Election 1992, the Second “Earthquake”
In January 1992, after three rounds of Arab-Israeli bilateral talks, the rightwing Tehiya and Moledet Parties resigned from the Shamir government because of its willingness to discuss an interim agreement on Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The defection of the two parties deprived the coalition of a majority in parliament, and likud and labor subsequently agreed to schedule a national election for June 23, 1992.
Israel’s Knesset election campaign in the spring of 1992 slowed the Arab-Israeli peace process, but the outcome of the election was widely heralded as a significant and positive factor that would alter the regional situation, the prospects for progress in the Arab-Israeli peace process, and the nature of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Within labor, the election provided a new opportunity for Yitzhak Rabin to try to unseat Shimon Peres as labor Party leader.
Since Rabin’s unsuccessful challenge in July 1990, the party had adopted a primary election system for choosing its leader, and in a dramatic showdown in February 1992, Rabin won the internal primary election for party leader. The subsequent election to select the party’s slate of Knesset candidates resulted in a list that included many new faces and was generally younger and more dovish than previous labor Party electoral lists.
The election of June 1992 for the 13th Knesset was contested by 25 political parties, representing virtually all points of the political spectrum. Five additional parties, including the two successor groups to Meir Kahane’s political legacy, were banned from participation because the electoral commission determined that they advocated racist and antidemocratic programs.
A number of new parties or coalitions were created, such as Meretz—the union of Shinui (a party established as a protest movement after the Yom Kippur War), cRM, and Mapam—and United Torah Judaism—a combination of Agudat Israel, Degel HaTorah (an ultra-orthodox party), and Moriah. Some parties were constructed by individuals or groups that split from major parties, including the New liberal Party, led by Yitzhak Moda’i. At the same time, a number of new parties formed to reflect specific concerns and interest groups.
Democracy and Aliyah (DA), for example, was created by and for Soviet immigrants. Among the more than 3.4 million Israelis eligible to vote in the June 1992 Knesset elections were some 300,000 recent immigrants, the overwhelming majority of whom came from the former Soviet Union (some 340,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union arrived in Israel between 1989 and 1991).
The 1992 elections marked the second time in Israel’s political history that there was a significant transfer of power from one side of the political spectrum to the other and a reordering of the country’s national priorities.
Political commentators called the outcome of the 1992 election another “earthquake,” or mahapach, in the sense of revolutionary change as had occurred in 1977. This time labor was the victor, winning more than 900,000 votes and 44 Knesset seats—an increase of more than 200,000 votes and five seats—and ending a decade and a half of likud-led administrations. likud lost eight mandates, falling to 32.
Meretz emerged as the third-largest political bloc, with 12 seats. The secular-nationalist Tzomet increased its parliamentary representation from two to eight seats. The religious parties dropped from 18 to 16 seats.Ultimately, 10 parties were able to secure the 1.5 percent of the valid vote that was now required to secure a seat in parliament.
The crucial element in the outcome was the creation of a “blocking majority” of 61 parliamentary seats composed of labor, Meretz, and the Arab parties, which meant that Shamir would not be able to reconstruct a likud–right-wing–religious party coalition. The election result was a classic case of voters’ punishing the incumbent party for years of bad or ineffectual government. It also reflected in part the effect on the electoral system of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who were voting for the first time.
The olim (immigrants), who generally supported the left-of-center parties, contributed significantly to the ability of labor and Meretz to gain five critical mandates without which their victory would not have been possible. Forty-seven percent of the immigrants voted for labor and 13 percent voted for Meretz. In contrast, 35 percent of the general Israeli population voted for labor (an increase over previous years) and 10 percent for Meretz; the immigrants contributed four seats to labor and one to Meretz.
The immigrant vote was, above all, an economically motivated protest directed at likud by an electorate with generally right-of-center foreign policy positions. likud’s failure at immigrant absorption, as perceived by the immigrants, as well as labor’s and Meretz’s effective campaigns on these and related issues, were among the central factors behind the success of the left-of-center parties.
Most of the immigrants were consumed by immediate personal problems, such as employment and housing.Yitzhak Rabin moved quickly to forge a coalition that included Meretz and Shas, though his original plan was to form a broad-based coalition, balancing left and right, and secular and religious, with labor at the center.
The new government was presented to the Knesset on July 13, 1992, and won its approval by a vote of 67 to 53. Rabin noted that he would set the policy in any coalition government. He pledged to promote immediately the peace process, stop massive government investment in the settlements in the territories and put those funds into programs to strengthen the economy, and improve the relationship with the United States.
He said that he would advance the peace talks with the Palestinian delegation from the territories within the Madrid framework and reiterated the policy of not negotiating with the Plo. labor’s return to control of the Knesset and government portended changes in politics, policies, and patronage. While labor’s victory generated an initial euphoria among many in Israel, external observers, especially in the United States, were especially hopeful that the peace process might be reinvigorated.
Restarting the Arab-Israeli Peace Process
Bill clinton’s defeat of George H. W. Bush in the 1992 U.S. presidential election generated questions about whether continuity or change would be the dominant theme in the U.S. approach to the Middle East, especially to the Arab-Israeli peace process, and to bilateral relations with Israel. The clinton administration entered office with no coherent view of the post–cold war world and no overall conception of the foreign and national security policy essential for the post–Persian Gulf War and post–Madrid conference Middle East.
During the election campaign, clinton pledged to guarantee loans for Israel to help settle Soviet Jews, to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, to oppose the creation of an independent Palestinian state, and to modify foreign aid programs to promote democracy. clinton also made clear that he wanted to keep the peace process on track. He suggested a focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict and a desire to move the peace process to some resolution in 1993.
He made clear his perception of the U.S. role as a “full partner” that served as an honest broker and, at times, a catalyst. consultation with Israel was a feature of the process, especially since clinton had suggested that he would treat the Arab-Israeli conflict as one in which the survival of Israel is at stake and had made clear that the United States must maintain its special commitment to its democratic partner, Israel, and its overall security.