By Marcelo Meir
Even though the Labor Party currently holds a majority of seats in the Knesset — with the left liberal coalition Meretz, the Communist Party and the Arab Democratic List — its leader, Yitzhak Rabin, has said that to constitute a coalition with the forces of the left alone would represent a grave error.
That is why he is trying to convince political forces on the right — especially Tsomet (Crossroads), led by the former Israeli army chief Rafael Eitan, and Mafadal, a religious nationalist party — as well as the orthodox religious parties — to participate in the new government.
The Israeli electors voted for Rabin essentially with the aim of punishing Likud. This party has governed for the last 15 years with the support of the poor layers of the population, on the basis of a populist ideology.
However, over the last decade, and particularly under the governments led by Shamir, the Likud has reverted to its original ideology, stressing above all else the need to preserve a Greater Israel in opposition to the interests of the Arabs even if this means coming into conflict with Israel's US backers.
As regards social policy, the Likud has applied austerity measures which have been reinforced with the arrival of the Jewish immigrants from the ex-Soviet Union. The Oriental Jewish population, the inhabitants of the poor quarters and the unemployed — unemployment now effects 15% of the active population and 40% of the new immigrants — have seen the Likud devote most of its efforts in government to the diplomatic and economic issues concerning the occupied territories, abandoning its natural electors.
Faced with this, and then with the emergence of debates inside Likud on this question, it became obvious that a significant part of the electorate were going to transfer their votes to Yitzhak Rabin.
But it should be stressed that support for Rabin does not mean support for his party's program. In the eyes of the popular classes, the Laborites bear the historic responsibility for the evils which afflict them. In other words, the vote of June 23 does not translate into programmatic support for the Labor Party, but rather support for Rabin himself, for a leader who is felt to possess enough charisma and strength to "resolve the most burning problems".
The Labor Party itself understood the nature of this electoral support: it centred its campaign on Rabin, while developing a hard line in relation to the Palestinian intifada (uprising). The Labor Party thus appealed to most people as a second Likud. This strategy is confirmed by the fact that the Labor Party's left-wing deputies were carefully kept out of the way during the month which preceded the ballot.
All this reinforces Rabin's policy, which involves presenting himself first as the leader of the majority of the people, and only then as the standard bearer of Labor's program and leader of all the forces active inside the party. This position automatically implies the necessity of forming a broad coalition, where the left and the right can counterbalance the strength of the centre, that is Rabin and the deputies around him.
Even so, the elections left the left liberal Meretz in a position to deliver an ultimatum to Rabin, by insisting that it was not ready to take part in a coalition with the right. This has not been the case: the leaders of Meretz have been quick to confirm their readiness to support a broad coalition, even if the parties of the right participate.
Why this turn on the part of Meretz, which has become the third electoral force in the country and whose electors see it as the representative of the peace movement?
The answer is simple. From an ideological, programmatic and historic point of view, Meretz still adheres to the forces of Zionist national consensus. Meretz prioritises the interests of the central state — among them, the necessity of creating a broad and stable government — before those of the peace movement.
The leaders of Meretz have justified their willingness to participate in the same government as the rightist but secular Tsomet by saying that the latter had received the votes of an electorate which seeks a response to the pressure and influence of the orthodox parties. In this sense, Meretz sees Rafael Eitan, the leader of Tsomet, as a natural ally.
But this is only partially true: in fact, so far as the future of the occupied territories goes, Tsomet has the same position as the parties of the far right. The presence of Tsomet in the government could mean the indefinite postponement of essential decisions concerning the future of these territories. In other words, Meretz is ready to fundamentally review its principles to take part in a coalition, even if this leaves a free hand to the Labor Party and Tsomet to decide the government's program concerning the peace negotiations.
The policy of the Meretz leaders amounts to an outright betrayal of its electorate and the mandate it has received from them. It is to be hoped that the rank-and-file supporters of this coalition will eventually react, although this will not happen at once given that Meretz's supporters will at first entertain hopes of seeing Meretz ministers in the government changing the relations of forces inside.
Finally, these elections have confirmed the changing consciousness of the Israeli people on an important point: the future of the occupied eflected in the debacle of the far right Tehiya (Rebirth) party. This organisation did not cross the electoral threshold which would allow it to have a deputy in the Knesset — in the preceding parliament, it had three.
This shows the electorate's growing maturity in the face of the positions of the extremists, who advocate giving priority to Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and massive repression of the Palestinian population.
The Israeli electorate has shown that it is no longer disposed to believe that these settlements are the magic solution to all the problems of Israeli society. This constitutes a change, small and certainly ambiguous, but nonetheless real, in the consciousness of the electorate.
[From International Viewpoint.]