Likud (‘Union’), Israel

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Menachem Begin (1913—1992) Israeli statesman, Prime Minister 1977–83

West Bank

Gaza Strip

Shimon Peres (b. 1923) Polish-born Israeli statesman, Prime Minister 1984–6 and 1995–6; President since 2007

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An alliance of a number of right-wing parties which was established in 1973, and grew into a cohesive movement by 1977. Led then by Begin, its victory in that year produced a major sea-change in Israeli politics, which had hitherto been dominated by Mapai and its successor, the Labour Party.

Political domination (1980s and 1990s)

Likud was opposed to the trade union (Histadrut) influence in the economy, though it did continue Labour's promotion of Jewish immigration. It pursued a hardline policy towards its Arab neighbours and the Palestinians, hoping to legitimize the eventual annexation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip through encouraging the creation of Jewish settlements there. Nevertheless, Begin concluded the Camp David Accords which resulted in peace with Egypt, though this was perhaps as much a testimony to US pressure and Carter's diplomacy as a demonstration of Begin's will to accommodate his Arab neighbours. This was shown in 1982, when Israel invaded the Lebanon in an abortive effort to wipe out the PLO. Under the conservative Shamir, Likud continued to govern until 1992 (except for 1984–6), though from 1981 with very fragile majorities. In opposition, it fiercely resisted the Oslo Accords and the recognition of the PLO. The general atmosphere of hatred which this helped to create against the Labour Party, and its leaders Peres and Rabin in particular, was held partly responsible for the assassination of Rabin by a militant Israeli.

Division (after 2005)

Hezbollah bomb attacks allowed Likud's new leader, Netanyahu, to present it as the party of security, so that it was returned to power in the 1996 elections. Likud lost the elections of 1999, but in 2000 its leader, Ariel Sharon, incited a renewal of the Palestinian Intifadah. Amidst the growing violence between Israelis and Palestinians, Sharon became regarded as a guarantor of security, and he was elected Prime Minister in 2001. Despite his hardline stance against the Palestinians, however, Sharon continually feared being undermined by the even more right-wing Netanyahu, who continued to exert considerable influence over sections of the party. Faced with growing resistance within the party to his plans that Israel withdraw from Gaza, Sharon and other leading party members left Likud in 2005 to create a new party, Kadima. Netanyahu returned to the leadership of Likud, but the party did poorly in the 2006 elections, as it was pushed into joint third place, behind Kadima and Labour.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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