Israeli Stalemate


OPTIMISTIC RADIO assertions notwithstanding, the governmental crisis in Israel is far from over. In fact, while Golda Meir's decision to withdraw her resignation and remain as Prime Minister solved the immediate problem of who would form a government, the inability of the Israeli political power-structure to produce a viable alternative underlined a more fundamental problem. The ideological divisions in Israel are so deep that no group can muster enough support to govern effectively.

This situation is a product of the ambiguous results of the Israeli national elections held last December 31. The Israeli voters swung decidedly to the right, raising the representation in the Parliament of Likud, the nationalist party, from 32 to 39 seats. This was clearly a reaction to the government's failure to anticipate the Arab attack, and since Likud and its leader Menachem Begin have traditionally been the only major opposition voices in the Israeli government, it can be interpreted in part as a registration of no-confidence in the Meir government. But it was also an expression of support for the hard line expounded unwaveringly by Begin throughout the campaign.

Although the right wing fared better than ever before, it still did not approach the 61 seat total necessary for a majority in the Parliment. And while Meir's Labor alignment lost 8 seats, reducing its number to 50, it remained in far better shape than Likud. This was a serious blow to Begin, since if an election was ever promising for his party, this was it. His failure to make a stronger showing indicates that while many Israelis may want a harder line, they do not want him as Prime Minister. Only a change in the leadership of Likud could make it a reasonable alternative, and such a change is not likely, since Begin has near-dictatorial control over the party.

The electorate's apparent swing to the right weakened the left wing of the alignment's chances of displacing Meir. While the major spokesman for a conciliatory peace policy, Pinchas Sapir and Yigal Allon, are held in high esteem by the general public, their policies simply are not. Most Israelis realize that security cannot be measured by the distance of the frontier from Tel Aviv, but at the same time they fear that territorial advantages such as the Golan Heights will be traded for unreliable promises. Polls have shown that the majority of Israelis still believe that the Arabs' ultimate aim is to destroy the state. Such a sentiment precludes a major shift to the left. So while the right's leadership cannot convince the public that it can govern, the left is also unable to achieve significant popular support.

This leaves Israel with basically the same government which it has had for the past four years, a coalition of Labor, the National Religious Party, and the conciliatory Independent Liberals, Labor being headed by the centrist Meir, rather than Allon or Sapir. However, the coalition is much less secure than before the election, and it could easily fall apart if the peace talks take certain turns. The National Religious Party and Moshe Dayan's right-wing segment of Labor appear to oppose territorial concessions to Jordan, for instance, since they regard the West Bank as historically part of Israel. United with Begin on this issue, they could command as many as 60 seats and bring down the government. And while negotiations with Jordan do not appear in the immediate offing, they may not be too far off in the future.


A REAL SETTLEMENT in the Middle East will be impossible without a united and popularly supported government in Israel. Troop disengagements and preliminary negotiations are one thing, but fundamental progress on the questions of Golan, of the West Bank, and of the Palestinians, will not be achieved under the Meir regime. Unfortunately the present political climate in Israel precludes the formation of such a unity government, and this is a key dilemna in the Mid-East crisis.

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