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Labour Party, Israel


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Israel's major progressive party on the left, created in 1968 from the merger of the Mapai Party with two smaller socialist parties. It combined Zionism with socialism, through the encouragement of Jewish immigration, social welfare policies, and the separation of the Jewish religion from a secular state. Labour also promoted negotiation with other Arab states to achieve a lasting peace settlement, even at the expense of surrendering the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. As the Mapai successor, Labour was at first considered the natural party of government, and was led by Meir and Rabin. However, the establishment of a strong and relatively cohesive conservative opposition in the form of the Likud bloc, and allegations of corruption which forced Rabin to resign in 1977, ultimately led to its election defeat in 1977, when Begin became the country's first non-socialist Prime Minister.

 Weakened by internal leadership divisions between Rabin and Peres, which lasted for more than two decades (1974–95), the party failed to challenge effectively the popular Begin or his successor, Shamir. Labour was also hit by Israel's demographic change, as its natural clientele, Jewish immigrants from central and eastern Europe, declined relative to other immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. Under the leadership of Peres, the Labour Party did participate in government (1984–90). From 1986, however, it governed as a junior partner of Likud, whose hardline policies against the Palestinians it was forced to tolerate. Unable to lead the party to a decisive victory, Peres was replaced (again) by Rabin in 1992. The Labour Party won 44 seats in the 1992 general elections against 32 for Likud, whereupon under the leadership of Rabin and a tireless Peres the party realized a major change in Israeli diplomacy, negotiating the Oslo Accords which led to the recognition of the PLO. As the transition towards Palestinian self-rule proceeded smoothly, support for Labour grew to new heights.

 The party's popularity collapsed in February 1996, when a number of suicide bombs organized by Hezbollah triggered calls for a tougher line against the Palestinians, and an election victory for Likud under Netanyahu. Netanyahu became very unpopular during his term in office. In response, the Labour Party barred the veteran Peres from running for the direct elections to the Prime Ministership, as it was fearful that Peres would squander a near-certain victory. Instead, it backed Ehud Barak, who responded to popular concerns about security. Barak was elected with a decisive majority, but in the parliamentary elections Labour's strength was further eroded: in conjunction with two smaller parties, the once dominant party only had 26 out of 120 seats. Barak never had sufficient parliamentary backing in his dealings with an increasingly radical and militant Palestinian leadership, and he lost early presidential elections in 2001 to Sharon. The latter formed a grand coalition, with Peres representing the Labour Party as its most prominent member. As coalition partner with Olmert's Kadima, its leader, Amir Peretz, became Defence Minister. He was partly blamed for Israel's failure to overcome Hezbollah in 2006, and in 2007 Barat returned to lead the party.

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Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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