but Arab members may address the legislature in Arabic, with simultaneous translation provided.


Israel - The State Comptroller


The power of the Knesset to supervise and review government policies and operations is exercised mainly through the state comptroller, also known as the ombudsman or ombudswoman. The state comptroller is appointed by the president upon the recommendation of the House Committee of the Knesset for a renewable term of five years. The incumbent is completely independent of the government and is responsible to the Knesset alone (the state controller's budget is submitted directly to the Knesset's Finance Committee and is exempt from prior consideration by the Ministry of Finance). The state comptroller can be relieved only by the Knesset or by resignation or demise. During the incumbent's term of office, he or she may not be a member of the Knesset or otherwise engage in politics and is prohibited from any public or private activity that could create a conflict of interest with the independent performance of the duties of the office. The state comptroller, although lacking in authority to enforce compliance, has broad investigative powers and employs hundreds of staff members, including accountants, lawyers, and other relevant professionals. Since 1949, when the state comptrollership was created, three individuals have held the office, with each having served for an extended period.

The principal function of the state comptroller is to check on the legality, regularity, efficiency, economy, and ethical conduct of public institutions. The checks are performed by continuous and spot inspections of the financial accounts and activities of all ministries, the armed forces and security services, local government bodies, and any corporations, enterprises, or organizations subsidized or managed by the state in any form.

The state comptroller acts in conjunction with the Finance Committee of the Knesset and reports to it whenever necessary. The state comptroller may recommend that the Finance Committee appoint a special commission of inquiry, but having no statutory authority of its own it relies on the Knesset to impose sanctions on errant bodies. The state comptroller's office is divided into five major inspection units. The first four are concerned with ministries, defense services, local authorities, and corporations; the fifth deals with public complaints concerning government bodies.


Israel - The Judicial System


The Judiciary Law of 1984 formalized the judicial structure consisting of three main types of courts: civil, religious, and military. There also are special courts for labor, insurance, traffic, municipal, juvenile, and other disputes. Each type of court is administratively responsible to a different ministry. Civilian courts come under the Ministry of Justice; religious courts fall under the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and military courts come under the Ministry of Defense. In the administration of justice, however, all courts are independent and Israelis generally concede their fairness.

Legal codes and judicial procedures derive from various sources. Laws applicable to Israeli Jews in matters of personal status are generally based on the Torah and the halakah. Influences traceable to the British Mandate period include parts of Ottoman legal codes, influenced by the Quran, Arab tribal customary laws, and the Napoleonic Code. In general, British law has provided the main base on which Israel has built its court procedure, criminal law, and civil code, whereas American legal practice has strongly influenced Israeli law regarding civil rights.

The status of the judiciary and the definition and authority of the court structure are spelled out in the Judges Law of 1953, the Courts Laws of 1957, the Rabbinical Courts Jurisdiction (Marriage and Divorce) Law of 1953, the Dayanim Law of 1955 (s., dayan, rabbinical court judge), the Qadis Law of 1961 (sing., qadi, Muslim religious judge), the Druze Religious Courts Law of 1962 (qadi madhab, Druze religious judge), the Jurisdiction in Matters of Dissolution of Marriages (Special Cases) Law of 1969, and the Judiciary Law of 1984. The principal representative of the state in the enforcement of both criminal and civil law is the attorney general, who is responsible to the minister of justice. As was the case during the British Mandate, courts do not use the jury system; all questions of fact and law are determined by the judge or judges of the court concerned, and the system upholds the principle of innocence until proven guilty.

The president, on the recommendation of a nominating committee chaired by the minister of justice, appoints civil courts judges. The nominating committee consists of the president of the Supreme Court, two other justices of the highest court, two members of the Knesset, one cabinet member in addition to the minister of justice, and two practicing lawyers who are members of the Israel Bar Association, a body established in 1961 charged with certifying lawyers for legal practice. The independence of committee members is safeguarded in part by a procedure whereby, except for the minister of justice and the president of the Supreme Court, they are elected through secret ballot by the members of their respective institutions. Whereas the composition of the committee is meant to depoliticize the nominations process, political considerations require the inclusion of at least one religious justice on the Supreme Court, as well as the representation on the nominating committee of Sephardim and women.

The president of the state, on the recommendation of nominating committees, also appoints judges of religious courts, except Christian courts. Nominating committees, chaired by the minister of religious affairs, are organized to ensure the independence of their members and to take account of the unique features of each religious community. Religious courts of the ten recognized Christian communities are administered by judges appointed by individual communities.

Civil and religious judges hold office from the day of appointment; tenure ends only upon death, resignation, mandatory retirement at age seventy, or removal from office by disciplinary judgment as specified by law. Transfers of judges from one locality to another require the consent of the president of the Supreme Court. The salaries of all judges are determined by the Knesset. Judges may not be members of the Knesset or engage in partisan political activity.

Before assuming office, all judges, regardless of religious affiliation, must declare allegiance to the State of Israel and swear to dispense justice fairly. Judges other than dayanim must also pledge loyalty to the laws of the state; dayanim are subject only to religious law. The implication is that Jewish religious law suspersedes the man-made laws of the Knesset; where the two conflict, a dayan will follow religious law in matters of personal status. Israel civil libertarians view this as a blemish on the judiciary system because, as Israeli political scientist Asher Arian points out, religious laws "restrict certain liberties taken for granted in other liberal systems."

At the top of the court hierarchy is the Supreme Court, located in Jerusalem and composed of a number of justices determined by the Knesset. In late 1988, there were eleven justices: a president or chief justice, a vice president, and nine justices. The court has both appellate and original jurisdiction. A minimum of three justices is needed for a court session.

The Supreme Court hears appeals from lower courts in civil and criminal cases. As a court of first instance, it may direct a lower district court to hold a retrial in a criminal case if the original verdict is based on questionable evidence, subject to the stipulation that penalties imposed at retrial should not exceed the severity of those originally imposed. In addition, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over petitions seeking relief from administrative decisions that fall outside the jurisdiction of any court. In this role, the Supreme Court sits as the High Court of Justice and may restrain government agencies or other public institutions by such writs as habeas corpus and mandamus, customary under English common law. In its capacity as the High Court of Justice, it may also order a religious court to deal with a case concerned with its competence as a religious body, but only on petitions raised before a verdict is handed down. In this regard, the Supreme Court is limited to the procedural question and may not impinge on the merits of the case.

The Supreme Court serves as the principal guardian of fundamental rights, protecting the individual from any arbitrary action by public officials or agencies. It does not have the power of judicial review and cannot invalidate Knesset legislation. It is empowered, however, to nullify administrative rules and regulations or government and local ordinances on the ground of their illegality or conflict with Knesset enactments. As the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court may also rule on the applicability of laws in a disputed case and on jurisdictional disputes between lower civil courts and religious courts. There is no appeal from its decisions.

The second tier of the civil court structure consists of six district courts located in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramla, Haifa, Beersheba, and Nazareth. As courts of first instance, district courts hear civil and criminal cases outside the jurisdiction of lower courts. Their jurisdiction includes certain matters of personal status involving foreigners. If the foreigners concerned consent to the authority of religious courts, however, there is concurrent jurisdiction over the issue. The district court at Haifa has additional competence as a court of admiralty for the country as a whole.

District courts also hear appeals from magistrate courts, municipal courts, and various administrative tribunals. Israel's twenty-eight magistrate courts constitute the most basic level of the civil court system. They are located in major towns and have criminal as well as civil jurisdiction. There are a small number of municipal courts that have criminal jurisdiction over any offenses committed within municipal areas against municipal regulations, local ordinances, by-laws, and town-planning orders. The civil court structure includes bodies of special jurisdiction, most notably traffic courts; juvenile courts; administrative tribunals concerned with profiteering, tenancy, and water; and tribal courts specific to the Southern District having jurisdiction in any civil or criminal cases assigned to them by the president of the district court or the district commissioner. Disputes involving management-employee relations and insurance claims go to regional labor courts. The courts, established in 1969, are located in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Beersheba. Appeals from the decisions of these courts are made directly to the National Labor Court, located in Jerusalem. Finally, distinct from court-martial proceedings is the military court system, empowered to prosecute civilians for offenses against defense emergency regulations.


Israel - Local Government


As of late 1988, there were two levels of local government: the central government operated the upper or district level; citizens elected the lower and relatively autonomous municipal level officials. The system of district administration and local government was for the most part based on statutes first promulgated during the Ottoman era and perpetuated under the British Mandate for Palestine and under Yishuv policies. Since independence it has been modified to deal with changing needs and to foster local self-rule. As of late 1988, local government institutions had limited powers, experienced financial difficulties, and depended to a great extent on national ministries; they were, nevertheless, important in the political framework.

Israel consisted of six administrative districts and fourteen subdistricts under, respectively, district commissioners and district officers. The minister of interior appointed these officials, who were responsible to him for implementing legislative and administrative matters. District officials drafted local government legislation, approved and controlled local tax rates and budgets, reviewed and approved by-laws and ordinances passed by locally elected councils, approved local public works projects, and decided on grants and loans to local governments. In their activities, local officials were also accountable to the Office of the State Comptroller. Staff of other ministries might be placed by the minister of interior under the general supervision of district commissioners.

Israel's local self-government derived its authority from the by-laws and ordinances enacted by elected municipal, local, and regional councils and approved by the minister of interior. Up to and including the municipal elections of 1973, mayors and members of the municipal councils were elected by universal, secret, direct, and proportional balloting for party lists in the same manner as Knesset members. Council members in turn chose mayors and municipal council chairpersons. After 1978 mayoral candidates were elected directly by voters in a specific municipality, while members of municipal and local councils continued to be elected according to the performance of party lists and on the basis of proportional representation.

Population determined the size of municipal and local councils. Large urban areas were classified as municipalities and had municipal councils. Local councils were designated class "A" (larger) or class "B" (smaller), depending on the number of inhabitants in villages or settlements. Regional councils consisted of elected delegates from settlements according to their size. Such councils dealt mainly with the needs of cooperative settlements, including kibbutzim and moshavim. The extensive local government powers of the minister of interior included authority to dissolve municipal councils; district commissioners had the same power with regard to local councils.

Local authorities had responsibility for providing public services in areas such as education, health care and sanitation, water management, road maintenance, parks and recreation, and fire brigades. They also levied and collected local taxes, especially property taxes, and other fees. Given the paucity of locally raised tax revenues, most local authorities depended heavily on grants and loans from the national Treasury. The Ministry of Education and Culture, however, made most of the important decisions regarding education, such as budgets, curriculum, and the hiring, training, and licensing of teachers. Nationwide, in 1986 local authorities contributed approximately 50 percent to financing local budgets. In 1979 the figure was about 29 percent. Over the years, municipalities have relied on two other methods for raising funds: cities such as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa used special municipal endowment funds, particularly for cultural purposes; and Project Renewal, a collaboration among local authorities, government ministries, and the Jewish Agency provided funds to rehabilitate deteriorated neighborhoods.

Local government employees came under the Local Authorities Order (Employment Service) of 1962. The statutes pertaining to the national Civil Service Commission did not cover them.

The Local Government Center, a voluntary association of major cities and local councils, was originally established in 1936, and reorganized in 1956. It represented the interests of local governing bodies vis-à-vis the central authorities, government ministries, and Knesset committees. It also represented local authorities in wage negotiations and signed relevant agreements together with the Histadrut and the government. The center organized conferences and advisory commissions to study professional, budgetary, and managerial issues, and it participated in various national commissions.


Israel - Civilian Administration in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip


A civilian administration has been set up in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as an interim measure pending final resolution of the political future of these two areas, which are not part of Israel proper. While Labor was in power, Israeli-sponsored municipal elections were held in the West Bank in 1976. The civilian administration of the area until late 1987 employed approximately 13,000 to 14,000 Palestinian civil servants. The Palestinian uprising (intifadah) in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that began in December 1987, however, had a profound impact on the relationship between the civilian administration and the Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied territories.

Data as of December 1988




As of late 1988, Israel had a number of so-called "nongovernment public sector" organizations, also known as "national institutions." For all practical purposes, they constituted an integral part of the government system, performing functions that were vital to the fulfillment of Zionist aspirations and to the maintenance of Israeli society. Political parties competed for leadership and patronage within them. During the Mandate period, these organizations served as the British administration's officially recognized governing bodies for the Jewish community in Palestine. The Jewish Agency Executive, for instance, was recognized by the governments of Britain, the United States, and other states and international organizations, including the United Nations (UN). In the process of their work, the organizations acquired considerable experience in self-rule, not to mention jealously guarded bureaucratic prerogatives.

These bodies engaged in fund-raising in the Diaspora, operated social welfare services, and were involved in education and cultural work. They operated enterprises, including housing companies; organized immigration; and promoted Zionist work. After Israel achieved independence, many of these services were taken over by the state, but others remained under the control of these well-entrenched organizations. They came to function side by side with the government, and their activities often overlapped, especially in the field of social welfare services. Until the early 1970s, these organizations were almost completely dominated by Israeli governments; later, the organized representatives of Diaspora Jewry began to function more independently.

<>World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency


Israel - World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency


Principal among these bodies were the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and the Jewish Agency. The Jewish Agency for Palestine was established in 1929 under the terms of the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine as the operative arm of the WZO in building a Jewish national homeland. In 1952 the Knesset enacted the World Zionist Organization-The Jewish Agency (Status) Law, defining the WZO as "also the Jewish Agency." The 1952 law expressly designated the WZO as "the authorized agency which will continue to operate in the State of Israel for the development and settlement of the country, the absorption of immigrants from the Diaspora and the coordination of activities in Israel of Jewish institutions and organizations active in those fields." The same statute granted tax-exempt status to the Jewish Agency and the authority to represent the WZO as its action arm for fund raising and, in close cooperation with the government, for the promotion of Jewish immigration. The specifics of cooperation were spelled out in a covenant entered into with the government in 1954. The 1954 pact also recognized the WZO and the Jewish Agency as official representatives of world Jewry.

These two bodies played a significant role in consolidating the new State of Israel, absorbing and resettling immigrants, and enlisting support from, and fostering the unity of, the Diaspora. Their activities included organizing immigration, resettling immigrants, assisting their employment in agriculture and industry, education, raising funds abroad, and purchasing land in Israel for settlers through the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet). In principle, the WZO was responsible mainly for political and organizational matters important to Zionists--Jewish education in the Diaspora and supervision of the Jewish National Fund--whereas the Jewish Agency's main concern was for financial and economic activities. In practice, the division of functions was more often obscured, resulting in a duplication of efforts and a bureaucratic morass.

In 1971 the relationship between the WZO and the Jewish Agency was reconstituted as part of a continuing effort to improve the operations of these bodies and to harmonize and strengthen ties between the state and the Diaspora. The need for this step was thought to be particularly acute after the June 1967 War, when contributions to Israel from previously uncommitted sections of the Diaspora reached unprecedented proportions. Impressed by the show of support, the congress of the WZO, which is usually convened every four years, directed the Jewish Agency to initiate discussions with all fund-raising institutions working for Israel. The purpose of these negotiations was to establish a central framework for cooperation and coordination between the Jewish Agency and other fund-raising groups. These discussions led to an agreement in 1971 whereby the governing bodies of the Jewish Agency were enlarged not only to provide equal representation for Israeli and Diaspora Jews but also to ensure a balance in geographical representation. The reconstitution helped to address the long-standing grievance of non-Zionist and non-Israeli supporters of Israel that the Jewish Agency was dominated by Israel-based Zionists.

Under the 1971 rearrangement, the WZO was separated in terms of its functions, but not its leadership, from the Jewish Agency. This was necessary because of the restrictive provision of the United States tax code pertaining to contributions and gifts. Those of its activities that were "political" or otherwise questionable from a tax-exemption standpoint had to be grouped separately and placed under the WZO. The organization was directed to "continue as the organ of the Zionist movement for the fulfillment of Zionist programs and ideals," but its operations were to be confined mainly to the Diaspora. Among the main functions of the WZO after 1971 were Jewish education, Zionist organizational work, information and cultural programs, youth work, external relations, rural development, and the activities of the Jewish National Fund. For the most part, these functions were financed by funds funneled through the Jewish Agency, which continued to serve as the main financial arm of the WZO. However, because of United States tax law stipulations, funds allocated for the WZO by the Jewish Agency were required to come from those collected by Keren HaYesod (Israel Foundation Fund), the agency's financial arm in countries other than the United States.

The Jewish Agency's task was not only to coordinate various fund-raising institutions but also to finance such programs as immigration and land settlement and to assist immigrants in matters of housing, social welfare, education, and youth care. The United Jewish Appeal (UJA, sometimes designated the United Israel Appeal) raised the agency's funds in the United States. In the 1980s, contributions and gifts from the United States usually accounted for more than two-thirds of the total revenue of the Jewish Agency. In 1988 American Jews donated US$357 million to Israel through the UJA.

The Jewish National Fund was the land-purchasing arm of the WZO. It dealt mainly with land development issues such as reclamation, afforestation, and road construction in frontier regions. Keren HaYesod provided partial funding for programs, which were implemented in close cooperation with the Jewish Agency and various government ministries.


Israel - Histadrut


As of the late 1980s, the Histadrut (HaHistadrut HaKlalit shel HaOvdim B'Eretz Yisrael, General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel) continued to be a major factor in Israeli life as the largest voluntary organization in the country. It also wielded an enormous influence on the government's wage policy and labor legislation, and was influential in political, social, and cultural realms. The largest trade union organization, and largest employer in Israel after the government, the Histadrut has opened its membership to almost all occupations. Its membership in 1983 was 1,600,000 (including dependents), accounting for more than one-third of the total population of Israel and about 85 percent of all wage earners. About 170,000 Histadrut members were Arabs. Founded in 1920 by Labor Zionist parties, traditionally it has been controlled by the Labor Party, but not to the exclusion of other parties. Almost all political parties or their affiliated socioeconomic institutions were represented in the organization.

The Histadrut performed functions that were unique to Israeli society, a legacy of its nation-building role in a wide range of economic, trade union, military, social, and cultural activities. Through its economic arm, Hevrat HaOvdim (Society of Workers), the Histadrut operated numerous economic enterprises and owned and managed the country's largest industrial conglomerates. It owned the country's second largest bank (Bank HaPoalim) and provided the largest and most comprehensive system of health insurance and medical and also operated hospital services. In addition, it coordinated the activities of domestic labor cooperative movements, and through its International Department, as well as organizations such as the Afro-Asian Institute, it maintained connections with labor movements in other countries.

Israeli political parties have regularly contested elections to the Histadrut Conference (Veida), held every four years. They also have contested elections to the National Labor Council and to the country's seventy-two local labor councils. Voting results in these elections have often paralleled or preceded trends in parliamentary and municipal elections.

The Histadrut Conference elects a General Council and an Executive Committee. The committee in turn elects a forty-three member Executive Bureau, which administers day-to-day policy. The Histadrut's secretary general, its most powerful official, is elected by the Executive Committee. As in the past, in late 1988 the Histadrut's secretary general, Israel Kaissar, was a Labor Party leader and a member of its Knesset delegation.




When Israel became independent, its founding political elite, associated mainly with Mapai, had almost three decades of experience in operating self-governing institutions under the British Mandate. The top Mapai/Labor Party leaders continued to dominate Israeli politics for another three decades. Their paramount influence for over half a century as founders, architects, and prime movers of a Jewish national homeland has had an enduring effect on their successor generation and the political scene in Israel. The elite, political culture, social structure, and social makeup of any nation entwine in complex ways and in the process shape the character and direction of a given political system. This process holds true especially in Israel, where ideological imperatives and their institutionalization have constituted an important part of the country's evolution.

The first generation of Israeli leaders came to Palestine (which they called Eretz Yisrael, or Land of Israel) mainly during the Second Aliyah between 1900 and 1920. The Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin), who constituted the majority among the Yishuv's mostly Labor Zionist political and socioeconomic elites, were impelled by Zionist ideals. The majority held to Labor Zionism, while others adhered to moderate General Zionism (sometimes called Political Zionism) or right-wing Revisionist Zionism. To the early immigrants, the themes promoted by the different Zionist movements provided powerful impulses for sociopolitical action. These pioneers were essentially Labor Zionists with an abiding faith in the rectitude of values that stressed, among other things, the establishment of a modern Jewish nation promoting mutual assistance under the principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs," abolition of private ownership of the means of production, and the idea that human consciousness and character were conditioned by the social environment. They also held that Jewish land should be developed in a collectivist agricultural framework, that well-to-do Jews in the Diaspora should materially aid the cause of the Jewish homeland, and that the Jews of the Diaspora should seek the fullest measure of redemption by immigrating to the new Yishuv. In addition, collectivist values of East European and Central European origin, in which the founding generation had been socialized, affected the political orientation of Israel both before and after independence.

The value system of the first generation came to be exemplified first and foremost in the communal and egalitarian kibbutz and to a lesser extent in the moshav. Together these institutions accounted for less than 3 percent of the Jewish population at any given time, but they have held a special place in Israeli society as the citadel of pioneer ideology. They also gave Israel a distinctive self-image as a robust, dedicated, egalitarian, "farmer- or citizen-soldier" society. The kibbutzim also produced numbers of national leaders out of proportion to their small population; they also provided the country with some of its best soldiers and officers.

The founding generation of Israeli leaders, including David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Berl Katznelson, Moshe Sharett, and later, Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, in effect shaped the country's socioeconomic structures and political patterns. These people were instrumental in establishing the original Labor Zionist parties beginning in 1905, in merging them to establish Mapai in 1930, and in organizing the Histadrut and Jewish self-defense institutions, such as the Haganah, which later became the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1920. These formative, nation-building organizations, along with the quasi-governmental Elected Assembly (Asefat Hanivharim), the National Council (Vaad Leumi), the WZO, and the Jewish Agency, served as the Yishuv's national institutions, shaping the character of postindependence Israel.

From its earliest days, Mapai, which had an interlocking leadership with the Histadrut, dominated Israeli public life, including the top echelons of the IDF, the WZO, and the Jewish Agency. Its legitimacy as a ruling party was seldom questioned because it was identified with the mystique of the Zionist struggle for independence, patriotism, and the successful consolidation of statehood. The essentially secular political values espoused by Mapai leaders were endorsed by most of the Jewish population. The absence of effective alternative governing elites or countervalues within the country's multiparty coalition-type government system made it difficult to challenge the Mapai-controlled political mainstream. Moreover, political patterns from the 1920s until the June 1967 War generally discouraged the rise of radical right-wing or left-wing destabilizing tendencies. This trend was rooted in the overall political dominance of Israel's Labor Party and its predecessors and the strength of the mutual restraints inherent in Israel's political subcultures.

Mainstream Israeli society is composed of persons who represent pluralistic cultural and political backgrounds. Politically, some Israeli Jews have liberal West European orientations; others were reared in more collectivist Central European and East European environments, or in authoritarian Middle Eastern political cultures. Some are religiously more traditional than others, but even among Orthodox Jews, shades of conviction vary substantially over the role of Jewish customary laws and the relationship between the state and religion. Thus, the founding generation had to develop a political system that reconciled and accommodated the varied needs of a wide range of groups.

The political system within Israel proper, excluding the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, is geared to the broadest possible level of public participation. Political activities are relatively free, although authoritarian and antidemocratic tendencies were evident among some of the leaders and supporters of right-wing ultranationalist parties and factions. In the late 1980s, the impetus to "agree to disagree" within the democratic framework of conciliation began to show some weakening as a result of intense polarizing controversies over the future of the occupied territories and various disputes over issues concerning the state and religion.

By the early 1970s, Jews of Sephardic origin (popularly referred to in Israel as Oriental Jews) outnumbered their Ashkenazic counterparts as a demographic group. The older Sephardim were, in general, from politically authoritarian and religiously traditional North African and Middle Eastern societies that regarded the Central European and West European secular and social democratic political value spectrum as too modern and far-reaching as compared to their own. They were accustomed to strong authoritarian leaders rather than ideals emphasizing social democratic collectivism and popular sovereignty. Nonetheless, a sizable proportion of Sephardim joined Labor's ranks both as leaders and rank-and-file party members.

Oriental Jews came to be referred to in the 1960s as "the Second Israel"--the numerically larger but socially, culturally, economically, and politically disadvantaged half of the nation. Not all Orientals were economically deprived, but nearly all of those who were relatively poor belonged to Sephardic communities. The communal gap and attendant tensions between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews have naturally engaged the remedial efforts of successive governments, but results have fallen far short of Oriental expectations. The problem was partly rooted in the country's political institutions and processes. Ashkenazic dominance of sociopolitical and economic life had been firmly institutionalized before independence. Over the years, however, Sephardic representation substantially increased in the country's major political parties, and as of the 1980s, Sephardic Jews occupied leadership positions in many municipalities.

Not surprisingly, beginning in the 1950s, most Sephardim tended to vote against Mapai and its successor, Labor. Both were perceived as representing the Ashkenazic establishment, even though Sephardim were always represented among the ranks of party leaders. In the 1950s and early 1960s, while many Sephardim were impressed with Ben-Gurion's charismatic and authoritative leadership, they nevertheless tended to support Herut, the major opposition party led by Menachem Begin, whose right-wing populism and ultranationalist, anti-Arab national security posture appealed to them. Paradoxically, the socialist-inspired social welfare system, a system built by Mapai and sustained by Labor and the Labor-dominated Histadrut, benefited the Sephardim particularly. In general, the Sephardim tended to support the right-wing Gahal/Likud blocs that for years had advocated a substantial modification of the welfare system so as to decrease its socialist emphasis. In terms of long-range electoral trends, the Sephardic position did not augur well for the Labor Zionist elite of the Labor Party.

Pressure for greater political representation and power has come from the younger, Israeli-born generation of both Ashkenazic and Sephardic origins. As a group, they were less obsessed with the past than their elders. The youth have been moving toward a strong, industrialized, capitalist, Western-style, middle-class society as the national norm. Although some younger right-wing ultranationalists and right-wing religious advocates continued to be imbued with the extremist nationalism and religious messianism of their elders--as shown, for example, by their support of parties favoring annexation of the occupied territories--most of the younger generation were more secular, pragmatic, and moderate on such issues.

The concerns of secular young people went beyond the question of "Who is a Jew"--which they continuously had to confront because of right-wing religious pressures--to such critical issues as the quality of education, social status, economic conditions, and the comforts of modern life. Their primary interests have been how to make Israel more secure from external threat and how to improve the quality of life for all. Nevertheless, for many Israelis, the founding ideologies remained a ritualized part of national politics.

Urbanization and industrialization were equally potent forces of change; their adulterating effect on Israel's founding ideology has been particularly significant. They have led to new demands, new opportunities, and new stresses in social and economic life affecting all social and political strata. The older commitment to agriculture, pioneering, and collectivism has crumbled before the relentless pressure of industrialization and the bridging of the gap between urban and rural life. Collective and communal settlements have become increasingly industrialized; factories and high-technology industries have been set up; the mass media have faciliated an influx of new information and ideas; and additional layers of bureaucratic and institutional arrangements have emerged. Kibbutz idealism, the pride of Israel, has declined, especially among increasingly individualistic and consumer-oriented young people. To stem this tide and to retain young members, kibbutz federations and individual kibbutzim have established many educational and vocational programs and activities.

As the 1970s began, the social base of Israeli politics had become highly complex, and political fluidity resulted. A major catalyst in creating a new mood was the October 1973 War, known in Israel as the Yom Kippur War, which dealt a crushing blow to popular belief in Israel's strength and preparedness in the face of its Arab adversaries. The result was a loss of confidence in the political and national security elite, headed at the time by Prime Minister Golda Meir, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, and Minister-without-Portfolio Israel Galilee. After the war, in which Egyptian and Syrian forces scored military gains, many charges and countercharges concerned inadequate military preparedness. Nevertheless, Meir's government returned to power in the country's parliamentary elections held on December 31, 1973. Apparently, despite widespread misgivings, many Israelis believed that continuity was preferable to change and uncertainty under Begin's newly formed and untried center-right Likud Bloc.

Meir's resignation from the prime ministership in April 1974 resulted in a succession crisis and the departure of the last of Labor's old guard party leaders, mostly in their late sixties and seventies, such as Meir, Pinchas Sapir, and Israel Galilee. Meir's departure triggered political infighting among the Labor elite, specifically between the former Mapai and Rafi (Israel Labor List--see Appendix B) factions; a new generation centered around the triumvirate of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Yigal Allon, succeeded Meir.

The second most striking political development in the 1970s was the ascendance of a new right-wing counterelite in May 1977. An upset victory in the ninth parliamentary elections, called an "earthquake" by some, brought Begin's center-right Likud to power, ending Labor's half a century of political dominance. The new political elite won primarily because of the defection of former Labor leaders and previous Labor voters to the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC), which had been founded in 1976 by Yigal Yadin and several other groups. Despite the subsequent collapse of the DMC and the defection of moderates from the Likud-led cabinet--for example, former Minister of Defense Ezer Weizman formed his own list Yahad (Together--see Appendix B) in 1981 and Minister of Foreign Affairs Moshe Dayan created Telem--Likud's success in the tenth parliamentary elections of 1981 resulted from its continued ability to present itself as a viable governing group and a party dedicated to ultranationalism and territorial expansionism.

The top echelons of the Israeli political elite as of the late 1980s were still predominantly of European background; many of them had either immigrated to Palestine during the 1930s and the 1940s or had been born in the Yishuv to parents of East European or Central European origin. A growing number of Oriental politicians, however, were making their mark in the top ranks of all the major parties and at the ministerial and subministerial levels. A majority of the elite had a secular university education, while a minority had a more traditional religious education. The political elite was overwhelmingly urban--most resided in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or Haifa. A minority, particularly the Sephardim, came from the newer development towns. Among the elite who resided in rural areas most, especially members of Labor and its satellites, represented communal kibbutzim and, to a lesser extent, moshavim.

By occupational category, professional party politicians constituted by far the largest single group, followed, in numerical order, by lawyers, kibbutz officials, educators, Histadrut or private sector corporate managers, journalists, ex-military officers, and, to a lesser degree, functionaries of religious institutions. Many of the elite were in the forty-to-mid-sixty age bracket. In 1988 the political elite numbered more than 200 individuals, excluding the broader social elite encompassing business, military, religious, educational, cultural, and agricultural figures. The number would be greater if senior officials in such key offices as the Office of the Prime Minister and the ministries of defense, foreign affairs, finance, and commerce, as well as the Histadrut and its industrial and financial enterprises and trade unions, were included.

The power of individual members of the elite varied depending on their personal reputation and their offices. The most influential were found in the cabinet. Members of the Knesset came next. Elected mayors of large municipalities such as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa had considerable importance because of the influence of local politics on national-level politics. In addition, the president, Supreme Court justices, and the head of the Office of the State Comptroller had the prestige of cabinet members although they lacked decision-making responsibility.

During the late 1980s, the criteria for entrance into the top elite were more open and competitive than previously. Political parties, and, to some extent, the civil service, continued to be the principal vehicles for upward mobility. Under the country's electoral system of proportional representation, participation in party politics remained essential for gaining top positions, except in limited cases of co-optation from nonparty circles, principally the military. In earlier periods, party nominating committees primarily determined a politician's entry into a parliamentary delegation; in the 1980s, internal party elections increasingly governed this decision. This system placed a high premium on partisan loyalty, membership in a party faction, and individual competence.

The political establishment, whether in office or in opposition, secularist or Orthodox, left-wing or right-wing, has remained basically loyal to the state. Establishment interpretations of classical Zionist ideologies have varied according to the adherents' diverse backgrounds and political and religious orientations, but internal political cleavages have not undermined the essential unity of Israeli society and political institutions. Except for certain segments among a minority of extremist right-wing religious or secular ultranationalists, most Israeli citizens have sought to maintain democratic values and procedures; their differences have centered mainly on tactics rather than on the goal of realizing a modern, democratic, prosperous social welfare state.




Political power in Israel has been contested within the framework of multiparty competition. Parliamentary elections are held every four years, and, unlike many parliamentary systems, the electorate votes as a single national constituency. Power has revolved around the system of government by coalition led by one of the two major parties, or in partnership among them. From the establishment of Mapai in 1930 until the 1977 Knesset elections, Labor (and its predecessor, Mapai) was the dominant party. Labor's defeat in the 1977 Knesset election, however, transformed the dominant party system into a multiparty system dominated by two major parties, Labor and Likud, in which neither was capable of governing except in alliance with smaller parties or, as in 1984 and 1988, in alliance with each other.

Since 1920, when the first Elected Assembly was held, no party has been able to command a simple majority in any parliamentary election. Israel has always had a pluralistic political culture featuring at least three major polarizing social and political tendencies: secular left-of-center, secular right-of-center, and religious right-of-center. No single tendency was dominant in the 1980s. Political fragmentation, as marked by the proliferation of parties, is a long-standing feature of Israeli society. For example, in the prestate period, between 1920 and 1944, from twelve to twenty-six party lists were represented in the Elected Assembly. In the first Knesset election in 1949, twenty-four political parties and groups competed. Since then the number has fluctuated as a result of occasional splits, realignments, and mergers. However, dominance by two major parties and a multiplicity of smaller parties remained deeply embedded in Israeli political culture (for details of individual political parties, see Appendix B).

In addition to political operations, party functions during the prestate period included "democratic integration," that is, the provision of social, economic, military, and cultural services for party members and supporters. During the postindependence period, party politics, in particular regarding competition between Labor and Likud and their respective allies, continued to be vigorous. Many analysts saw signs of a political crisis looming with the emergence of extremist minor parties and extraparliamentary protest movements (e.g., Kach and Gush Emunim). These groups challenged the traditional parties on such issues as the roles of the state and religion and the future territorial boundaries of the Jewish state.

Israel's major parties originated from the East European and Central European branches of the WZO, founded by Theodor Herzl in 1897, and from political and religious groups in the Mandate period. For example, a faction called the Democratic Zionists, including among its members Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first president, was active in 1900; Mizrahi (Spiritual Center), an Orthodox religious movement, was founded in 1902; and the non-Marxist Labor Zionist HaPoel HaTzair (The Young Worker), was established in 1905. Aaron David Gordon, the latter group's spiritual leader, was instrumental in founding the first kibbutz and moshav soon after the party's establishment. Moreover, in 1906 the Marxist Poalei Tziyyon (Workers of Zion--see Appendix B) was created to initiate a socialist-inspired class struggle in Palestine. Ber Borochov was its ideological mentor, and Ben-Gurion and Ben-Zvi were among its founding leaders. Vladimir Jabotinsky founded the right-wing Revisionist Party in 1925 to oppose what he considered the WZO executive's conciliatory policy toward the British mandatory government and toward the pace of overall Zionist settlement activity in Palestine.

These early, formative experiences in political activity produced three major alignments. All were Zionist, but they had varying shades of secularism and religious orthodoxy. Two of the alignments were secular but ideologically opposed. The first consisted of leftist or socialist labor parties of which Mapai, founded in 1930, was the dominant party. The second consisted of centrist-rightist parties; Herut (Freedom Movement--see Appendix B), founded in 1949, the Revisionist Party's successor and the present Likud's mainstay, dominated that alignment. Herut, which had become part of Likud, eventually won a mandate to govern in 1977 under Begin. The third major political alignment consisted of Orthodox religious Zionists. A fourth category of minor Zionist parties also emerged, traditionally allied with one of the two major alignments; non-Zionist communist Arab or nationalist Arab parties constituted the fifth grouping.

In the late 1980s, the stated values of Israeli political parties, including religious, communist, Arab nationalist, and mainstream parties, could not properly be placed on the left-right or liberal-conservative spectrum except, perhaps, on the issue of the future of the occupied territories. The positions advocated by Labor, Likud, Orthodox religious parties, and the constellation of smaller parties allied to them have varied greatly. On the extreme left, the most anti-Western element in Israeli politics was Rakah (New Communist List--see Appendix B), a Moscow-oriented group with a contingent of former Sephardic Black Panther activists that appealed to Palestinian Arab nationalist sentiment. Of the long-established minor parties, the moderate left-of-center Mapam (formally Mifleget Poalin Meuchedet, United Workers' Party--see Appendix B), which from 1969 to 1984 constituted a faction in the electoral alignment with Labor, the Citizens' Rights Movement, and Shinui (Change), were Labor's traditional satellites. Labor, in alignment with Mapam from 1969 until 1984, favored a negotiated settlement concerning the occupied territories involving the exchange of land for peace.

On the center-right of the political spectrum were Likud and its satellite parties, Tehiya, Tsomet, and Moledet. On the fringe right was Kach, which the Knesset outlawed in 1988 because of its racist platform that wished to expel all Arabs from the occupied territories. Likud, especially its Herut component, favored retaining much of the occupied territories to regain what it considered to be the ancient boundaries of Eretz Yisrael. The positions of the religious parties--the National Religious Party (NRP--see Appendix B), Agudat Israel, Shas (Sephardic Torah Guardians--see Appendix B), and Degel HaTorah (Torah Flag--see Appendix B)--generally coincided with the right-of-center parties, although the NRP trade-union component has continued its alliance with Labor in the Histadrut.

Israeli parties have engaged in many activities even in nonelection years. Indoctrination of young people has been important, although in the case of the Labor Party it had markedly lessened in the 1980s in comparison to the prestate period. Political parties retained much of their early character as mutual aid societies. Consequently, voters have tended to support the country's political parties as a civic duty. Membership in a registered party has not been a requirement for voting, but formal party membership was high and party members have accounted for 25 to 50 percent of the vote.

Except for small Arab and communist groups, Israeli political parties have been basically Zionist in their orientation. Given the shades of interpretation inherent in Zionism, parties drew their support from adherents who might be secular, religious, or antireligious, adherents of social welfare policies or free enterprise (the distinction was not always clear because Mapai/Labor in fact created Israel's capitalist economy), advocates of territorial compromise or territorial expansion. In general, attempts to organize parties on the basis of ethnic origin--for example, in the cases of Yemeni, Iraqi, or Moroccan Jews--had been unsuccessful until the early 1980s, when the Sephardi-based Tami (Traditional Movement of Israel--see Appendix B) and Shas were formed.

With the exception of religious parties, Israeli parties possessed national constituencies but also engaged in politics based on territorial subdivisions and local interests. Increasingly during the late 1980s, local party branches enjoyed greater independence in selecting local personalities in internal party nominations for mayoral, municipal council, Histadrut, and Knesset elections, as well as their own parties' central committees and conventions. This independence resulted in part from the growing tendency to vote on the basis of individual merit--mayoral elections, for example, reflected an emerging pattern of split-ticket voting--rather than traditional party loyalty. This trend, if sustained, is likely to lead to the decentralization of party control, if only to ensure that voters will support the same party in national as well as local elections.

<>Labor Party
<>Citizens' Rights Movement (CRM)
<>The Likud Bloc
<>Religious Parties
<>National Religious Party
<>Agudat Israel
<>Central Religious Camp
<>Gush Emunim
<>Arab Parties
<>Interest Groups


Israel - Labor Party


Until 1977 Mapai and the Labor Party dominated the political scene. Labor became Israel's dominant party as a result of its predecessors' effective and modernizing leadership during the formative prestate period (1917-48). The Labor Party resulted in 1968 from the merger of Mapai, Ahdut HaAvoda (Unity of Labor), and Rafi. In addition, shortly before the 1969 elections an electoral Alignment (Maarakh) occurred between Labor and the smaller Mapam Party. Although the two parties retained their organizational independence, they shared a common slate in elections to the Knesset, the Histadrut, and local government offices. The Alignment lasted until 1984.

Labor's political dominance broke down, particularly following the June 1967 War, when the party split over its leaders' inability to reach a consensus concerning the future of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula; there was agreement only on the need to retain the Golan Heights to ensure strategic depth against Syria. Later, the October 1973 War dealt a blow to public confidence in Labor from which its leadership was unable to recover. The war also exacerbated a number of crises confronting the party such as those concerning leadership succession. Although the party survived the Knesset elections of December 31, 1973, with a slightly reduced plurality, the war led to the resignation of Prime Minister Meir's government on April 10, 1974. The new leadership team of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Yigal Allon, which assumed power in June 1974, proved unable to govern effectively or to resolve major issues such as the future of the occupied territories. Following its electoral defeat in the 1977 Knesset elections, the Labor Party provided the principal opposition to Likud in the elections of 1981, 1984, and 1988. In the 1988 Knesset elections, the Labor Party, despite its efforts to present a revived platform advocating territorial compromise, gained only thirty-nine seats, down from forty-four in 1984.

In 1988 the dominant personalities in Labor, in addition to Peres and Rabin, included former president Yitzhak Navon, former IDF Chief of Staff Moredechai Gur, and former Likud Defense Minister Ezer Weizman, who joined Labor in preparation for the 1984 elections. Labor's biggest problem in the 1980s has been the gradual decline in its electoral support among growing segments in the electorate, notably Orientals and the young.


Israel - Mapam


A moderate, left-of-center Labor Zionist party, Mapam has had representatives in the Knesset since the inception of the state; it won three seats in the November 1988 Knesset elections. Opposition to the formation of the unity government in September 1984 led Mapam to withdraw from its fifteen-year-long electoral alignment with Labor. The 1988 Knesset elections represented the first time in twenty years that Mapam had contested an election independently. Mapam's top leaders included the party's secretary general, Elazar Granot, and Knesset member Yair Tzaban.

Mapam has advocated a strong national security and defense posture, with many of its members playing leading roles in the IDF. At the same time, it has urged continuing peace initiatives and territorial compromise, and has opposed the permanent annexation of the territories occupied in the June 1967 War beyond minimal border changes designed to provide Israel with secure and defensible boundaries. Mapam has long believed in Jewish-Arab coexistence and friendship as a means of hastening peace between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab states.


Israel - Citizens' Rights Movement (CRM)


Founded in 1973 by Shulamit Aloni, a former Labor Party Knesset member, the CRM has played an active role in calling for strengthening civil rights in Israel, particularly regarding issues involving the boundaries between the state and religion, and in advocating a peace settlement with the Palestinians and the Arab states based on territorial compromise. In the 1988 Knesset elections, the party increased its representation to five seats, compared with three in 1984. The party has traditionally allied itself with Labor, although it has refused to join Labor in unity governments with Likud. The CRM received considerable support from the country's liberal community, and prominent among its leaders were Knesset members Yossi Sarid (formerly of the Labor Party); Ran Cohen, a high-ranking reservist in the IDF; and Mordechai Bar-On and Dudy Zucker, leaders of the Peace Now movement.


Israel - Shinui


Founded in 1977 by Amnon Rubenstein, a law professor at Tel Aviv University and a columnist for Ha'aretz, Shinui represented a large faction in the Democratic Movement for Change DMC. The DMC won fifteen seats and played a major role in toppling the Labor Party in the 1977 Knesset elections. Within less than three years, however, the DMC broke up over the issue of continued participation in the Likud government. During the next decade Shinui served as an ally of Labor and was a leading advocate for constitutional and electoral reform and greater flexibility on the Palestinian problem. In the November 1988 elections, Shinui's Knesset representation declined from three to two seats.


Israel - The Likud Bloc


In the ninth Knesset elections in May 1977, the center-right Likud alliance emerged victorious and replaced the previously dominant Labor alignment for the first time in the history of independent Israel. The Likud Bloc, founded in 1973, consisted of the Free Center, Herut (Tnuat HaHerut or Freedom Movement--see Appendix B), Laam (For the Nation--see Appendix B), and Gahal (Freedom-Liberal Bloc--see Appendix B). In large part, Likud was the direct ideological descendant of the Revisionist Party, established by Vladimir Jabotinsky in 1925.

The Revisionist Party, so named to underscore the urgency of revision in the policies of the WZO's Executive, advocated militancy and ultranationalism as the primary political imperatives of the Zionist struggle for Jewish statehood. The Revisionist Party demanded that the entire mandated territory of historical Palestine on both sides of the Jordan River, including Transjordan, immediately become a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. Revisionist objectives clashed with the policies of the British authorities, Labor Zionists, and Palestinian Arabs. The Revisionist Party, in which Menachem Begin played a major role, contended that the British must permit unlimited Jewish immigration into Palestine and demanded that the Jewish Legion be reestablished and that Jewish youths be trained for defense.

The Revisionist Party also attacked the Histadrut, whose Labor Zionist leadership under Ben-Gurion was synonymous with the leadership of the politically dominant Mapai. Ben-Gurion accused the revisionists of being "fascists"; the latter countercharged that the policies being pursued by Ben-Gurion and his Labor Zionist allies, including Chaim Weizmann, were so conciliatory toward the British authorities and Palestinian Arabs and so gradual in terms of state-building as to be self-defeating.

In 1933 the Revisionist Party seceded from the WZO and formed the rival New Zionist Organization. After 1936 the revisionists rejected British and official Zionist policies of restraint in the face of Arab attacks, and they formed two anti-British and anti-Arab guerrilla groups. One, the Irgun Zvai Leumi (National Military Organization, Irgun for short) was formed in 1937; an offshoot of the Irgun, the Stern Gang also known as Lehi (from Lohamei Herut Israel, Fighters for Israel's Freedom), was formed in 1940. These revisionist paramilitary groups operated independently of, and at times in conflict with, the official Zionist defense organization, the Haganah; they engaged in systematic terror and sabotage against the British authorities and the Arabs.

After independence Prime Minister Ben-Gurion dissolved the Irgun and other paramilitary organizations such as Lehi and the Palmach. In 1948 remnants of the dissolved Irgun created Herut.

In the mid-1960s, Herut took steps to broaden its political base and attain greater legitimacy. In 1963 it established the Blue-White (Tkhelet-Lavan) faction to contest the previously boycotted Histadrut elections. In 1965 Herut and the Liberal Party formed Gahal (Gush Herut-Liberalim), a parliamentary and electoral bloc, to contest both Knesset and Histadrut elections. The final step in gaining greater political legitimacy occurred just before the outbreak of the June 1967 War, when Begin and his Gahal associates agreed to join the government to demonstrate internal Israeli unity in response to an external threat.

Gahal continued as part of the Meir cabinet formed after the 1969 elections. Gahal ministers withdrew from the cabinet in 1970 to protest what they believed to be Prime Minister Meir's conciliatory policy on territorial issues. In the summer of 1973, Gahal organized the Likud alignment in which Herut continued to be preeminent.

In the November 1988 elections, Likud lost one Knesset seat. Nevertheless, observers believed that demographic indicators favored continued support for Likud and its right-wing allies among young people and Orientals.

The most prominent leaders of Likud in 1988, as in previous years, were members of its Herut faction. They included Prime Minister Shamir; Minister of Foreign Affairs Moshe Arens, a likely successor to Shamir as leader of Herut; Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Housing David Levi, the chief Sephardic political figure; Minister of Commerce and Industry Ariel Sharon; and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Benjamin Netanyahu.


Israel - Religious Parties


Israel's religious parties were originally organized not to seize the reins of power, but rather to engage in what American scholar Norman L. Zucker has called "theopolitics"--to gain theological ends by means of political activity. From the Orthodox viewpoint, Israel remained an imperfect state as long as secular rather than religiously observant Jews constituted a majority. As of 1988, policy issues concerning religious parties included the question of "Who is a Jew," maintaining Orthodox rabbinical control over marriage and divorce, increasing sabbath observance, observing kosher dietary regulations, maintaining and expanding the state religious education systems, ensuring the exemption of religious women and ultra-Orthodox men from military service, and such social issues as abortion.

Despite the minority position of adherents of Orthodox Judaism, several factors have enabled this religious bloc to maintain a central role in the state. Such factors have included the links between Judaism and Israeli nationalism; the political and organizational power of the religious parties--particularly the NRP and later Agudat Israel and Shas--in assuming a pivotal role in the formation and maintenance of coalition governments; and the inability of the Reform and Conservative Jewish religious movements, although powerful in the Jewish Diaspora, to penetrate effectively Israel's religious administrative apparatus. This apparatus consisted particularly of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Chief Rabbinate, the Chief Rabbinical Council, and local religious councils. The Reform and Conservative movements played a minor role in Zionism during the prestate period and thus allowed the Orthodox to dominate religious activities in the new state. Among the Orthodox there were varying forms of religious observance in accordance with halakah. The main division was between the ultra-Orthodox, who rejected Zionism and were associated with Agudat Israel and Shas, and the modern Orthodox, who attempted to reconcile Zionism and religious orthodoxy and were associated with the NRP.

Taken together, Israel's religious parties have over the years generally commanded from fifteen to eighteen seats in the Knesset, or about 12 to 15 percent of the Knesset. On occasion they have formed religious coalitions of their own, such as the United Religious Front and the Torah Religious Front. The voter strength of the religious parties, particularly the NRP, made them ideal coalition partners for the two major blocs. Because neither bloc has ever been able to achieve a majority in the Knesset, the potentially pivotal position of the religious parties has given them disproportionate political power. One of the greatest shocks of the 1988 Knesset elections was the surprising increase in strength of the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox parties, which went from thirteen to eighteen Knesset seats.


Israel - National Religious Party


The National Religious Party, Israel's largest religious party, resulted in 1956 from the merger of its two historical antecedents, Mizrahi (Spiritual Center) and HaPoel HaMizrahi (Spiritual Center Worker). The NRP (as Mizrahi prior to 1956) has participated in every coalition government since independence. Invariably the Ministry of Religious Affairs, as well as the Ministry of Interior, have been headed by Knesset members nominated by this party.

Although the NRP increased from four to five Knesset seats in the 1988 elections, it had not fully recovered from major political and electoral setbacks suffered in the 1981 and 1984 elections. In those elections, much of its previous electoral support shifted to right-wing religio-nationalist parties. As a sign of its attempted recovery, in July 1986 the NRP held its first party convention since 1973. The long interval separating the two conventions was caused by factional struggles between the younger and the veteran leadership groups. In the 1986 convention, the NRP's second generation of leaders, members of the Youth Faction, officially took over the party's institutions and executive bodies. The new NRP leader was Knesset member Zevulun Hammer, former minister of education and culture in the Likud cabinet (1977-84) and secretary general of the party (1984-86). In 1986 Hammer succeeded long-time member Yosef Burg as minister of religious affairs in the National Unity Government. Hammer and Yehuda Ben-Meir, coleader of the Youth Faction until 1984, were among the founders of Gush Emunim in 1974. Both leaders somewhat moderated their views on national security, territorial, and settlement issues following Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, but the NRP's declining political and electoral position and the increasing radicalization of its religiously based constituency led to a reversal in Hammer's views. As a result, in the 1986 party convention the Youth Faction helped incorporate into the NRP the religio-nationalist Morasha (Heritage), which was led by Rabbi Chaim Druckman and held two seats in the Knesset. In return, Rabbi Yitzhak Levi, the third candidate on the Morasha Knesset list, became the NRP's new secretary general. Moroccan-born Levi has been a fervent supporter of Gush Emunim and an advocate of incorporating the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into a greater Israel.

Until the 1986 party convention, the dominant faction in the NRP was LaMifneh (To the Turning Point). The center-most faction, LaMifneh advocated greater pragmatism and ideological pluralism. Burg, a Knesset member since 1949, who had held a variety of cabinet portfolios including interior (1974-84) and religious affairs (1982-86), led LaMifneh. Burg and Rafael Ben-Natan, former party organization strongman, were responsible for maintaining the "historical partnership" with the Labor Party that officially ended in 1977, but continued in some municipal councils and in the Histadrut.

In the 1988 internal party elections, the NRP took a number of steps to regain the support of segments of the Oriental Orthodox electorate that were lost to Tami in 1981 and, to a lesser extent, to Shas in 1988. The party also sought to regain the support of right-wing religious ultranationalists. In the internal party elections the NRP nominated Moroccan-born Avner Sciaki for the top spot on its Knesset list, Zevulun Hammer for the second position, and Hanan Porat, a leader of Gush Emunim and formerly of Tehiya, in the third spot. As a result of these steps, the NRP attained greater ideological homogeneity and competed with Tehiya and Kach for the electoral support of the right-wing ultranationalist religious community.


Israel - Agudat Israel


During the prestate period, Agudat Israel, founded in 1912, opposed both the ideology of Zionism and its political expression, the World Zionist Organization. It rejected any cooperation with non-Orthodox Jewish groups and considered Zionism profane in that it forced the hand of the Almighty in bringing about the redemption of the Jewish people. A theocratic and clericalist party, Agudat Israel has exhibited intense factionalism and religious extremism. From 1955 to 1961 Agudat Israel formed a part of the Torah Religious Front. Traditionally, the party's Knesset delegation has consisted only of Ashkenazi factions, although ultra-Orthodox Orientals also provided it considerable electoral support.

In preparation for the 1984 Knesset elections, grievances over a lack of representation in party institutions caused Orientals to defect and establish Shas. As a result, Agudat Israel's Knesset representation declined from four to two seats. In the 1988 Knesset elections, as part of an ultra-Orthodox electoral upswing, the Shas Knesset delegation increased from two to six seats.

The Council of Torah Sages, a panel of rabbis to which both religious and secular decisions had to be referred, contained representatives of each faction in Agudat Israel. The main factions represented two Hasidic (ultra-Orthodox) courts: the court of the Rabbi of Gur, which dominated the party and the Council of Torah Sages; and the court of Rabbi Eliezer Shakh.

Agudat Israel engaged in ultra-Orthodox educational and social welfare activities, as well as in immigrant absorption. It usually took the lead in initiating legislation on religious issues. The party has obtained exemptions from military service for its adherents.


Israel - Shas


Shas resulted in 1984 from allegations of Agudat Israel's inadequate representation of ultra-Orthodox Sephardim in the Council of Torah Sages, the party organization, and educational and social welfare institutions. The leader of Shas was Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, who served as minister of interior in the National Unity Government until his protest resignation in 1987. As a theocratic party, Shas depended heavily for policy direction on its patrons, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yoseph, and Rabbi Eliezer Shakh, former Ashkenazi head of the Agudat Israel-dominated Council of Torah Sages. Rabbi Shakh sanctioned the formation of Shas and its division into separate Sephardi and Ashkenazi factions. In the negotiations to form the National Unity Government in 1984, Shas outmaneuvered the NRP and gained the Ministry of Interior portfolio. As minister of interior, Rabbi Peretz became a source of controversy as a result of his promoting religious fundamentalism in general and the narrow partisan interests of Shas in particular.

Unlike Agudat Israel, Shas saw no contradiction between its religious beliefs and Zionism. It was far more anti-Arab than Agudat Israel and sought increased representation for its adherents in all government bodies, in Zionist institutions, and in the Jewish Agency. Despite its ethnic homogeneity, Shas was not immune from bitter infighting over the spoils of office, as shown by the rivalry between factions led by Rabbi Peretz and Rabbi Arieh Dari, leader of the party's apparatus, who remained director general of the Ministry of Interior until the National Unity Government's term ended in 1988. Shas gained four Knesset seats in the 1984 elections and increased the size of its delegation to six in 1988. In late 1988, it actually held eight Knesset seats when combined with the two seats gained by Degel HaTorah, a Shas Ashkenazi faction formed in 1988.


Israel - Central Religious Camp


In 1988 Rabbi Yehuda Amital of Jerusalem formed a new moderate religious party, the Central Religious Camp, in an attempt to counteract the growing popularity of right-wing ultranationalist religious parties. Rabbi Tovah Lichtenstein had the second position on the party's Knesset list. The party failed, however, to gain the minimum 1 percent of votes required for Knesset representation.

Right-Wing Ultranationalist Parties

Tehiya (Renaissance--see Appendix B), an ultranationalist party, arose in 1979 in reaction to NRP and Likud support for the 1978 Camp David Accords and the 1979 Treaty of Peace Between Egypt and Israel. The party consisted of religious and secular leaders and activists of Gush Emunim and the Land of Israel Movement. The leaders and parliamentary representatives of Tehiya were Yuval Neeman, party chairman and former minister of science and technology in the Likud-led cabinet (1981-84); Geula Cohen, formerly of Herut; Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, head of the Kiryat Arba Yeshiva; Gershon Shafet; and Kiryat Arba's ultranationalist attorney Eliakim Haetzni. Former IDF Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan ranked among the party's leaders until 1984, when he left to form his own list, Tsomet. Tehiya's platform advocated the eventual imposition of Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the transfer of the Palestinian inhabitants of these territories to Arab countries. In the 1984 elections, Tehiya gained five Knesset seats, an increase of two from 1981. In 1988, however, Tehiya lost two seats to the newly formed Tsomet and Moledet parties.

Tsomet (Crossroads) was an extreme right-wing ultranationalist party founded in 1984 by Eitan. It gained two seats in the 1988 Knesset elections.

Moledet (Homeland) ran in 1988 on an extremist platform advocating the forcible "transfer" of Palestinian Arabs from the West Bank to Arab states. Led by retired IDF General Rehavam (Ghandi) Zeevi, the party won two seats in the 1988 Knesset elections.

Kach (Thus), another ultranationalist party, came into being around Rabbi Meir Kahane, an American-born right-wing Orthodox extremist. Characterized as an internal dictatorship under Kahane, Kach has advocated the forcible expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories, followed by the imposition of Israeli sovereignty there. A number of second-echelon party leaders have been implicated in Kach-supported terrorist activities. A terrorist attack on a bus carrying Arab passengers on Mount Hebron, near the town of Hebron, caused the imprisonment of Yehuda Richter, in second place on the Kach Knesset list. Avner Ozen, number four on Kach's 1984 list, was also imprisoned on terrorist charges. To counteract Kach's inflammatory political activities, in 1988 Likud and the Citizens' Rights Movement succeeded in passing a Basic Law empowering the Central Elections Board to prohibit a party advocating racism from contesting parliamentary elections in Israel and Kach was outlawed from participating in the November 1988 elections. Kach, largely funded by American supporters, had gained one seat in the 1984 elections after several earlier unsuccessful attempts to enter the Knesset.


Israel - Gush Emunim


Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful), a right-wing ultranationalist, religio-political revitalization movement, was formed in March 1974 in the aftermath of the October 1973 War. The younger generation of NRP leaders who constituted the party's new religious elite created Gush Emunim. Official links between Gush Emunim and the Youth Faction of the National Religious Party were severed following the NRP's participation in the June 1974 Labor-led coalition government, but close unofficial links between the two groups continued. Gush Emunim also maintained links to Tehiya and factions in the Herut wing of Likud.

The major activity of Gush Emunim has been to initiate Jewish settlements in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. From 1977 to 1984, Likud permitted the launching of a number of Jewish settlements beyond the borders of the Green Line. The Likud regime gave Gush Emunim the active support of government departments, the army, and the WZO, which recognized it as an official settlement movement and allocated it considerable funds for settlement activities.

A thirteen-member secretariat has governed Gush Emunim. A special conference elected nine of the group's secretaries and co-opted the other four from the leadership ranks of its affiliated organizations. Four persons have managed the movement's day-to-day affairs: Rabbi Moshe Levinger, a founder of Gush Emunim and the leader of the Jewish town of Kiryat Arba, near Hebron, on the West Bank; Hanan Porat, a founder of the organization and a former Tehiya Knesset member who later rejoined the NRP; Uri Elitzur, secretary general of Amana, Gush Emunim's settlement movement; and Yitzhak Armoni, secretary general of Gush Emunim since September 1988. From 1984 to August 1988, American-born Daniella Weiss served as Gush Emunim's secretary general.

Amana was Gush Emunim's settlement arm. The Council of Settlements in Judea and Samaria (Yesha), chaired by Israel Harel, was the political organization representing the majority of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There were more than eighty such settlements, including those affiliated with nonreligious parties. Yesha dealt primarily with practical matters, such as the utilization of land and water, relations with Israeli military authorities and, if necessary, mobilizing political pressure on the government. Yesha has created affiliations between Gush Emunim settlements and Labor, the NRP, and Herut's Betar youth movement. Two factors shape Yesha, a democratically elected political organization: the right-wing and ultranationalist views of its members and its political dependency on external bodies such as government agencies. The group had five councils in Israel proper and six regional councils in the occupied territories.


Israel - Arab Parties


Israel's approximately 781,350 Arabs, constituting about 17.8 percent of the population, articulated their views through elected officials on the municipal and national levels and through the Arab departments within governmental ministries and nongovernmental institutions such as the Histadrut. In the past, most elected Arab officials traditionally affiliated with the Labor Party and its predecessors, which expected--erroneously as time has proved--that Israeli Arabs would serve as a "bridge" in creating peace among Israeli Jews, the Palestinians, and the Arab world. Beginning in the mid-1970s and throughout the 1980s, increasing numbers of Arab voters, especially younger ones, asserted themselves through organizations calling for greater protection of minority rights and the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Generally, Israeli Arabs remained attached to their religious, cultural, and political values, but their ethnic homogeneity has not necessarily resulted in political cohesion. Internal fissures among Christians, Sunni Muslims, and Druzes, Negev beduins and Galilee Arabs, and communist and noncommunist factions have made it difficult for them to act as a single pressure group in dealing with Israel's Jewish majority.

In 1988, despite their natural sympathy for the year-long uprising by their fellow Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israeli Arabs continued to be active participants in the Israeli electoral system. They increased their share in the total 1988 Knesset vote to more than 10 percent of the electorate, and the voting percentage among those eligible to participate was approximately 74 percent, as compared to 80 percent for Jewish voters. Israeli Arabs increased their voting support for Arab lists from 50 percent in 1984 to 60 percent in 1988.

As of 1988, Rakah (New Communist List), a predominantly Arab communist party, continued to adhere to the official Soviet line, yet explicitly recognized Israel's right to exist within its pre-1967 borders. Rakah succeeded Poalei Tziyyon, part of which split off in 1921 and became the Communist Party of Palestine. In 1948 it became the Communist Party of Israel Miflaga Komunisfit Yisraelit, known as Maki, and in 1965 it split into two factions: Rakah with mainly Arab membership, and Maki, with mainly Jewish membership. In 1977 Maki and several other groups created Shelli (acronym for Peace for Israel and Equality for Israel), which disbanded before the 1984 elections. In the November 1988 elections, Rakah maintained its relatively constant share of 40 percent of the total Arab vote and four Knesset seats. In 1988 the party's secretary general was Meir Viler, a veteran Israeli communist.

Within the Israeli Arab community, Rakah's strongest challenges came from two more radical parties, the Palestinian nationalist Sons of the Village, which had no Knesset seats, and the Progressive National Movement. The Progressive National Movement, also known as the Progressive List for Peace, came into being in 1984. Its platform advocated recognition of the PLO and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the November 1988 elections, the party, led by Muhammad Muari, received about 15 percent of the Arab vote; its Knesset delegation declined to one from the 1984 level of two.

The Arab Democratic Party, founded in early 1988 by Abdul Wahab Daroushe, a former Labor Party Knesset member, gained about 12 percent of the total Arab vote and one seat in the November 1988 Knesset elections. In a March 1988 interview, Daroushe acknowledged that his resignation from the Labor Party resulted from the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the "diminishing choices" open to Israeli Arab politicians affiliated with the government and yet tied to the Arab community by a sense of shared ethnic identity. Echoing the sentiments of other Israeli Arabs, Daroushe has stated that "The PLO is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians" living outside Israel's pre-1967 borders.


Israel - Interest Groups


Major interest groups in Israel influencing the formulation of public policy have included the politically powerful Histadrut, the kibbutzim, and the moshavim, all of which were affiliated with or represented in most of the political parties. Reportedly, one of the main reasons for Labor to join the National Unity Government in 1988 was the opportunity for Peres, as minister of finance and chairman of the Knesset's Finance Committee, to bail out the Histadrut, the kibbutzim, and the moshavim, which were billions of dollars in debt.

As of the late 1980s, other economically oriented interest groups included employer organizations and artisan and retail merchant associations. In addition, there were major groups concerned with promoting civil rights, such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Association for Beduin Rights in Israel. Numbered among groups concerned with political issues such as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, were movements such as Peace Now and Gush Emunim.

Furthermore, Diaspora Jewry might be considered, in the words of Canadian scholar Michael Brecher, an externally based foreign policy interest group. In the late 1980s, Diaspora Jewry, and especially American Jewry, had become increasingly critical of Israeli government policy, particularly over the handling of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and issues concerning religion and the state.




The supremacy of civilian authorities over the military has rarely been challenged in Israel's history. The Lavon affair of 1954 remains the major exception. Factors weighing against military interference have included the prohibition on active officers engaging in politics and the population's broad support for the nonpartisan behavior of the armed forces. Given the ever-present external threat to Israeli security, however, the military looms large in everyday life. This has led some foreign observers to call Israel a "garrison democracy." The military has also served as a channel into politics, with political activity providing a "second career" for retired or reservist officers after they complete their military careers, usually between the ages of forty and fifty. This phenomenon has left its mark on Israeli politics as high-ranking retired or reservist IDF figures have often "parachuted" into the leadership ranks of political parties and public institutions.

The most frequent instances of this tendency have occurred during the demobilization of officers in postwar periods, for example, following the 1948, 1967, and 1973 wars. Until the June 1967 War, the great majority of reservist or retired officers joined Labor's ranks. In the 1950s, the first generation of such officers included Moshe Dayan, Yigal Allon, Yigal Yadin, Israel Galilee, and Chaim Herzog. After 1967, the number of such officers co-opted into the political elite rose sharply, with many for the first time joining center-right parties. Among those joining the Labor Party were Yitzhak Rabin, Haim Bar-Lev (bar, son of), Aharon Yariv, and Meir Amit. Ezer Weizman, Ariel (Arik) Sharon, Mordechai Zipori, and Shlomo Lahat joined Likud. Despite their widespread participation in politics, these exmilitary officers have not formed a distinct pressure group. The armed forces have generally remained shielded from partisan politics. The only possible exception was the IDF's military action in Lebanon in June 1982, which disregarded the cabinet's decision on the limits of the advance. The invasion occurred while Ariel Sharon was minister of defense (1981-83) and Rafael Eitan was chief of staff (1979-83); both individuals had stressed the independent policy role of the IDF.




The cabinet, and particularly the inner cabinet, consisting of the prime minister, minister of foreign affairs, minister of defense, and other selected ministers, are responsible for formulating Israel's major foreign policy decisions. Within the inner cabinet, the prime minister customarily plays the major role in foreign policy decision making, with policies implemented by the minister of foreign affairs. Other officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs include, in order of their rank, the director general, assistant directors general, legal and political advisers, heads of departments, and heads of missions or ambassadors. While the director general may initiate and decide an issue, commit the ministry by making public statements, and respond directly to queries from ambassadors, assistant directors general supervise the implementation of policy. Legal and political advisers have consultative, not operational, roles. Heads of departments serve as aides to assistant directors general, administer the ministry's departments, and maintain routine contact with envoys. The influence of ambassadors depends on their status within the diplomatic service and the importance to the ministry's policy makers of the nation to which they are accredited.

In the Knesset, the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, with twenty-six members, although prestigious, is not as independent as the foreign affairs committees of the United States Congress. Its role, according to Samuel Sager, an Israeli Knesset official, is not to initiate new policies, but to "legitimize Government policy choices on controversial issues." Members of the committee frequently complain that they do not receive detailed information during briefings by government officials; government spokesmen reply that committee members tend to leak briefing reports to the media.

Israeli foreign policy is chiefly influenced by Israel's strategic situation, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the rejection of Israel by most of the Arab states. The goals of Israeli policy are therefore to overcome diplomatic isolation and to achieve recognition and friendly relations with as many nations as possible, both in the Middle East and beyond. Like many other states, throughout its history Israel has simultaneously practiced open and secret diplomacy to further its main national goals. For example, it has engaged in military procurement, the export of arms and military assistance, intelligence cooperation with its allies, commercial trade, the importation of strategic raw materials, and prisoner-of-war exchanges and other arrangements for hostage releases. It has also sought to foster increased Jewish immigration to Israel and to protect vulnerable Jewish communities in the Diaspora.

Foreign Relations with ...
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Israel - Relations with Middle Eastern States


Despite the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel has established formal diplomatic relations with Egypt and maintained a de facto peaceful relationship with Jordan. Israeli leaders have traveled to Morocco to discuss Israeli-Arab issues, and Morocco has often served as an intermediary between Israel and the other Arab states. In 1983 Israel signed a peace treaty with Lebanon, although it was quickly abrogated by the Lebanese as a result of Syrian pressure. Some secret diplomatic contacts may also have occurred between Israel and Tunisia.


In late 1988, about ten years after the signing of the Camp David Accords and the Treaty of Peace Between Egypt and Israel, a "cool" peace characterized Egyptian-Israeli relations. These relations had originally been envisioned as leading to a reconciliation between Israel and the Arab states, but this development has not occurred. EgyptianIsraeli relations have been restrained by a number of developments, including the June 1981 Israeli bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon directed against Palestinian forces a year later, the establishment of an increasing number of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the "watering down" of proposals for the autonomy of the Palestinian inhabitants of these territories as envisaged by the Camp David Accords and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

Relations between the two countries warmed somewhat during Peres's tenure as prime minister and minister of foreign affairs in the National Unity Government. They again cooled, however, following the establishment of the Likud-led cabinet in December 1988, and prime minister Shamir's rejection of Israeli participation in an international peace conference with the PLO. Nevertheless, the two countries continued to maintain full diplomatic relations, and in 1985 about 60,000 Israeli tourists visited Egypt, although Egyptian tourism to Israel was much smaller. Cooperation occurred in the academic and scientific areas as well as in a number of joint projects in agriculture, marine science, and disease control.

Another issue that had impeded normal relations between Egypt and Israel concerned the disposition of Taba, an approximately 100- hectare border enclave and tourist area on the Gulf of Aqaba in the Sinai Peninsula claimed by the two countries, but occupied by Israel. Following a September 1988 ruling in Egypt's favor by an international arbitration panel, official delegations from Israel and Egypt met to implement the arbitral award.


Secret or "discreet" contacts between the leaders of the Yishuv and later of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan or Jordan began in the early days of the British Mandate and continued into the late 1980s. These covert contacts were initiated with King Abdullah, the grandfather of King Hussein, Jordan's present ruler. Some observers have speculated that, together with Jordan's annexation of the West Bank in 1950, these contacts may have been responsible for Abdullah's assassination by a Palestinian gunman in East Jerusalem in July 1951. According to Israeli journalists Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, Hussein renewed Jordan's ties with Israel in 1963. Following Jordan's ill-fated participation in the June 1967 War, secret meetings took place between Hussein and Israeli leaders in 1968, and they lasted until Begin's accession to power in 1977. This "secret" relationship was revived in 1984, following Labor's participation in the National Unity Government, and intensified in 1986-87. The participants reached agreements on Israeli-Jordanian cooperation on such issues as the role of pro-Jordanian Palestinian moderates in the peace process, setting up branches of Jordan's Cairo-Amman Bank in the West Bank, and generally increasing Amman's influence and involvement in the West Bank's financial, agricultural, education, and health affairs, thus blocking the PLO. The last reported meeting between Minister of Foreign Affairs Peres and King Hussein took place in London in November 1987, when the two leaders signed a "memorandum of understanding" on a peace plan. Upon his return to Israel, however, Peres was unable to win support for the agreement in the Israeli cabinet.


Morocco has been noted for its generally good relations with its own Jewish community, which in 1988 numbered approximately 18,000; in 1948 there had been about 250,000 Jews in Morocco. Over the years discreet meetings have occurred between Moroccan and Israeli leaders. Beginning in 1976, King Hassan II began to mediate between Arab and Israeli leaders. Then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reportedly made a secret visit to Morocco in 1976, leading to a September 1977 secret meeting between King Hassan and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan. King Hassan also played a role in the Egyptian-Israeli contacts that led to the 1978 Camp David Accords. In July 1978, and again in March 1981, Peres, as opposition leader, made secret trips to Morocco. In May 1984, thirty-five prominent Israelis of Moroccan origin attended a conference in Rabat. This meeting was followed by an official visit in May 1985 by Avraham Katz-Oz, Israel's deputy minister of agriculture, to discuss possible agricultural cooperation between the two countries. In August 1986, Moroccan agricultural specialists and journalists reportedly visited Israel, and Haim Corfu, Israel's minister of transport, attended a transportation conference in Morocco. On July 22 and 23, 1986, Prime Minister Peres met King Hassan at the king's palace in Ifrane. This was the first instance of a public meeting between an Arab leader and an Israeli prime minister since the Egyptian-Israeli meetings of the late 1970s. Hassan and Peres, however, were unable to agree on ways to resolve the Palestinian dimension of the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Until the overthrow of the shah's regime in 1979, Israel and Iran had established government missions in both countries although this relationship was never formalized by an exchange of ambassadors. Under the shah, from 1953 to 1979, Iran was one of Israel's primary suppliers of oil and a major commercial partner. In addition, the intelligence services of the two countries cooperated closely, and Israel exported military hardware and provided training and other assistance to Iranian military forces. These close, but discreet, relations were abruptly terminated in 1979, upon the coming to power of the regime of Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini and Iran's joining of the anti-Israel camp. Shortly thereafter, Iran called for the "eradication" of the State of Israel through armed struggle and its replacement by a Palestinian state. As a symbolic gesture, the PLO was given the building of the former Israeli mission in Tehran.

In the 1980s, however, Israeli concern about the fate of the approximately 30,000 Jews remaining in Iran, interest in assisting Iran in its war with Iraq, and cooperation with the United States in its efforts to free American hostages held by Iranian-backed Shia extremists in Lebanon, led to a renewal of contacts between Israeli and Iranian leaders and shipments of Israeli arms to Tehran. Israel reportedly sent arms to Iran in exchange for Iran's allowing thousands of Jews to leave the country.


Israel - Relations with the United States


For strategic security and diplomatic support, Israel has depended almost totally upon the United States. Since the establishment of the state in 1948, the United States has expressed its commitment to Israel's security and well-being and has devoted a considerable share of its world-wide economic and security assistance to Israel. Large-scale American military and economic assistance began during the October 1973 War, with a massive American airlift of vital military matériel to Israel at the height of the war. From 1948 through 1985, the United States provided Israel with US$10 billion in economic assistance and US$21 billion in military assistance, 60 percent of which was in the form of grants. From 1986 through 1988, total United States economic and military assistance to Israel averaged more than US$3 billion a year, making Israel the largest recipient of United States aid. Of the annual total, about US$1.8 billion was in Foreign Military Sales credits, and about US$1.2 billion was in economic assistance.

During the administration of President Ronald Reagan, the United States-Israeli relationship was significantly upgraded, with Israel becoming a strategic partner and de facto ally. A number of bilateral arrangements solidified this special relationship. In November 1983, the United States and Israel established a Joint Political-Military Group to coordinate military exercises and security planning between the two countries, as well as to position United States military equipment in Israel for use by American forces in the event of a crisis. In 1984 Israel and the United States concluded the United States-Israel Free Trade Area Agreement to provide tariff-free access to American and Israeli goods. In 1985 the two countries established a Joint Economic Development Group to help Israel solve its economic problems; in 1986 they created a Joint Security Assistance Group to discuss aid issues. Also in 1986, Israel began participating in research and development programs relating to the United States Strategic Defense Initiative. In January 1987, the United States designated Israel a major non-NATO ally, with status similar to that of Australia and Japan. Two months later, Israel agreed to the construction of a Voice of America relay transmitter on its soil to broadcast programs to the Soviet Union. In December 1987, Israel signed a memorandum of understanding allowing it to bid on United States defense contracts on the same basis as NATO countries. Finally, the two countries signed a memorandum of agreement in April 1988 formalizing existing arrangements for mutually beneficial United States-Israel technology transfers.

Israel has also cooperated with the United States on a number of clandestine operations. It acted as a secret channel for United States arms sales to Iran in 1985 and 1986, and during the same period it cooperated with the United States in Central America.

The United States-Israeli relationship, however, has not been free of friction. The United States expressed indignation with Israel over an espionage operation involving Jonathan Jay Pollard, a United States Navy employee who was sentenced to life imprisonment for selling hundreds of vital intelligence documents to Israel. During the affair, Israeli government and diplomatic personnel in Washington served as Pollard's control officers. Nevertheless, United States government agencies continued to maintain a close relationship with Israel in sensitive areas such as military cooperation, intelligence sharing, and joint weapons research.

The main area of friction between the United States and Israel has concerned Washington's efforts to balance its special ties to Jerusalem with its overall Middle Eastern interests and the need to negotiate an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which the United States has played a major mediating role. In 1948 the United States hoped that peace could be achieved between Israel and the Arab states, but this expectation was quickly dashed when Arab nations refused to recognize Israel's independence. American hopes were dashed again when in 1951 Jordan's King Abdullah, with whom some form of settlement seemed possible, was assassinated and in 1953 when the Johnston Plan, a proposal for neighboring states to share the water of the Jordan River, was rejected.

The June 1967 War provided a major opportunity for the United States to serve as a mediator in the conflict; working with Israel and the Arab states the United States persuaded the United Nations (UN) Security Council to pass Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967. The resolution was designed to serve as the basis for a peace settlement involving an Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the June 1967 War in exchange for peace and Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist. Many disputes over the correct interpretation of a clause concerning an Israeli withdrawal followed the passage of the UN resolution, which was accepted by Israel. The resolution lacked any explicit provision for direct negotiations between the parties. Although the Arab states and the Palestinians did not accept the resolution, it has remained the basis of United States policy regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In December 1969, the Rogers Plan, named after United States Secretary of State William P. Rogers, although unsuccessful in producing peace negotiations, succeeded in ending the War of Attrition between Israel and Egypt that followed the June 1967 War and established a cease-fire along the Suez Canal. In 1971 United States Assistant Secretary of State Joseph P. Sisco proposed an "interim Suez Canal agreement" to bring about a limited Israeli withdrawal from the canal, hoping that such an action would lead to a peace settlement. The proposal failed when neither Israel nor Egypt would agree to the other's conditions.

In October 1973, at the height of the Arab-Israeli war, United States-Soviet negotiations paved the way for UN Security Council Resolution 338. In addition to calling for an immediate cease-fire and opening negotiations aimed at implementing Resolution 242, this resolution inserted a requirement that future talk be conducted "between the parties concerned," that is, between the Arab and the Israelis themselves.

In September 1975, United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger's "shuttle diplomacy" achieved the Second Sinai Disengagement Agreement between Israel and Egypt, laying the groundwork for later negotiations between the two nations. The United States also pledged, as part of a memorandum of understanding with Israel, not to negotiate with the PLO until it was prepared to recognize Israel's right to exist and to renounce terrorism.

Another major United States initiative came in 1977 when President Jimmy Carter stressed the need to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict by convening an international peace conference in Geneva, cochaired by the United States and the Soviet Union. Although Egyptian President Anwar as Sadat conducted his initiative in opening direct Egyptian-Israeli peace talks without United States assistance, the United States played an indispensable role in the complex and difficult negotiation process. Negotiations ultimately led to the signing, under United States auspices, of the September 17, 1978, Camp David Accords, as well as the March 1979 Treaty of Peace Between Egypt and Israel. The accords included provisions that called for granting autonomy to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through a freely elected self-governing authority during a five-year transitional period; at the end of the period the final status of the occupied territories was to be decided. Carter had hoped that this process would enable the Palestinians to fulfill their legitimate national aspirations while at the same time safeguarding Israeli security concerns. While criticizing the Begin government's settlement policy in the occupied territories, the Carter administration could not prevent the intensified pace of construction of new settlements.

Following Israel's invasion of Lebanon in early June 1982, on September 1, 1982, President Reagan outlined what came to be called the Reagan Plan. This plan upheld the goals of the Camp David Accords regarding autonomy for the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and disapproved of Israel's establishment of any new settlements in these areas. It further proposed that at the end of a transitional period, the best form of government for the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would be self-government by the resident Palestinian population in association with Jordan. Under the plan, Israel would be obliged to withdraw from the occupied territories in exchange for peace, and the city of Jerusalem would remain undivided; its final status would be decided through negotiations. The plan rejected the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Although Labor leader Peres expressed support for the plan, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the Likud opposed it, as did the PLO and the Arab states. The plan was subsequently shelved.

The United States nevertheless continued its efforts to facilitate Arab-Israeli peace. In March 1987, the United States undertook intensive diplomatic negotiations with Jordan and Israel to achieve agreement on holding an international peace conference, but differences over Palestinian representation created obstacles. In Israel, Likud prime minister Shamir and Labor minister of foreign affairs Peres were at odds, with Shamir rejecting an international conference and Peres accepting it. Peres and Labor Party minister of defense Rabin reportedly held talks with Jordan's King Hussein, who wanted the conference to include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, as well as Israel, the Arab states, and the PLO. The Reagan administration, on the other hand, was reluctant to invite the Soviet Union to participate in the diplomatic process. The administration insisted that any prospective conference adjourn speedily and then take the form of direct talks between Israel and Jordan. The administration also insisted that the conference have no power to veto any agreement between Israel and Jordan.

A major difficulty involved the nature of Palestinian representation at a conference. A Soviet-Syrian communiqué repeated the demand for PLO participation, which Israel flatly rejected. The United States asserted that, as the basis for any PLO participation, the PLO must accept UN Resolutions 242 and 338 with their implied recognition of Israel's right to exist. Both the PLO mainstream and its radical wings were unwilling to agree to this demand. The Palestinian uprising (intifadah) in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip began in December 1987. In February 1988, Secretary of State George Shultz visited Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria; in a statement issued in Jerusalem he called for Palestinian participation, as part of a Jordanian/Palestinian delegation, in an international peace conference. The PLO rejected this initiative. The United States proposal called for a comprehensive peace providing for the security of all states in the region and for fulfillment of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. The proposal consisted of an "integrated whole" and included the following negotiating framework: "early negotiations between Israel and each of its neighbors willing to do so," with the door "specifically open for Syrian participation"; "bilateral negotiations . . . based on United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 in all their parts"; "the parties to each bilateral negotiation" to determine "the procedure and agenda of the negotiation"; "negotiations between an Israeli and a Jordanian/Palestinian delegation on arrangements for a transitional period for the West Bank and Gaza," with the objective of completing "these talks within six months"; and "final status negotiations" beginning "on a date certain seven months after the start of transitional talks," with the objective of completing the talks "within a year."

On March 26, 1988, Shultz met with two members of the Palestine National Council (PNC), which represents Palestinians outside Israel various political and guerrilla groups with the PLO, and associated youth, student, women's and professional bodies. According to a PLO spokesman, the PNC members, Professors Ibrahim Abu Lughod and Edward Said, both Arab Americans, were authorized by Yasir Arafat to speak to Shultz, and they later reported directly to the PLO leader about their talks. Little resulted from this meeting, however, and Shultz found no authoritative party willing to come to the conference table.

The United States once again involved itself in the peace process to break the stalemate among the Arab states, the Palestinians, and Israel following King Hussein's declaration on July 31, 1988, that he was severing most of Jordan's administrative and legal ties with the West Bank, thus throwing the future of the West Bank onto the PLO's shoulders. PLO chairman Yasir Arafat thereby gained new international status, but Shultz barred him from entering the United States to address the UN General Assembly in early December because of Arafat's and the PLO's involvement in terrorist activities. When Arafat, following his December 14 address to a special session of the UN General Assembly in Geneva, met American conditions by recognizing Israel's right to exist in "peace and security," accepted UN Resolutions 242 and 338, and renounced "all forms of terrorism, including individual, group and state terrorism," the United States reversed its thirteen-year policy of not officially speaking to the PLO.

The Israeli National Unity Government, installed in late December, denounced the PLO as an unsuitable negotiating partner. It did not accept the PLO's recognition of Israel and renunciation of terrorism as genuine.

Whether the United States-PLO talks would yield concrete results in terms of Arab-Israeli peace making remained to be seen as of the end of 1988. Notwithstanding the possibility of future progress, the new willingness of the United States to talk to the PLO demonstrated that, despite the special relationship between the United States and Israel and the many areas of mutual agreement and shared geopolitical strategic interests, substantial differences continued to exist between the United States and certain segments of the Israeli government. This was especially true with regard to the Likud and its right-wing allies.


Israel - Soviet Union


In August 1986, the Soviet Union renewed contacts with Israel for the first time since severing diplomatic relations immediately following the June 1967 War. The Soviet Union had been an early supporter of the 1947 UN Partition of Palestine Resolution, and in 1948 it had recognized the newly established State of Israel. Relations between Israel and the countries of Eastern Europe, however, markedly worsened in the 1950s. The Soviet Union turned to Egypt and Syria as its primary partners in the Middle East, and in the early 1960s it began to support the Palestinian cause and supply the PLO and other Palestinian armed groups with military hardware. But in the mid-1980s, Soviet-Union turned its attention to improving relations with Israel as part of its "new diplomacy" and a change in its Middle Eastern strategy.

Soviet and Israeli representatives held talks in Helsinki, Finland, on August 17, 1986. Although the talks did not lead to renewed diplomatic relations between the two countries, they indicated Soviet interest in improving ties with Israel. Israel viewed the Soviet initiative as an attempt to obtain Israel's agreement to participate in an international peace conference to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and to increase Soviet involvement in the Middle East as a counterweight to the United States. The Soviets raised three issues: the activity of the Soviet section based in the Finnish legation in Tel Aviv; consular matters connected with the travels of Soviet citizens to Israel; and Soviet property, mainly that belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church, in Israel. In talks with the Soviets, the Israelis demanded that greater numbers of Jews be permitted to emigrate to Israel, that a radical change take place in official Soviet attitudes toward its Jewish community, and that Moscow cease publishing virulent anti-Zionist tracts. Soviet and Israeli officials held a number of additional meetings in 1987.

A major group influencing improved relations between the two countries was the active Israeli lobby, the Soviet Jewry Education and Information Center. This lobby represented about 170,000 Soviet Jews living in Israel, who pressured the government not to restore diplomatic relations with Moscow until the Soviet Union permitted free Jewish emigration.

Despite its renewed contacts with Israel, the Soviet Union continued to support the PLO and the Palestinian cause through military training and arms shipments. Moscow also used various front organizations, such as the World Peace Council, to wage propaganda campaigns against the Israeli regime in international forums.


Israel - Western Europe


Israeli relations with the states of Western Europe have been conditioned by European desires to further their own commercial interests and ties with the Arab world and their heavy dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Europeans have provided political support for Arab states and the Palestinian cause, even though Europe has served as the battleground for Arab and Palestinian terrorist groups. For example, beginning in the early 1970s, the ministers of foreign affairs of the European Community called for Israel to withdraw from territories occupied during the June 1967 War, expressed "reservations" over the 1978 Camp David Accords, and accepted the "association" of the PLO in solving the Palestinian problem.

Despite such official declarations, West European states have been important trading partners for Israel; about 40 percent of Israel's foreign trade occurred with European countries. Furthermore, there has been strong European-Israeli cooperation-- except with Greece--in the area of counterterrorism. Britain was Israel's most important European trading partner although relations between the two countries were never free of tensions. In 1979, for example, Britain disallowed Israel's purchase of British crude oil after Israel lost oil deliveries from Iran and Sinai. Moreover, Britain imposed an arms embargo on Israel following its June 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

In the early 1950s, France and Israel maintained close political and military relations, and France was Israel's main weapons supplier until the June 1967 War. At that time, during Charles de Gaulle's presidency, France became highly critical of Israeli policies and imposed an arms embargo on Israel. In the early 1980s, French-Israeli relations markedly improved under the presidency of François Mitterrand, who pursued a more even-handed approach than his predecessors on Arab-Israeli issues. Mitterand was the first French president to visit Israel while in office.

Relations between Israel and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) were "second in importance only to [Israel's] partnership with the United States," according to Michael Wolffsohn, a leading authority on the subject. In Wolffsohn's view, the dominant issues in West German-Israeli relations were: the question of reparations (up to 1953); the establishment of diplomatic relations (up to 1965); the solidification of normal relations (through 1969); the erosion in the West German-Israeli relationship as Chancellor Willi Brandt--the first West German chancellor to visit Israel--began to stress Israel's need to withdraw from all territories occupied in the June 1967 War and to recognize the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination; and, finally, during the 1980s, under the Christian Democrats, West Germany's closer adherence to United States policies on Arab-Israeli issues.

In January 1986, Spain established full diplomatic relations with Israel despite pressures from Arab states and policy differences between Madrid and Jerusalem over the Palestinian question. This step concluded intensive behind-the-scenes Israeli efforts--begun upon the death of President Francisco Franco in 1975--to achieve normal relations with Spain. Prior to establishing diplomatic relations, the two countries discreetly collaborated in antiterrorism efforts, and there were close ties between Labor and Spain's Socialist Party.

Although in 1947 Turkey voted against the UN resolution to establish the Jewish state, in 1948 it became the first Muslim country to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. The two countries subsequently maintained normal relations.


CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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