The Peace Process and Israeli Domestic Politics in the 1990s

Perhaps it is best to start with an anecdote. I can vividly recall that surprising evening of June 23, 1992 when the Israeli Labor Party, headed by Yitzhak Rabin, won the election against the incumbent Likud Party, headed by then-Prime Minister Yizhak Shamir. I was sitting in a politicized Jerusalem pub that was especially overcrowded that evening since many Jerusalemites had chosen to wait for the election results over pitchers of beer. At around 9 p.m. the exit poll results appeared on the TV screen. It immediately became clear that there had been a significant change: after 15 years of Likud party domination in Israeli politics the Labor party had made a political comeback.1

What followed was somewhat surreal in terms of Israeli domestic politics. Within minutes, the streets of otherwise conservative, right-wing downtown Jerusalem were filled with overjoyed crowds, and cars were honking wildly. The post-election scene resembled the aftermath of a successful match of the city’s much adored soccer team. Televised in their party’s headquarters, the Likud leaders looked like boxers who had just suffered a humiliating knockout. The Zionist right and the ultra-nationalist settlers were shocked, partly because splits among them had unintentionally assisted the victory of the Zionist left.

How should one understand the exuberance of the Israeli public at this moment-as well as that of the Labor party and the liberal (left of Labor) Meretz party-when juxtaposed to the colossal failure of the Oslo “peace process” that would unfold in the years to follow? In other words, why did the Labor party fail to realize even the minimal objectives of the Oslo Accords despite the fact that the party was elected into office on a mandate of peace and change?

In order to answer these questions, I will first examine the main events that took place in Israel/Palestine from 1987-the outbreak of the first Intifada-until the 1992 election when the left wing of the Zionist movement managed to overpower the right wing for the first time since 1977. Next, I will analyze the early political conjunctures in the 1990s that contained the utmost potential for realizing the key goal of the “peace process” and the Oslo Accords, namely, implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242. Finally, I will explain why the single most important factor in the failure of the “peace process” was the incompetent leadership of Rabin and his main coalition partner the Meretz Party between 1992 and 1994 (rather than the post-1995 anti-peace campaigns of the ultra-nationalists and the Likud).

The 1967 Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank was followed by continuous appropriation of Palestinian land and massive construction of illegal Jewish settlements,2 first by the Labor Party (1967-1977) and then by the Likud. By 1987, twenty years of occupation had given rise to the Palestinian popular resistance movement, the intifada. This movement was predominantly characterized by civil disobedience and stone-throwing loosely “supervised” by bottom-up popular committees organized in Gaza and the West Bank.3

More than three stormy years of daily Israeli-Palestinian confrontations followed the outbreak of the intifada. In its attempt to suppress Palestinian resistance, the Israeli leadership implemented an iron fist policy that included an explicit instruction to its 18- to-21-year-old soldiers to break the bones of Palestinian protesters, the majority of whom were the same age as themselves.4 During the years of the intifada the role of the Palestinian Diaspora-including the PLO and Yasser Arafat-was minimal; the initiation, implementation and maintenance of the struggle against the occupation were a product of the emerging younger forces within Gaza and the West Bank.

In August 1990, world attention in the region shifted dramatically from Israel/Palestine to the Gulf as a result of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Unlike most Arab regimes, the PLO supported Saddam Hussein. In a move that was immediately regretted by many Pales- tinians worldwide (but especially in Kuwait), Yasser Arafat traveled to Baghdad to stage a warm public meeting with Saddam Hussein. For the first time since 1987, Arafat succeeded in earning more attention from the world’s media than the struggling youth in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

In March 1991 US Secretary of State James Baker arrived in Jerusalem for the first time since the outbreak of the Gulf War. The American administration attempted to keep intact the anti-Iraqi coalition that included Arab states such as Egypt and Syria. To this end, the US tried to defuse the explosive Israeli-Palestinian conflict by staging a peace conference between Israel and the Arab states.

The Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, an extreme right-wing Likudnik, strenuously opposed the US idea of a peace conference.5 Following many trips to the region by James Baker and a considerable amount of US pressure on the Israeli government, Shamir was forced to capitulate. As a result, the Madrid Conference was opened on October 30, 1991 by US President George Bush Sr. and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.6 The Palestinians were not allowed to represent themselves independently at the conference and were instead forced to take part in a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation.

Within Israel, three factors would ultimately lead to the downfall of the rejectionist Shamir government. First, despite the total imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians and the heavy death toll among the latter, the intifada had major impacts on the Israeli public. The Israeli economy experienced a relative recession. Due to the continuous political instability, the conflict negatively affected all sectors of domestic and international investment, including in infrastructure and development projects. In addition, Israel was forced to increase its already excessive military and security expenditure in the OPT at the expense of social services inside the Green Line (Israel proper). On a societal level, Israeli morale was down and families were fatigued because of the various extra duties that the state imposed on reserve soldiers.

A second factor contributing to Shamir’s downfall was the massive immigration to Israel of nearly half a million Russian Jews and non-Jews between 1990 and 1992.7 Huge amounts of money were needed to finance their absorption into the Jewish collectivity in domains such as housing, work, and Hebrew language instruction. Since Shamir allocated insufficient funds for this purpose, he alienated important segments of this constituency.

A third factor, embodying both domestic and international dimensions, was the Shamir government’s continued expansion of settlements in the OPT. This occurred despite the declining domestic economy, strong US opposition, and ongoing bilateral and multilateral Arab-Israeli negotiations following the Madrid Conference. It is important to remember that the Letter of Assurance that the US provided to the Palestinians ten days before the opening of the Madrid conference stated that:

We [the US government] do not recognize Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem or the extension of its municipal boundaries and we encourage all sides to avoid unilateral acts that would exacerbate local tensions or make negotiations more difficult or preempt their final outcome. . The US has long believed that no party should take unilateral actions that seek to predetermine issues that can only be resolved through negotiations. In this regard, the US has opposed and will continue to oppose activity in the territories8 occupied in 1967, which remains an obstacle for peace (Madrid, October 18, 1991).

In fact, even the US parallel Letter of Assurance to Israel stipulated that “in accordance with the United States traditional policy, we do not support [.] the continuation of the Israeli rule or annexation of the occupied territories” (Madrid, October 18, 1991).

This “traditional”-but never enforced-American policy had no effect at all on Shamir’s government, which appropriated more Palestinian land and built more settlements. In terms of domestic politics, the Likud leadership continued to value and prioritize the needs of the illegal settlers in the OPT over those of other Israelis (such as the Jewish working class in the so-called development towns inside the Green Line, Russian and Ethiopians immigrants, and certainly the Palestinian citizens of Israel).

By February 1992, Israel’s unilateral settlement activity upset the Republican US administration so much that it prompted an unprecedented response. For the first time since 1967 (and, as of the time of this writing, also for the last time)-the US dared to threaten Israel publicly with the withholding of $10 billion in loan guarantees if Shamir’s government did not halt its settlement-building.

Taken together, the above factors caused a large segment of Israeli society to lose faith in the sociopolitical priorities set by Shamir and in the Likud’s competence to address the socioeconomic needs of the overwhelming majority of Israelis (who lack any material link to Gaza and the West Bank). Fifteen years of Likud rule culminated in an unbearable impasse. Added to the effects of the intifada and the relative recession in Israel, the mounting American-Israeli friction was certainly important in facilitating the Likud’s loss to Labor four months after the US threat to Shamir. Large segments among the Jewish working class and the immigrant population made the link between a possible loss of US aid, its potential effect on them, and the vote they cast in June 1992.

On the night of the election victory of his party, Yitzhak Rabin’s behavior resembled that of a Sabra monarch more than that of an ordinary prime minister elect. Rabin had already served as prime minister in the mid 1970s, so this was not his first term occupying the highest Israeli office. The post-election moment remembered best was Rabin’s victory speech which contained countless phrases such as “I will lead.”, “I will run.”, “I will improve.”. Members of the Labor party were offended because Rabin hardly mentioned the role of the party and the work of its members in securing the election victory. Rabin, after all, was not elected directly; his Labor party was elected.9 Still, none of this could undermine the tremendous leverage that Rabin enjoyed in Israel, the region and the world at this moment. But the “solider-turned-peace-man”-as Mr. Rabin is commonly remembered-did not turn out to be brave enough to carry out the somewhat overstated leadership promises that he made.

To defend this claim it is first necessary to recall an important feature of the ongoing political process: ordinarily, structural factors economic, financial, institutional or others impose considerable constraints on the ability of parliamentary or non-parliamentary actors to implement any truly consequential economic, sociopolitical or other changes. However, the post-election moment that Rabin enjoyed in 1992 was undoubtedly a rare exception to this ordinarily prevailing feature. There were three main reasons why this was the case.

First, the Israeli right had just suffered a serious blow for the first time in 15 years. Internally the Likud party was in great chaos following their defeat. In addition, the settlers and the ultra-nationalist religious and secular circles were paralyzed at this time; the party that had served them faithfully during the preceding decade had just been kicked out of power. This situation left Rabin without real opposition.

The second factor that made Rabin’s moment so unique was the fury of the American administration at the politics of his predecessor Shamir. At this 1992 conjuncture, the US would have been willing to do a great deal to assist Rabin to fulfill the mandate he was elected to deliver, i.e., the swift continuation of the process that the Americans themselves initiated in Madrid and the easing of the conflict.10

The last and most important factor that made Rabin’s 1992 moment so extraordinary was rooted in the depression of the majority of Israelis after Shamir’s unimaginative rule. Israeli society in mid-1992 expected¾even yearned for-significant changes that would elevate it from the Likud’s economic and political impasse.

If Rabin had been a braver, more confident and visionary leader, then within the first three to six months of his term in office he could have easily utilized his exceptional post-election moment and made serious inroads on at least one of the most pressing issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, i.e., the settlements in the OPT. True, even a move on this issue from the vantage point of Israel’s internal politics and domestic balance of forces-would not have solved the 100-year-old conflict completely, due to the presence of more complex issues, most notably the question of the Palestinian refugees. Nonetheless, if Rabin had forged this first step on the undoubtedly perilous path to a just peace i.e. a gradual but consistent dismantling of Israel’s illegal apparatus in the OPT then the majority of Israeli society in late 1992 would have followed him, especially since he had just been voted into office to implement a new approach. Simultaneous incentives to, and much needed investments in, marginalized Israeli communities inside pre-1967 Israel would have easily engendered even more support for Rabin.

In this context, it is especially important to bear in mind that Rabin’s nationalist opposition was thoroughly disorganized during his first six months in office and was unable to generate sufficient resistance to him. What enabled the parliamentary and non- parliamentary opposition to mount a successful anti-peace campaign just one year later was nothing other than Rabin’s own delays and hesitation, which provided the opposition the much needed breathing time to reorganize. However, the fault for this immediate post-election failure did not lie just with Rabin or the Labor Party.

Meretz, the liberal left Zionist party, was Rabin’s “natural” coalition partner. According to its own platform, it was more dovish than Labor with respect to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since the alliance with Meretz was “automatically” secured, Rabin had two main options in finalizing his ruling coalition. The first was to invite some or all of the small Arab-dominated parties to join his coalition. Like all prime ministers before and after him, Rabin excluded this option not only because of the inherent anti-Arab racism that is embedded in the “Jewish-and-democratic” Israeli political system, but also for two additional reasons: (a) Rabin reckoned that the Arab parties could be taken for granted because they would most likely support his government in matters pertaining to the peace process from outside the coalition (he was proven right on this point in the couple of years to follow); (b) Rabin wanted to secure the backing of a majority of Israeli Jews in his possible initiatives concerning the peace process. Consequently, he asked the Jewish orthodox leadership of the Shas party to join in his ruling coalition.

Contrary to what one finds in nearly all existing accounts of the 1990s, the relationship between Shas and the left Zionist Meretz party is one of the major factors that facilitated the subsequent disintegration of the peace process. Therefore, it is impossible to comprehend the failure of this process without a critical assessment of the relationship between these two parties and their constituencies.

To begin with, what is Shas and who is its constituency? Shas was established in the mid-1980s by non-Ashkenazi (i.e. non-European) Sephardic/Mizrahi Orthodox Jews. Whereas in 1992 Shas had 6 seats in the Knesset, by 1996 it had become the third largest party in Israel (following Labor and Likud). There was one principal reason behind Shas’s remarkably rapid ascendance to power: the party brilliantly capitalized on the severe, 50-year-old ethno-class split in Israel between European and non-European Jews. Whereas Labor and Meretz represent almost exclusively the affluent, predominantly Ashkenazi middle and upper Israeli classes, the supporters of Shas are from the Jewish working class, almost exclusively composed of Sephardic/Mizrahi Jews.11 It is essential to bear in mind that no Israeli-Palestinian peace is possible without the support of a significant segment of this Israeli Mizrahi working class. However, this point seemed and still seems¾to elude nearly all the members of the Meretz party.

Analyzing the sociopolitical dynamics in late 1992 from the vantage-point of Shas, it is easy to understand why it was extremely difficult for the party to join a coalition ruled by the “secular Zionist” Labor and Meretz parties.12 To begin with, no other religiously inclined party dared to do so for fear of losing many of its votes. As a direct result of its risky decision to form a coalition with “heretic Israeli seculars,” Shas made itself an easy target for its “more natural” allies from both the Orthodox Ashkenazi parties and the religious nationalist ones. Shas was indeed attacked repeatedly and vehemently by the entire spectrum of the right-wing opposition that justifiably viewed Shas as the weakest link in, and therefore the best way to de-stabilize, Rabin’s coalition.

For Meretz, unlike for Shas, the decision to join the Labor-led-coalition was straightforward: the party’s pro-peace platform precludes it from joining a Likud-led coalition. Hence 1992 was the first year ever in which Meretz was not an opposition party but, instead, a central component of the ruling coalition. After years of protest from the sidelines, Meretz now held formidable executive power with which it could finally implement at least part of the dovish platform it had championed for so long. But things worked out differently.

On December 16, 1992, following the kidnapping, and later execution, of an Israeli border guard by members of the Palestinian Hamas movement, the Rabin government decided, in one hasty meeting, to exile to Lebanon 415 Palestinians whom it suspected of having pro-Islamic sympathies. Meretz feminist leader and cabinet minister Shulamit Aloni voted for this collective punishment that not only was condemned by the UN Security Council, but also derailed for many important months the post-Madrid Arab-Israeli talks. This, however, was not Meretz’s most serious error of judgment. Soon after Rabin finished assembling his coalition, a petty, altogether avoidable Meretz-Shas friction began to develop. Rather than directing its political energies to the termination of Israel’s aggressive rule in the OPT, Meretz began to invest most of its political time in a futile “civilizational” struggle within the ruling coalition against the orthodox religiosity of Shas.

The leadership of Shas, as well as its working-class Sephardic/ Mizrahi constituency, detected very easily the old, all-too-familiar patronizing tone that was directed against them by the Ashkenazi upper-class members of Meretz regarding-in this instance¾Shas’s insufficiently modern conduct in the governmental domains that were assigned to it by the coalition agreement. In their lasting drive to “normalize” religious-“diaspora-like”¾Jews, members of the Zionist left never really understood that there is a significant difference between being secular and being anti-religious. Meretz was anti- religious.

The wearing away of Rabin’s exceptional post-election moment did not begin as a result of any consequential collective action against his government by its right-wing, ultra-nationalist opposition. Instead, it originated from within his coalition with the failure of the leading party of the Zionist left to set straight its own¾and Israel’s-priorities. During the many months that Meretz immersed itself in a secular crusade against Shas (within the predominantly secular-left coalition), settlement-building in the OPT continued unabated. The innovative and committed settlers used formal and informal channels to advance their anti-peace cause even under the coalition that in theory should have been politically unfavorable to them. During the years of the Labor-Meretz rule between 1992 and 1996, the number of Israeli settlers in the OPT grew by 49 percent, from 101,000 to 150,000.13

On September 9, 1993, Israel and the PLO exchanged asym- metrical letters of recognition. Whereas the PLO recognized, among other things, “the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security,” Rabin neither recognized in a reciprocal manner the right of the Palestinians to an independent state, nor that they also have the human right to exist in peace and security. Instead, Rabin responded to Arafat’s fairly detailed letter solely by informing him-as the Chairman of the PLO-that “the government of Israel has decided to recognize the PLO as a representative of the Palestinian people.”14 Rabin even refrained from closing his letter with the minimally polite word “sincerely” an unusual departure from diplomatic norms.

None of this stopped Rabin-as late as 15 whole months after his electoral victory-from traveling to the White House to sign the Declaration of Principles (DOP) that Israeli and Palestinian representatives concluded secretively in Oslo. On September 13, 1993, in the presence of King Hussein of Jordan, President Clinton and President Mubarak of Egypt, a disgruntled-looking Mr. Rabin approved the DOP better known as the Oslo Accords-that his own emissaries formulated in Oslo almost single-handedly. The major question of that day-whether Rabin, the representative of the occupiers, would be willing to shake the hand of Arafat, the representative of the occupied-was answered in the affirmative.

Much has been written on the inherent structural deficiencies and pro-Israel biases of the Oslo Accords/DOP.15 My purpose here is not to assess the DOP as such but to link it to developments in Israeli domestic politics throughout the 1990s. Hence, probably the easiest way to determine whether the DOP was a success or a failure (again, within its own, however flawed, terms) is to ask if the principal objective of the DOP was delivered. To this end, it would suffice to cite the opening article of the DOP that reads as follows:

The aim of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is to establish a Palestinian interim self-government for a transitional period not exceeding five years leading to a permanent settlement based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

Put differently, Oslo’s principal aim was supposed to be a mutually agreed-upon implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242. Resolution 242 (of November 22, 1967) emphasized, among other things, “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and “affirmed the principle of withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent [1967] conflict.” The French version reads the occupied territories and is as official as the English version.

Consistent with his previous hesitation to initiate a substantial peace process immediately after his election, Rabin did not under- take to implement the overriding objective of the DOP. This occurred despite the fact that he enjoyed sufficient public support as well as the backing of a formidable number of parties inside and outside his coalition. Most important of all was Shas, which was harnessed to Rabin’s “peace process,” although obviously in a more complex way than the left Zionist parties.

Shas at the time faced a political difficulty which was far greater than that of any other party in Israel. In terms of voters and social base, Shas’s immediate competitors were never Labor or Meretz; they were, instead, the Likud, the other Orthodox parties, and the religious-nationalist parties. On September 14, 1993-one day after the signing of the DOP at the White House-Shas left Rabin’s coalition as a result of its never-ending friction with Meretz. The vote on the Oslo Accords was held in the Knesset nine days later (September 23) in the form of a motion of no-confidence that the opposition brought against the accords and their Labor formulators. All of Shas’s right-wing competitors opposed Rabin vehemently and voted against the Oslo Accords. Shas, on the other hand, devised a middle way to address the serious political dilemma that resulted from the contrasting pressures it faced from its right-wing challengers and from its (now former) coalition partners. Shas abstained in the vote on the no-confidence motion. In so doing, Shas not only stood alone among all the right-wing parties; it also demonstrated that its departure from the Labor-Meretz coalition resulted neither from the signing of the DOP in the White House, nor from its approval in the Knesset.16 When all is said and done, Shas neither voted against the Oslo Accords, nor, for that matter, opposed the central platform of Meretz, i.e., implementation of 242. Consequently, the domestic political setting that Rabin enjoyed¾with the abstention of Shas and the pro-Oslo vote of the Arab parties ¾remained sound and promising.

However, rather than capitalizing resolutely on the continued favorable momentum surrounding him, the hesitant Rabin chose to reduce the entire concept of peace into myriad technical, bureaucratic and legal committees and sub-committees. After months of countless meetings of these committees-that in purely empirical terms delivered nothing substantial-Israeli society, and likely the rest of the world, gradually lost sight of the proverbial forest for the trees. The noble vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation was slowly fading away as a direct result of two factors: (1) Israeli delays and self-defeating political and legal trickery in the endless meetings of the committees and sub-committees and, worse still, (2) the unabashed continuation of settlement-building in the OPT.17 Meretz, at this time, continued to concentrate on its secular struggle against Shas and the deeds of its leader Aryeh Deri.

On February 25, 1994, American-Jewish Israeli settler, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, entered a mosque in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron and opened fire from his revolver into the crowd of praying Muslims. Within minutes, Dr. Goldstein had murdered 29 Palestinians and wounded dozens of others.

Rabin’s government failed to use these profoundly tragic circumstances to remove from Hebron the small and probably most proto-fascist settler community in the entire OPT. Whether consciously or not, Rabin failed to realize that the implementation of the DOP and his “peace process” would benefit enormously from the “exile” of the approximately 415 illegal settlers in Hebron back inside the Green Line, perhaps as the government had exiled 415 Palestinians to Lebanon merely 14 months earlier. Furthermore, not only did Rabin’s government fail to utilize Goldstein’s cold-blooded massacre to advance the cause of peace; it immediately imposed a curfew, not on Hebron’s diminutive community of settlers, from which Dr. Goldstein emerged, but on the hundreds of thousands of indigenous Palestinian residents of the city.

It is my contention that even those who did subscribe to the peace process with true sincerity should have realized that it was completely destroyed for all intents and purposes by the Rabin government’s incredibly insipid response to the murders by Dr. Goldstein, three months after the DOP was signed. Briefly put, what was not carried out by the Labor-Meretz government from its election on June 23, 1992, until June 25, 1994 (i.e. the four-month aftermath of Goldstein’s day), could no longer be achieved under the terms formulated in Oslo.

To be sure, the situation in Israel/Palestine would become even worse in the second half of the 1990s, after the assassination of Rabin by a pro-settler law student on November 4, 1995. The deterioration undoubtedly continued under all succeeding governments: (a) under the explicitly anti-peace platform with which Rabin’s successor, Likudnik Binyamin Netanyahu, ruled Israel (5/96-12/98); (b) under the allegedly pro-peace platform with which Netanyahu’s Labor successor Ehud Barak ruled Israel (5/99-2/01); and certainly (c) under the thoroughly anti-Arab platform with which Barak’s successor, Likudnik Ariel Sharon, rules Israel (2/01-present).18

And yet, I maintain that the single most critical event that tipped the political scales against the very possibility of a successful outcome to the Oslo Accords-i.e. a mutually agreed-upon implementation of UN Resolution 242-was none of these post-1995 elements. Rather, it was the consistent hesitation and inaction of the 1990s’ most powerful-and ostensibly most pro-peace-government, namely that of Rabin, which reached its disgraceful nadir in the immediate aftermath of Goldstein’s murders in February 1994.

If my contention holds, then it was neither the Palestinian suicide bombing attack on bus No. 5 in Tel Aviv on October 19, 1994,19 nor the two suicide bombers in Bet Lid inside the Green Line on January 22, 1995,20 nor Yigal Amir, the political twin brother of Dr. Goldstein and the assassin of Rabin-who first derailed the peace process. Similarly, the deadly series of suicide bombings in February-March 1996 in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Ashkelon as well as Netanyahu’s election and subsequent actions (especially the opening, on September 27, 1996, of a tunnel inside Jerusalem’s Old City that led to the unnecessary killing of 76 civilians)-merely buried the “peace process” deeper into the ground. But it was the Rabin government that pushed this process single-handedly over the tip of the slippery down-slope.

Finally, it is convenient and tempting for many observers to overlook the fact that the 1990s in Israel were primarily a period of left-Zionist rule, rather than a period ruled by the “truly bad guys” from the Likud and the ultra-nationalist right. Between Rabin’s election in June 1992, and Sharon’s overpowering of Barak in February 2001, there were nearly 6 full years of Labor-Meretz rule in Israel. Hence, contrary to the prevailing perceptions, it is the Zionist left rather than the Zionist right-that bears the principal respon- sibility for the colossal failure of the peace process in the 1990s. As this article has shown, this failure of the Zionist left was largely self-made.

In 1992 Labor and Meretz alone had 56 out of 120 seats in the Knesset (44 Labor and 12 Meretz). With the 6 seats of Shas, within the coalition, and the 5 seats of Arab parties supporting the coalition from outside, a lot more should and could-have been done by Rabin and his principal ally Meretz on issues pertaining to the easing of the Israeli-Arab conflict. A favorable pro-peace composition in the Knesset such as the one that Rabin enjoyed has not emerged again since 1992; the chances that it will reemerge in the foreseeable future appear slim at this time of especially violent Israeli-Palestinian clashes.


1. The victory of the Labor Party in 1992 was the second time in the history of Israel that one party replaced another. Between 1948 and 1977 the Labor Party dominated Israeli politics. In 1977 it lost for the first time to the Likud Party.

2. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 stipulates that “the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

3. On the first Palestinian intifada, see Z. Lockman & J. Beinin, Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising Against Israeli Occupation (Boston: South End Press, 1989) and Joost R. Hiltermann, Behind the Intifada (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).

4. Unlike the second, “al-Aqsa” Intifada that broke out in September 2000, the first Palestinian intifada included very limited use of light weapons such as handguns, rifles or grenades. Although the Israeli response was severe, it never reached the level of force that was applied in the second intifada (such as assassinations, car bombs and the use of U.S.-supplied helicopters and airplanes).

5. Shamir belonged to the Lehi underground in the pre-1948 period. See Lenni Brenner, The Iron Wall: Zionist Revisionism from Jabotinsky to Shamir (London: Zed Press, 1984) and , Terror out of Zion: Irgun Zvai Leumi, LEHI and the Palestine Underground 1929-1949 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1977).

6. The text of the Madrid conference, as well as that of additional key documents relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict, found at

7. The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics has confirmed that one third of the Russian immigrants who arrived in the Jewish state in the 1990s were not religiously Jews. This suggests that Israeli governments care less about the religious Jewish identity of incoming immigrants than about their European white ethnicity regardless of their religion.

8. I italicize the definite article “the” because the sole Israeli concern with respect to UN Security Council Resolution 242 is that its English version lacks the definite article “the.” See the discussion below of Oslo and Resolution 242.

9. Direct election of a prime minister (in addition to the election of a party) took place in Israel only twice (before its harmful effects led to its cancellation). It happened in 1996, when Netanyahu overpowered Shimon Peres (following Rabin’s assassination) and in 1998 when Barak overpowered Netanyahu. Ariel Sharon’s latest victory over Barak came about after a full return to the preceding electoral system whereby one casts a single vote for a party.

10. It is worth recalling, in addition, that each and every Republican and Democratic US administration always favors an Israel ruled by Labor.

11. While the Shas leadership is religiously Orthodox, Shas voters are not necessarily so. The majority among them adhere to a light, “traditional” relationship to religion.

12. I use quotation marks because it is unclear how one can reconcile support for the existence of a religiously-defined (Jewish) state on the one hand, and a secular position on the other. This is an inherent tension among “secular Zionists.”

13. Geoffrey Aronson, “Settlement Population Growth Under Labor,” Journal of Palestine Studies (Autumn 1996), p. 130. According to the settler magazine Nekuda, the Labor era of 1992-96 witnessed an almost 50 percent increase in the number of settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip-from 105,940 in June 1992 to 151,324 in June 1996. This growth is consistent with projections made by the Rabin government in 1992, which envisaged a settler population of 140,000 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by 1995. See Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories: A Bimonthly Publication of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (Vol. 6, No. 4, July 1996).

14. The texts of the asymmetrical recognition between Israel and the PLO can be found at

15. The writings of Edward Said are probably most known in this respect. For several multi-dimensional analyses of the Oslo Accords and the peace process see the Center for Economic and Social Rights at

16. Sixty-one Knesset Members voted against the motion of no-confidence that the opposition brought against Rabin and the DOP; fifty members voted in favor, eight abstained and one was absent.

17. For thorough information on Israel’s settlement activity see the Foundation for Middle East Peace at  and the “Settlement Monitor” section in The Journal of Palestine Studies.

18. Whereas Netanyahu and Sharon voted against Oslo in September 1993, Barak was not yet a Knesset member. However, Barak was the only minister in Rabin’s cabinet who opposed the Oslo II agreement (September 1995) and abstained from its vote in the Knesset.

19. That attack killed 21 Israelis and one Dutch national.

20. These attacks killed 18 Israeli soldiers and one civilian.

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