Behind the Headlines Changes in the Political Scene

Last week four Knesset members representing different political parties issued a memorandum calling for the widening of the parliamentary base of the Israeli government. Shalom Levin and Arie Eliav of the Labor Party and Dr. Benjamin Halevy and Zalman Abramov from the Likud bloc stated that considering the challenges facing Israel in the near future a broad-based government is essential.

The meeting of the minds of these rival politicians was not accidental. It reflected a profound process that is part of the current Israeli scene. The present political divisions appear to be temporary. Latent trends are discernible in most of the parties, threatening to transform the present political formations. The political factions represented in the Knesset were established long before the Yom Kippur War; the significance of the war and its consequences had no substantial impact on the political structures or on the composition of the parties’ leaderships.

(Likud was formed before the war as a bloc of Herut, the Liberal Party, the Free Center and the State List. While the “old guard” of the Labor Party was replaced by younger persons the new leaders were new only with respect to the roles they were playing, not new to the political life of Israel.)

With the passing of time, Israelis have become aware that the political scene is characterized by flexibility. The existing parties, will in all likelihood, undergo variations in their ideologies and thought processes. The transfer of individuals and even factions from one bloc to another has become a distinct possibility. Many MKs from different and even rival parties now hold similar views on matters concerning basic problems of Israeli life. Therefore, the “partnership” of Levin, Eliav, Dr. Halevy and Abramov may be considered not as a rare phenomenon but as a first sign of a possible meeting of the minds of diverse ideologists trying to find a common solution to the problems that were triggered by the Yom Kippur War.

TENSION IN THE LIKUD BLOC

In fact, a few days after their memorandum appeared there was another development: several personalities representing various political groups declared in a statement they were calling on the Israeli government to negotiate with the Palestinians. Among those who signed this statement were Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat, Ramat Gan Mayor Israel Peled and MK Simha Flumin–all members of the Likud bloc who had recently been elected to their posts. Officially, Likud has been the most vociferous and constant opponent of the idea of granting recognition to the Palestinians.

During the past few weeks, astute observers have noticed an inner tension in the Likud bloc. The four parties comprising Likud were not expressing the same view on vital issues. Representatives of the Liberals, Free Center and State List in the Knesset spoke on the disengagement agreement with Syria in tones that were essentially different from that of the Herut delegates. While Herut Knesseters rejected the agreement the three other parties expressed only minor reservations. Furthermore several Liberal MKs left the plenum without voting, thus expressing their dissatisfaction with the Herut-oriented official position against the agreement.

When a group of 150 Israelis made an attempt last weekend to establish a settlement at Sebastia near Nablus on the West Bank–with the active participation of two Likud MKs, Arik Sharon and Geulah Cohen–most of the Likud members criticized the attempt. Only the Herut MKs supported the move of the settlers who, in the main, were Orthodox.

The divergence of opinions among the different Likud factions is also reflected in the daily parliamentary activities. The leaders of the Liberals, State List and Free Center continue to urge the Herut leaders to adopt more constructive and popular positions on various issues. They accuse the Herut “old guard” leadership of conservatism and opposition for its own sake. It is probable that new political formations will be established within the factions of Likud. Recently it was learned that Liberal and State List leaders were beginning negotiations for uniting the two parties to form one bloc.

DIVERGENT VIEWS IN BOTH BLOCS

One can surmise that the objective of this move is not only to strengthen the position of the two parties within Likud but also to prepare for a secession from the bloc at some time in the future. Most Liberal MKs. and probably those of the State List as well, wish to take an active part in the government. Most of them believe that under the current Likud leadership they will be thwarted from doing so.

In their closed-door meetings, the Liberal leaders often talk about the possibility, albeit remote, of splitting away from Likud and joining the government. As a matter of fact, most Liberal and State List MKs can hardly be characterized as “hawks,” a term usually reserved for Herut. Their outlook on economics, too, is close to that of the main faction in the Alignment.

The Labor Party, like Likud, is also characterized by the same divergence of opinion on political, social and economic issues. There are “hawks” and “doves” in the Labor Party, just as there are in Likud; and there are those who are identified as socialists or even “petty bourgeois” in both blocs. The present boundaries of the Israeli political map are not permanent. Radical changes may take place in the not too distant future. There are some who say these changes may even take place sooner.

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