“Political Earthquake” of 1977
In May 1977, Israel’s parliamentary election resulted in the victory of Menachem Begin and the right-wing Likud bloc, replacing the Labor Party, which had been in power since Israel’s independence and had dominated the political system. This change was regarded as a “political earthquake.” The establishment of a government by Begin marked the first time that a non-Labor, non-Mapai government ruled the State of Israel.
Initially, 28 political parties contested the 1977 election, and eventually 22 proposed candidates. Those 22 political parties represented all points on the political spectrum on most significant domestic and foreign policy issues. Thirteen parties secured seats in the Knesset, in which some 80 percent of those eligible voted.
Three main perspectives concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict and appropriate Israeli policy emerged. The “annexationist” position was represented primarily by General Ariel Sharon and his Shlomzion Party, which argued that, for all practical purposes, Israel should annex the territories occupied in 1967 and that the appropriate strategy in dealing with the Arab states was to maintain maximum military might as a deterrent to conflict. on the left were the doves, which included a combination of communist parties and noncommunist individuals, such as Arieh Eliav, Matityahu Peled, Meir Pail, and Uri Avnery.
The doves argued that there were an independent Palestinian people with whom Israel should negotiate, including the PLo if necessary, that there should be almost total withdrawal from the occupied territories, and that a Palestinian state should be created alongside Israel.
This viewpoint was conditioned by the belief that within the Arab world there was a moderate and realistic school of thought and there were statesmen who, for the return of the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, with some adjustments by both sides, were ready to end the conflict and live in peace with Israel.
More to the center of the political spectrum, the Labor-Mapam Alignment (under Rabin and Peres) basically restated its existing positions, which argued for the return of some of the occupied territory, the creation of defensible borders, and planned settlements in the occupied territories. It opposed the creation of a third state between the Mediterranean and Iraq and opposed dealing with the PLO.
The Democratic Movement for Change (DMC), under Yigael Yadin, articulated a similar view. Likud supported many of these positions, but on the issue of the territory it stood, as its campaign literature stated, for “Israeli sovereignty between the Mediterranean and the Jordan; Eretz Yisrael for the Jewish people.”
The voters focused on the centrist parties. The dovish position, represented by the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (primarily the communists) and Peace for Israel, or Shelli, received about 9 percent of the vote, most of which went to the Democratic Front and came from Israeli Arabs protesting a series of issues, not just Israel’s position concerning the conflict. of those 9 percent, Peace for Israel, whose platform contained no other significant elements beyond a lenient approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, received only 1.5 percent of the votes cast.
Shlomzion at the other end of the spectrum also received only 2 percent of the vote. The NRP, which represented both a religious perspective and a hawkish position on the Arab-Israeli conflict, received approximately 9 percent of the vote. The mainstream parties that argued for consensus positions received the largest proportion (between 60 and 70 percent) of the vote.
The Israeli electorate provided a clear mandate for the centrist position on the Arab-Israeli conflict.The new government was composed of center and religious parties; Labor moved to the opposition. Prime Minister Begin reiterated the commitment of all previous prime ministers to work for permanent peace in the region and called upon the Arab leaders to come to the negotiating table.