1988 Israeli presidential election

The 1988 Election

The occupied territories and their future had been a core issue in the peace process since Israel took control of them in the Six-Day War, but their status took on new immediacy with the onset of the Intifada.

Israel’s initial, somewhat uncertain interpretation of the Intifada soon gave way to the view that it was an indigenous and authentic, if the somewhat amorphous movement that would not “go away” but could be “managed,” albeit at some cost. Under this management policy, some Israelis refused military service in anti-Intifada operations, and some actions of the IDF had a negative effect on Israel’s international image.

The Intifada loomed over the 1988 election, forcing attention to the immediate and urgent problem of tranquility and public safety and to the long-term issue of the disposition of the territories and their inhabitants. The use of force, including the IDF, against the Intifada, was supported strongly by a clear majority of Israel.

Israelis appeared more supportive of a policy to quell the Palestinian uprising and restore order than they were of permanent retention of the places and peoples of the West Bank and Gaza.Israelis went to the polls on November 1, 1988, to elect the 12th Knesset. Voters continued to be divided on the key foreign policy, political, economic, social, and religious issues facing the country.

This disunity had led to and complicated the formation of the national unity government of September 1984; it ultimately also contributed to the virtual paralysis of decision making on some of the key issues facing the country. The 1988 election required Israelis to reassess the consequences of the 1984 vote but did not result in a more clear-cut outcome.

As in previous elections, there were important economic issues, including a downturn connected to the Intifada and its disruption of normal patterns of economic activity in tourism and other service sectors and in manufacturing and construction. however, no matter their significance, economic concerns such as unemployment and inflation did not play a central and determining role in electoral decisions.

The focus of interest and public debate was, as usual, on the issues of security, defense, and the peace process that related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and, more narrowly, to the Intifada and Israel’s reaction.Israelis, whatever their perspective of the nature and content of the peace process, concluded that peace was not at hand.

Thus, the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict remained a central test of Israeli diplomacy with peace and security as the elusive but sought-after prizes. Peace, and arguably a fragile one, existed only with Egypt.Prime Minister Shamir represented those who argued that only direct, independent, open-ended, face-to-face negotiations with Israel’s Arab neighbors could provide the unpressured atmosphere that was vital for reaching agreements.

He believed that Israel should not negotiate with the PLO; that Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), and Gaza were part of the Land of Israel; and that an independent sovereign state between Jordan and Israel made no sense politically, could not be viable economically, and would only serve as a terrorist, irredentist base from which Israel (and Jordan) would be threatened as Palestinian groups tried to regain control of the land.

Foreign Minister Peres of the Labor Alignment reflected a different view, and while he saw the need for peace through direct negotiations, he believed that an international conference would be of utility and that it could not impose a solution unacceptable to Israel. Unlike Shamir, he supported territorial compromise in the West Bank, a trade of land for peace, within limits required for security.

The ultimate solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict was complicated further, especially for Peres and those who had argued for the Jordan option, by King Hussein’s decision, announced in July 1988, to separate his kingdom’s future from that of the West Bank. At the same time, a policy supported by some of the rights of the political spectrum, to retain the territory, while arranging for the transfer of the Arab population, seemed to gain adherents, and the subject became part of the public policy debate.

The policy was promoted by Rabbi Meir Kahane, leader of the Kach Party. The Central Election Committee declared Kahane’s Kach Party ineligible to contest the election because it advocated a racist policy in violation of a law specifically devised for the purpose of restricting Kahane’s ability to promote such ideas.

The 1988 Israeli parliamentary elections were inconclusive concerning the trend in Israeli thinking on both domestic and foreign policy issues, as both Labor and Likud secured virtually the same one-third of public support in the balloting. After weeks of maneuvering, Shamir was able to establish another national unity government in which he would remain as prime minister through its tenure.

Peres became finance minister, a post in which he would have little international visibility and little opportunity to pursue his foreign policy agenda or to generate popular support within Israel. Peres’s primary Labor Party rival, rabin, retained the post of defense minister. Moshe Arens became foreign minister.

Foreign Policy and a No-Confidence Vote

In December 1988, yasser Arafat announced the PLO’s acceptance of Un Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 and Israel’s right to exist and renounced terrorism, statements that the United States had established as the conditions for dialogue.

The reagan administration instituted a formal dialogue with the PLO through the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia (the PLO had been headquartered there since its expulsion from Lebanon in 1982) that lasted until June 1990 when Arafat refused to condemn an abortive Palestinian terrorist raid against Israel on the beach at Tel Aviv and the United States suspended the talks.A new peace effort was launched during the first months of the administration of George h. W. Bush, who was elected president in november 1988.

In the spring of 1989, the Shamir government proposed an initiative calling for the termination of the state of war with the Arab states; a solution for the Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank and Gaza, to be negotiated with freely elected representatives of the Palestinian Arab inhabitants of these areas; peace with Jordan; and the resolution of the problem of Palestinian refugee camp residents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip through international efforts.

Various efforts were made to implement this idea and foster negotiations between Israel and Palestinians, with U.S. secretary of state James Baker as the main protagonist, but eventually they foundered.Labor believed that Shamir was obstructing Baker’s efforts and preventing Israeli negotiations with Palestinians resident in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Labor members decided to withdraw from the nUG and bring the government down in a vote of no confidence. Shamir’s plan to substantially increase the number of Jewish settlements provided the mechanism to end the government’s tenure. As minister of finance, Labor leader Peres refused to provide the money to build new settlements.

On March 15, 1990, Labor left the coalition and Shamir, was defeated in the Knesset by a vote of no-confidence (the first such successful vote in Israel’s history). This gave Peres and Labor an opportunity to secure a mandate to form a successor coalition and run the government, but Peres was unable to construct a viable coalition government. Shamir was then given a mandate to form a government, and he succeeded in presenting it to the Knesset in early June.

In the debates over the peace process and the proposals made by U.S. secretary of state Baker in early 1990, more right-wing members of Likud sought assurances that Shamir would not give in on the issues of participation in the Palestinian representation election process by East Jerusalem residents and by other nonresidents of the territories (for example, deportees). The far right insisted that Palestinians in East Jerusalem should be excluded from the roster of those eligible to represent the Palestinians.

They argued that since Israel regards Jerusalem as united and under Israeli sovereignty, allowing residents of East Jerusalem to represent the Palestinians would call into question Israel’s control of the city. Former defense minister Ariel Sharon, meanwhile, was responsible for increasing settlements in Judea and Samaria (as well as in pre-1967 Israel). he did so with great energy and initiative and argued that settlements in the West Bank area were primarily designed to serve Israel’s security needs.

Sharon regarded the establishment of settlements in the territories as logical and also sought to enlarge existing ones. he believed that the retention of the Golan heights and the West Bank and Gaza were all essential to his security concept, as was continued Israeli settlement in these areas. he also appeared to believe that the peace agreement with Egypt would have to be scrupulously maintained with no erosion of either the diplomatic normalization process or the postpeace military status quo.

During the Likud convention in 1990, Sharon and his supporters challenged Shamir on the peace process, charging that Shamir was prepared to give in to the United States on key points. These concessions, they argued, could affect the unity of Jerusalem and lead to the potential inclusion of the PLO in the peace process and to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territories.

Sharon tried to portray himself as a strong leader who could solve the immediate problems and establish a base that would ensure long-term success. After the convention, Sharon resigned from his position as minister of industry and trade in the government and started a campaign to gain control of the party in the branch units of Likud.

Despite internal opposition and challenges, Shamir emerged as the Likud’s candidate to form the next government. Shamir was concerned about the role of the PLO in the peace process and there was a crisis of confidence with the U.S. administration over statements and positions on such issues as terrorism and the status of East Jerusalem.