How Netanyahu Stayed in Power This Long

A lengthy stay in power is nothing unusual, as Labor can attest, for its the ruling party’s ability to provide security that determines its longevity.

By Moshe Arens

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150Can we ever beat the Likud? Is Benyamin Netanyahu going to be the eternal prime minister of Israel?
Members of the Israeli political left, yearning to return to power after many years in the wilderness of opposition, ask themselves these questions. And then the blame game begins. Who and what are responsible for this situation? Where did they go wrong?

Actually, a lengthy stay in power for one party is not at all unusual in Israeli politics. Remember the Labor party, in its various incarnations, in power seemingly forever since the foundation of the State in 1948? Almost thirty years! Then it was the Likud, in its various incarnations, that seemed to be the eternal opposition.

If you think back, and ask yourselves why did the Labor party in those years succeed to win election after election, the answer is clear. They seemed to be able to provide what most of the public wanted more than anything else – security. They led Israel to victory in the War of Independence. They succeeded to open the Straits of Eilat in 1956. They were in power when Israel scored a brilliant victory in the Six-Day-War. What finally brought them down was the perception that their leadership had failed during the Yom Kippur War. Even though that was Israel’s greatest victory, eventually paving the way to a peace treaty with Egypt, the public could not forgive the government’s mistake in not calling up the reserves in time and the resulting heavy losses suffered by the IDF. It took four years for it to sink in. The Labor party still won the elections of 1974, but by 1977 the Likud, after years in what seemed eternal opposition, came to power. Security was the issue that occupied the minds of the public more than anything else, and the Labor party’s seeming failure in this area finally brought it down.

From that point of view little has changed in the intervening years. The public demands security and votes for those perceived as being best able to provide it. The Labor party had a chance to restore its credentials as the party that could best provide this security. Under the leadership of a former general, Yitzhak Rabin, it returned to power in 1992, and after losing to the Likud in 1996, it was given another chance when a another former general, Ehud Barak, led it to victory in 1999. Both generals promised security through peace, and were prepared to make the necessary concessions in order to make peace with the Palestinians and the Syrians.

And the public went along with these policies. It supported the Oslo agreements with Yasir Arafat, and was prepared to turn the Golan Heights over to Syrian rule in return for a peace treaty with Hafez al-Assad. Even Barak’s egregious offers of territorial concessions to Arafat in 2000 might have had the support of much of the public had it not been for Arafat’s rejection of the offer and the subsequent wave of Palestinian terror that caused over a thousand Israeli casualties.

The “peace party” of 2005, headed by Ariel Sharon, yet another former general, had a further chance when Sharon bolted the Likud and formed Kadima, taking with him much of the Labor party. He uprooted Israeli settlements in Gush Katif and withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. That move as well had the support of much of the Israeli public at the time.
For some years now all these policies, based on concessions – the Oslo accords, the readiness to withdraw from the Golan Heights, the unilateral withdrawal from the south Lebanon security zone, the offers made to Arafat by Barak, the disengagement from the Gaza Strip – are viewed by most Israelis as having been mistaken. Outside pressure by the United States or the European Union on Israel to agree to concessions may have been encouraged by some in Israel but enraged the majority of Israelis, boosting support for Netanyahu. On security, the issue of most concern to the Israeli public, Labor and its reincarnation as Kadima have failed.

Security issues continue to dominate the Israeli political scene, and until Labor can produce better answers than the ones provided by the Likud, or else, God forbid, the Likud makes a serious mistake on this issue, Likud will most likely stay in power.

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