Menachem Begin
Menachem Begin; drawing by David Levine


Political revolutions can be compared to kicking through rotting doors, and Israel’s Labor Alignment provided just such a barrier to Likud’s1 stunning victory on May 17. It is now well known that the Labor Party was broadly perceived to be corrupt, suspected of hoarding illegal slush funds. Quite aside from Prime Minister Rabin’s currency violation, the party was implicated in kickback schemes, and as a result some of its key officials—Asher Yadlin and Michael Tzur—were jailed. Avraham Ofer, the former housing minister and a leader of what is left of Mapai, committed suicide before he could be thoroughly investigated. Furthermore, Labor’s campaign was uninspired—more or less a reflection of its remaining leadership—and pursued without genuine enthusiasm. The Friday before election day,. the party took a full-page advertisement in Ha’aretz in which a number of prominent academics grudgingly and circuitously explained why voting for the Labor Alignment was the least depressing of available choices. Less highly educated people were apparently not impressed.

But the Alignment was perceived by many people as also compromised and corrupt by the way it distributed political favors and economic patronage, doing so with the arrogant confidence of a traditional aristocracy. When times were better, such highhandedness could be overlooked; but times are not good in Israel today. For the last three years inflation has been running at between 40 to 50 percent. As a result, real wages have been falling sharply, while labor unrest (including wildcat strikes) and white-collar crime have increased dramatically. Much of this inflation can be attributed to a rise in the world price of oil and food staples, and, more significantly, to Israel’s huge defense budget now comprising about 40 percent of total expenditures and 35 percent of GNP. This, however, is by no means the whole story.

A good part of Israel’s ruinous inflation derives from the economic policy blunders of Labor’s former finance minister and political boss, the late Pinhas Sapir.2 From 1967 on, Sapir deliberately set out to industrialize and develop Israel’s economy by subsidizing private investments, claiming that Israel must rationalize production by encouraging “market forces.” At first this was intended to lure foreign Jewish investors—but Sapir also felt he had to attract capital with matching, low-interest government loans to assure a profitable return. He soon extended this practice to domestic investors. The policy rapidly degenerated into the “system”—ha’shitah—in which Sapir (acting in the name of a workers’ state) had unprecedented economic power, bestowing bundles of money and wry Yiddish wit on the bigshot entrepreneurs of Tel Aviv, London, and New York, and on the Histadrut enterprises as well.

Instead of creating a streamlined mixed economy, Sapir’s “market” approach only created an oligarchy of people with connections in both the public and private sectors. It also generated sporadic growth, and the obvious enrichment of Israel’s bourgeoisie—all behind the mask of the traditional Labor “movement.” Sapir, moreover, created a fiscal monster that became apparent after the 1973 war, which dampened Israel’s post-1970 boom. His resignation and subsequent death left the program in a shambles; without him there was nobody left to manage the flow of money from abroad and to coax investors into some of the government’s economically important but less profitable projects (e.g., textile mills in the new “development towns”).

Sapir’s undistinguished heir, Yehoshua Rabinowitz (who was rewarded with the Finance Ministry after being defeated for re-election as mayor of Tel Aviv), did little to salvage the situation. The Israeli government is still stuck with outstanding low-interest loans amounting to billions of Israeli pounds, and today has to borrow at interest rates fully 25 percent higher than those at which it had been lending. Almost 26 percent of Israel’s budget is now gobbled up by new subsidies for capital investment and by servicing the debts on old ones; literally, socialism for the rich. To make matters worse, state welfare programs have had to be cut correspondingly. They now account for only about 18 percent of the national budget.

Furthermore, Rabinowitz has failed to enforce the new tax regulations which the Ben Shachar Commission drew up over three years ago. Tax evasion is still a way of life among Israel’s bourgeoisie. Conservative estimates have put the amount of unreported or “black money” in Israel’s economy at around fifteen billion Israeli pounds. This money is spent quickly, mainly on luxury housing or imported commodities, and traded on the black market for export to Switzerland. It is little wonder that merchants are accustomed to 50 percent profit margins on durable consumer goods.

The Labor Party has thus created a crippled, incompetent, highly inflationary capitalism, which is hardest on the workers and middle-class wageearners who are Labor’s natural constituency outside the workers’ agricultural settlements. But this kind of capitalism also offends the sensibilities of the same nouveaux arrivés who have benefited from it. The real source of the anomie which seized so many voters in the weeks before the election was in the feeling that the machinery of daily life was out of control and that the very survival of the country was at stake. Much of this feeling was sublimated into the language of pessimism about “Zionism” and national defense—“how can we survive the Arabs if American Jews won’t want to live here?”


In part, then, the vote for the Likud, as well as for Yigael Yadin’s Democratic Movement for Change (DMC), was a vote to turn the government over to men who want to see the ethics of a market society honestly declared and enforced. It reflects the view of a good part of Israel’s upper middle class that the country has become a market society of profit-seeking enterprises and that it ought to be administered by those who recognize this fact and are not cynical about it. The vote promises the arrival in political power of Israel’s corporate elite—men such as Mark Moshevics, the past president of the Israeli Association of Manufacturers, Buma Shavit, the current president, both prominent in the Liberal Party wing of the Likud, and Step Wertheimer, the prominent industrialist who has associated himself with the DMC. It also invites some radical economic reforms congenial to them.

Not coincidentally, Likud’s finance minister-designate, Simcha Erlich (a former leader of the Liberal Party—once the General Zionists), has already promised sweeping relaxations of government interventions in the economy. There will be, he says, an end to food subsidies; a reduction in government spending; an end to bonds linked to the cost of living, the favorite of workers’ pension funds. Government lands will be sold off. There will be a greater “tolerance” for unemployment and compulsory arbitration of wage disputes in “essential” services. Erlich has also promised an amnesty for those who reveal their black money and pay a tax on it (I wonder if he thought of just changing the currency?). The inflationary capital subsidies will be phased out except for housing. He has also announced that he would appoint Milton Friedman, the University of Chicago economist (and the author of Capitalism and Freedom), to the post of chief economic adviser. The latter has already speculated that the Histadrut and the state should be made to sell their corporations to private concerns (Ha’aretz, May 24), a policy which would fundamentally change Israel’s political economy. Histadrut, the vast labor organization, for example, runs enterprises of all kinds throughout Israel.

Friedman’s blind faith in the “hidden hand” of the market may prove too dogmatic even for the Likud. Nevertheless, that Erlich’s Draconian measures can be generally hailed as “progressive” suggests how completely Sapir and Rabinowitz have prostituted the Israeli economy in the name of social planning.

Had Labor failed only to manage the economy, that might have been enough to defeat it. Beyond this, as I have noted before (NYR, May 2, 1974), the Labor Alignment has been consumed by factional dissent and ideological atrophy for many years. Labor never really recovered from the Lavon Affair (1960 to 1963) which split the Party into two rival groups. On the one hand stood the so-called “old guard” of Mapai and Achdut Ha’avoda (Pinhas Sapir, Golda Meir, Avraham Ofer, and Yigal Allon). They tended to be dovish on foreign policy, concerned to maintain the Histadrut as the manager of many welfare programs, and careless in using socialist rhetoric as a cover to protect their entrenched privileges.

The other faction, the young technocrats of Rafi who followed Ben-Gurion out of Mapai (Shimon Peres, Moshe Dayan, Gad Yaacobi), wanted the state bureaucracy, rather than Histadrut, to run welfare programs and cultural affairs (“mamlachtiyut“). They favored the army rather than the Labor movement as the chief vehicle of social integration; in their view the immigrants from North Africa would most successfully absorb Israeli ways in military service. They were also inclined to disengage the state from direct economic activity. And since Ben-Gurion recruited them mainly from the army, they tended to be hawkish in foreign policy, supporting a policy of heavy retaliation against the bases of Arab infiltration before the 1967 war, and resisting the principle of territorial compromise on the West Bank thereafter.

This conflict was never fundamentally resolved. The apparent unity of the Labor Party, reconstituted in 1968 during the up-beat months following the Six-Day War, was merely a façade which crumbled after 1973. These strains also exacerbated personal rivalries, as evidenced in recent months by the steady subversion and near defeat of Yitzhak Rabin by his defense minister, Shimon Peres. Such spectacles caused many Israelis to hunger for strong leadership. Peres (and Rafi) finally—and, it now appears, temporarily3—won control. But it was an empty victory; by then, many had had enough of the Labor Party itself.


More important, this squabbling prevented Labor from taking an articulate and decisive stand on the status of the occupied territory. Especially after Prime Minister Levi Eshkol died in 1969, Labor’s moderates were helpless to force the withdrawal of the illegal squatters’ settlements on the West Bank erected by right-wing and religious groups under the leadership of Rabbi Levinger. The first of these settlements was Kiryat Arba, founded on the outskirts of Hebron in 1968. Such settlements achieved precisely what their founders intended: they became the “facts” which have changed the priorities and compromised the flexibility of Israeli diplomacy. But they also became the tangible vindication of a new “Zionist” vocabulary and “pioneering” élan—strident, mystical, atavistic—with which a new generation of Israelis has been growing up, and which find their purest expression in the intensely chauvinistic movement called Gush Emunim.4

During this election young voters from all backgrounds turned to the Likud and to the National Religious Party (NRP) in overwhelming numbers. These parties consistently promoted a rhetoric which frankly justified the West Bank settlements, while the government was often equivocal about them in principle and helpful to them in practice. Unfortunately for Labor, young Israelis—especially those in the army—tended to vote this time to get their parents to live up to what they perceived are the latter’s ideological pretensions. The Labor Party’s moderates, who believed in a more open policy toward the occupied territories, were cowed for six crucial years by Golda Meir’s punitive discipline. They were thus as responsible as Begin and Gush Emunim for a political language that takes the annexation of the West Bank virtually for granted. Rabin’s lack of ideological initiative on these questions, by the way, also made his own government’s more moderate actions appear cowardly; especially when later endorsed by Shimon Peres who, as Begin delighted in reminding everyone, was himself a leading advocate of annexation before assuming control of his divided party.

Labor has made itself anathema or superfluous to so many sectors of Israeli society that its chances for recovery would be bleak under the best of circumstances. But because of Israel’s proportional representational system—likely to be retained unless the DMC is seduced into Likud’s government with the promise of electoral reform—none of Labor’s current and much disliked leadership has been turned out of the Knesset. Their disingenuous talk after the elections about “revitalizing” the Labor movement convinces nobody. Indeed the Israeli labor movement—which formerly organized industries, welfare services, and trade unions under the umbrella of a party that traditionally controlled the state—has been strained by inherent conflicts of interest (e.g., between managers and workers) and has become something of an anachronism in modern Israel. It would have difficulty in reorganizing even if it were presided over by Berl Katznelson, the austere founder of the Histadrut in the 1920s, and not by the spoiled politicians who now seem anxious to scramble for the remaining crumbs.

Nor does Labor have many bright faces coming up through the ranks. Younger leaders such as Yossi Sarid, Micah Harish, and Uzi Baram are shrewd men, but they have no national stature, and they could be equally at home in Yadin’s DMC; they may be inclined to join Yadin, especially if he remains in the opposition. Some leftist academics who would want to agitate within the Labor Party for a Western European social democratic approach—Shlomo Avineri and Yeri Yovel—offer some hope; but, like most Israeli intellectuals, they have so far not been persistent or bold enough to struggle openly for political power.

Labor’s leadership is thus a dwindling political force. It is now staking everything on a good showing in the coming Histadrut elections scheduled for June 21. But Labor’s candidate for secretary general, Yerucham Meshel, has already angered the workers with his indifferent attitude to their wage claims while he and his cronies were in power. More activist and popular Labor leaders such as Yitzhak Ben-Aharon were pushed out of power by Golda Meir after the 1973 war for opposing her foreign policy. So even if Meshel’s (i.e., Labor’s) list in the Histadrut is re-elected, he will not be able to lead a cohesive, disciplined work force in defiance of Likud policies. On the contrary, Labor has thrown away this kind of working-class loyalty.


Yet it would be wrong to surmise from these observations that Labor’s defeat was merely the result of a fickle protest vote. One should not underestimate the force of the kick that finally broke down the door. Anyone in fundamental agreement with Labor on diplomatic, social, and “Zionist” issues, but desiring a change in economic and moral leadership, had an attractive alternative in Yadin’s DMC. But Yadin’s party won only fifteen seats. Its vote, moreover, came mainly from affluent Ashkenazi suburbs, from the moshavim (the prosperous cooperatives), and from a part of the intelligentsia. While Yadin split the Labor vote, the two parties still comprise only a parliamentary minority. Likud, on the other hand, won by itself a solid forty-five seats; and it has also put together an impressive political coalition which, if present demographic trends persist, is likely to endure and even expand considerably.

I have already mentioned the warhardened and ideologically strident young people who have swung their influence to the Likud. We should also remember that three times the number of Israeli-born voters participated in this election than did so in 1973. Moreover, Israel’s bourgeoisie of corporate executives, bankers, entrepreneurs, and the much larger constituency of merchants and petty-bourgeois tradesmen who want to emulate their success, are steadfastly behind the old Liberal Party wing of the Likud. This constituency, like that of the young people, is likely to grow in the future, particularly within the market climate created by a Likud government. Its members are also likely to go along, at least in principle, with Begin’s desire to keep the West Bank under Israeli control. Many of the least desirable construction and industrial jobs within Israel—jobs for some 100,000 Arab workers—are now filled by Arabs from this territory, and from Gaza. It would be extremely difficult to replace them with Israelis.

Labor has lost the prestige of incumbency. It has already lost to the Likud the support of Israel’s two largest dailies, Ma’ariv and Yedioth Aharonoth. Likud can now assume the glamorous trappings of government while continuing to ascribe its problems to Labor’s legacy.

A fourth pillar of the Likud are the followers of the old Herut Party who have stubbornly viewed Begin and his Irgun underground as the crucial instrument of British defeat in Palestine and consequently of the securing of the state. Ultra-nationalist in the tradition of Jabotinsky, closely knit by common political, recreational, and youth organizations, and by their own competing version of Zionist history—especially regarding the alleged indifference of Labor Zionism to the fate of European Jews before the holocaust—Herut will remain a hard core (fifteen seats) of Likud’s support. Moreover the Herut’s followers regard Likud’s victory as the consummation of a forty-year struggle. Some of Herut’s older leaders, such as Shmuel Katz and Geula Cohen, can be counted on to proselytize among the very young with zeal and with the weight of the state apparatus behind them.

But aside from Herut, the young, and the bourgeoisie, the key to Likud’s victory, and its future, is the so-called “second Israel” (Yisrael Ha’shniyah); those Sephardic Jewish refugees from Arab countries who have never really been absorbed into Labor’s scheme of things. The citizens of the “second Israel” are fiercely resentful of the Labor movement for having turned the whole country into what they perceive as a European closed shop. Three years ago I noted that we can understand nothing about Israeli politics unless we appreciate how widely Labor has been seen as the party of privilege and cultural snobbery, especially among residents of and escapees from the poorer Sephardic neighborhoods. The latter probably accounted for about twenty Likud seats. If political analysis like Dan Horowitz of Hebrew University are correct, their vote will be even more significant next time. Sephardic Jews accounted for only 43 percent of voters in this election. Next time they will likely constitute a majority.

Members of the “second Israel” have adopted the Likud as their instrument for achieving a national identity, and they are beginning to know their own strength. They admire Begin and his likely successor,5 Ezer Weizman, the former air force chief now expected to be minister of defense, mainly because they and the Likud have made all the right enemies.

Most members of the “second Israel” fled Islamic states in several waves between 1948 and 1957. Primarily in the later years, they came from Morocco and Algeria where they had been, for the most part, small merchants, traders, hustlers, who tried to survive the urban jungles of such cities as Casablanca and Algiers. Most came to Israel with little education; the more educated or prosperous either stayed put or wound up in Paris or Montreal or New York. Moreover, they arrived as intransigent individualists: convinced of the values of the market, family centered, and suspicious of Labor Zionism’s collectivist social theories.

They were also wholly unaccustomed to democratic politics, a weakness which Labor apparatchniks quickly exploited in ways which would have made Richard Daley blush.6 These immigrants were even more estranged from the Zionist vision which understood Jewish nationalism and territorialism as methods to create a modern Jewish secular state, one combining cooperative ethics with an openness to European culture. They were certainly apathetic to Zionist principles which derived from resisting European persecution. Rather, they arrived in Israel with a deep hatred for Arabs, which better reflected their own collective tragedy.

Coming from premodern Arab societies, these Sephardic immigrants tended to see Jewish life as based on religious unity. Although most of their Israeli-born children quickly shook off a rigorous devotion to the liturgy and the Laws, they nevertheless persisted in seeing Jewish life according to Messianic religious categories. This tendency was abetted by the heroic rhetoric of Ben-Gurion and his young protégés—Yadin and Dayan—who, from the 1950s on, devoted much energy to a cult of the state. (Yadin’s Masada excavations, which recovered so graphically the images of the ancient Jewish commonwealth, were this cult’s most striking fixtures.)

The “second Israel” needed little prodding to develop resentment for Labor Zionism’s administrative practices. Their daily life required an endless round of encounters with the well-connected bureaucrats of the Histadrut and the state whom they saw as condescending Europeans; the latter channeled them into relatively low-paying jobs and ersatz neighborhoods on the fringes of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and into development towns like Dimona and Yokneam. They were, moreover, made to feel inferior within Israel’s revolutionary Hebrew culture, and lacking in the ideological sophistication and moral charm of the socialist pioneers. They particularly resented the kibbutzim into which they were unable to integrate, and which, after several years of bitter friction, began to employ them as wage laborers in violation of their own historic principles.

During the Sixties and Seventies most of the “second Israel” gravitated to Israel’s larger cities,7 becoming the sansculottes of Israel’s increasingly capitalist and industrial economy. Excluded from the often large grants of foreign currency which thousands of European refugees secured in the program of German reparations, and without the training or social pedigree needed to rise in the social scale, the most fortunate turned to small enterprises, low bureaucratic jobs. Culturally they turned back on themselves, became introverted. Most became part of an antisocialist (i.e., anti-establishment) proletariat, raising their children in conditions of poverty and turning to political leaders like Menachem Begin whose rightist diatribes seemed persuasive. They were joined in this election by a good many of the recent immigrants from the USSR.

Begin, of course, is a descendant of Zionist Revisionism, not of the “second Israel”; but under his leadership the Likud and its precursors effectively, some might say demogogically, built on the pent-up contempt of the new immigrants for Israel’s traditional elites. The Likud, therefore, is now regarded by the “second Israel” as its own vehicle for social leveling and, more important, social respectability. Likud’s economic policies can be expected to do little for their economic distress. But it would be a mistake to suppose that they will quickly abandon this party as a result. When bread runs short, there are always circuses.

The final element of Likud’s coalition is the National Religious Party (twelve seats), now taken over by its own fanatical young guard, led by Zvulun Hamer. The NRP has in fact become the Likud’s ideological mentor, supplying the promises for Herut’s promised-land rhetoric. The party also provides a home for the principal leaders of Gush Emunim, who now feel that they will have a free hand to settle the West Bank. Begin recklessly promised them this much the day after his party’s election.

More immediately ominous for Israeli secularists is the likely appointment of Zvulun Hamer to the Education Ministry. Begin has indicated that he would give Hamer the authority to upgrade the status of religious education in the schools. It also seems likely that Likud will permit the NRP-controlled Interior Ministry to define as Jewish only those converts who have been put through the Orthodox rabbinical mill. (Remember the debate over “Who is a Jew”?) Ahad Ha’am, the ideologue of secular “cultural” Zionism, must be turning in his grave; Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders in America must be equally dizzy.

In order to broaden this religious base (and thus earn a simple majority of Knesset seats) Likud even seems willing to bring in the ultra-orthodox Agudat Yisrael Party. The latter represents the intensely pious Jews of the Mea Shearim quarter of Jerusalem, of the town of Safed, and of other picturesque throw-backs to pre-enlightenment Judaism. In addition to its fundamentalist demands regarding the legal definition of Jew, Aguda seems likely to demand tighter laws against work on the Sabbath, autopsy, abortion, and Christian proselytes. One can imagine what they intend to do with even mildly erotic films.


Still, it is the question of war and peace that is on the mind of anyone trying to assess the significance of Likud’s victory. After more than six months of preparatory talks, the Carter administration appears to have had a severe blow dealt to its Middle East plans, which generally followed the scheme of the Brookings Institution. The key elements of Carter’s package were to emerge during staged negotiations leading to Arab recognition of Israel. They were to include an agenda that would specify the consequences of a peace (diplomatic exchanges, commercial freedom, etc.), and would assume, in principle, Israel’s agreement to withdraw from virtually all the territories occupied since 1967.

It is most unlikely that this plan would be acceptable to Menachem Begin. He is entirely committed to keeping the whole of ancient Eretz Yisrael under Israeli rule. He will probably not annex the West Bank outright, although he has Likud’s sanction to do so; why risk adding 700,000 more Arabs to Israel’s voting population? But Begin has already given encouragement to widespread Jewish settlement of the West Bank and may be tempted to extend Israeli law to the territories which, for the most part, are still governed according to Jordanian laws.

These developments are every bit as frightening as they appear. However, they do not necessarily promise war in the immediate future. Egypt, still the most important military power in the Arab world, has not yet absorbed its newly acquired French and British weapons into its military forces. Moreover, the Egyptian government would probably not now wish to disrupt its Canal Zone reconstruction plans. The cities along the Canal represent Egypt’s best, perhaps only, hope to resettle the estimated thirty million Egyptians who will likely be born in the next two decades. Should these masses remain in the Nile valley—laying concrete over rapidly diminishing farmland—Egypt, as demographic experts predict, risks an unspeakable human tragedy. Sadat’s regime is well aware of such disastrous possibilities.

Nor do the Saudis, the currently unchallenged diplomatic and economic Arab power brokers, appear to want renewed fighting. They know Israel’s army has never been stronger. To challenge it would only invite the reemergence of radical, pro-Soviet sentiments in Syria and other Arab countries near Saudi Arabia’s borders, and strain their own close relations with the United States. Rather, they seem eager for a Pax Americana and seem reconciled to Israel’s presence in the Middle East as the price they must pay.

Even the Syrians have recently seemed willing to go along with some American initiative. Soviet experts, according to one unconfirmed report, have warned Assad not to attempt large-scale actions against Israel.8 And Carter’s meeting with the Syrian president a few days before Israel’s election produced at least some equivocation on Assad’s part regarding the PLO’s maximum demands. Indeed, Syria has now consolidated its hold on northern Lebanon and will not wish to give the PLO a chance to rekindle its independent ambitions so soon after the Syrian army had itself doused them. It is true that nearly all Arab states are now talking of war, but this kind of talk is cheap in the Middle East. The region, after all, is at war. Still, one should not minimize the dangers; it will take a high degree of Soviet-American cooperation to prevent fighting from breaking out as the military buildup continues on all sides.

The more immediate problem for Israel will be the West Bank itself. Militarily and diplomatically, the new Israeli government faces great danger if it tries to go ahead with Begin’s dreams of unleashing Gush Emunim settlers there. The apparent quiet in the territory is deceiving. West Bankers are strongly opposed to the occupation; they voted overwhelmingly in last year’s municipal elections for candidates who defiantly claimed they were pro-PLO. They will remain pliable so long as peace talks appear imminent; there is cause to dread their reactions should a Likud government frustrate these talks or step up Jewish settlement near their cities.

Nor has the Israeli occupation been as benevolent as American Jews have been told. Informed sources in Israel told me that about 60 percent of West Bank and Gaza males between the ages of eighteen and fifty have had to be detained at least one night in jail during the last ten years. And these arrests took place during a time of relative political calm. In addition, Arab residents of the territories have already proven that they are capable of bombing Jewish areas, or of strikes and student riots which the Israeli army has quelled with the kind of brutality that stiffens Arab resistance.9

Such actions by the army, it should be noted, also erode support for Israel among American and Western European opinion makers. Likud’s policy could therefore become a pretext for attempts to expel Israel from the UN and would cause serious embarrassment among Israel’s remaining friends.

The picture is not unrelievedly gloomy. Although Begin himself should not be expected to “grow in office”—the man has been single-minded for forty years—a Likud government will be only slightly more united on these diplomatic strategies than was the Labor Alignment. The Liberal faction—Arie Dulchin, Simcha Erlich, Elimelech Rimalt, and others—are not so much opposed to West Bank annexation as they are anxious to remain on firm ground with the American government. Under pressure from Carter—and he is already exerting it—the Liberals are unlikely to allow Begin to squander American military and, more urgent, economic support. This is why they have been opposing Begin’s attempts to name Moshe Dayan to the Foreign Ministry—an appointment which could keep Yadin’s DMC from joining the government. The Liberals, understandably, are eager to add more moderate forces to Begin’s coalition.

But if Dayan does become foreign minister—the Liberals probably do not have the power to thwart Begin short of dissolving the Likud even before the party assumes control of the government—the former Labor hawk may also try to blunt Begin’s annexationist demands. While on his shuttles, Kissinger used to remark that Dayan was Israel’s most realistic negotiator regarding American interests in the region. Dayan was also the author of the “open-bridges” policy which transformed the West Bank into a kind of Israeli-Jordanian condominium. He stated flatly in a television interview that he would oppose annexation so long as American peace initiatives have some prospect of succeeding.

But Dayan remains a mysterious figure, curiously timid and fatalistic at the same time. Since 1973, he has been inclined toward moodily supporting the zealots of Gush Emunim. He has also been deeply offended by the widespread allegations that he was most responsible for Israel’s lack of vigilance before the war. It is difficult to gauge how he will respond to the strains of peacemaking. Even under Golda Meir, Dayan often seemed eager to avoid political conflicts in favor of going on some archaeological dig.

Begin may also find it difficult to impose his will on his own general staff. Although we should welcome such resistance with caution—Israeli democracy is fragile enough—it is important to remember that most of the really important posts in the army are now held by men congenial to Labor. Many come from kibbutzim. Quite apart from the fact that they have been brought up to think of Begin as a scoundrel, they will not relish turning the army into an occupation police. Nor will many thousands of reservists welcome service as the instruments of law and order in Nablus or Jenin. The same holds true for much of Israel’s government bureaucracy. Since almost all junior and intermediate civil service appointments for the last thirty years are people who were acceptable to Labor, Begin and his ministers may find some of their more strident policies surreptitiously sabotaged.

Some will also find consolation in the state of Menachem Begin’s health. He will not, I think, forgo the prime minister’s office if he can avoid doing so, but it is by no means certain that he will be able to carry out his duties very long. Ezer Weizman, whom I already suggested is Begin’s likely successor, seems now to have acquired some of the political maturity of his uncle, Chaim Weizmann, who towered over the Zionist movement during the 1920s and 1930s. Despite his daredevil past,10 he can certainly be counted on to deal more pragmatically with the Americans than would Begin.

The most optimistic prospect just after the election was that Yadin’s DMC would eventually agree to join the Likud’s new government. The DMC has set rigid terms regarding electoral reform—perhaps too stringent for the Likud. Moreover, if Dayan’s appointment is finally confirmed over the Liberals’ objections, it seems most unlikely that Yadin could be offered a post satisfactory to him. Nevertheless, should his party work out a formula for joining the government, Yadin and other DMC ministers such as Amnon Rubinstein or Meir Amit would be strong voices against annexationist policies. Yadin has insisted that West Bank settlements can be justified only for security reasons—he seems drawn to the Allon plan for defensive paramilitary settlements on the Jordan River. Together with the Liberals and the Aguda (whose rabbis prefer to leave the uniting of Eretz Yisrael to the Messiah), the DMC could help to tame the more strident wing of the Likud and NRP.

Ironically, even a Likud government constituted without the DMC might conceivably be more successful than Rabin in holding the line on settlements and working seriously for peace through an American initiative. Likud’s hawkish ministers will be more trusted by their nervous followers to recognize an American ultimatum when they see one. However, without the DMC, far fewer voices in Begin’s cabinet will be insisting on territorial compromise.

Likud will not be defying the Israeli public if it chooses a more moderate course. Polls show time after time that only 30 percent of Israelis want to annex the West Bank as a matter of principle; some two-thirds are willing to give up territory as part of a negotiated peace settlement—if they can be reassured that the settlement will not become a Trojan horse. Similar polls reveal that even more Israelis—75 to 80 percent—have faith in American designs and good will.11 They have been bewildered and badly led by former governments, but they are not war-mongers. In voting for the Likud, Israelis have changed their political direction on many fundamental issues of Israeli life: a quite different Israel has pushed through the accumulated layers of the old Labor Zionist establishment, and neither Israel nor “Zionism” can be the same. Should Begin survive to attempt his annexationist crusades, however, Israelis may find that, by voting him in, they have embarked on a course even more perilous than they had imagined.

Jerusalem and New York, June 1

This Issue

June 23, 1977