Likud

Hebrew word for Union. Parliamentary group created in 1973 as an offshot of the Gahal (acronym for « Gush-Herut-Liberalism » political group which existed from 1965 to 1973) when Menahem Begin merged his Herut(1) (Freedom Party) with the Liberal Party and smaller right-wing parties as well as some Labour dissidents taken away by Ariel Sharon.

Ideologically, Likud is an alliance of secular ultranationalists, conservatives and liberals in the economic sense of the word. The basis of the agreement of the new party was the extension of Israeli sovereignty to the whole territory west of the Jordan River (the West Bank and Gaza) while at the same time maintaining a claim over Transjordanian territory. It also strives for the improvement of the situation of the least favoured communities, such als the Sephardi community, and the respect for traditional Jewish values.

Except for the period 1967-1970, when a government of national unity was formed to wage the Six Day War of June 1967, the right wing parties remained in opposition until 1977 although the Likud made in 1973 a first electoral breakthrough.

In 1977 Likud secured 33.4 per cent of the votes and 43 seats in the Knesset. thanks to the Sephardi vote, enough seats to form the first Begin government. Despite its ultranationalist and expansionist ideology, this government responded favourably to the peace initiative from Egypt’s president Anwar Al-Sadat, who became in 1977 the first Arab leader to officially visit Israel. Two years later Begin and Sadat signed a peace treaty.

The popularity of the party started to decline with the costly invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which led to the resignation of Begin and the appointment of Yitzhak Shamir as his successor. Another factor in this decline was the disenchantment of the Sephardi community when the promises of improvement of the living conditions of this section of the Israeli population made way for a liberal economic policy. After the elections of 1984, Likud shared power with the Labour Party headed by Shimon Peres in a coalition government. It was an uneasy alliance and the Labour left it in 1990.

Likud was back in opposition in 1992 after losing the elections and replaced Shamir with a new and young leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. The party opposed the Oslo Agreement concluded in 1993 between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Thanks to a new law that provided, for the first time, for the direct election of the prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu became prime minister after the elections of May 1996 and Likud returned to power in coalition with right-wing and religious parties.

Although Mr. Netanyahu promised to honour the deal with the PLO and to continue the peace negations with Syria and Lebanon (the Labour government of Yitzhak Rabin had concluded a peace treaty with Jordan in 1994), the peace process stalled nearly completely. Likud stood under heavy pressure of the settlers and rightist and extremist religious parties not to give back the Syrian Golan Heights nor to hand over more land to the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Netanyahu also linked further withdrawals to security. Consequently, every Palestinian attack became pretext for not honouring existing agreements. Meanwhile the Likud government re-started large settlement programs.

In October 1998 a new agreement that provided for the withdrawal from 13 per cent of the West Bank was concluded at Wye River, in the United States. A first withdrawal round Jenin led to strong protest inside the coalition and in the Likud Party itself. This lead a deep crisis in the Likud government in December 1998 with the resignation of several prominent members of the party while others decided to challenge Netanyahu’s leadership.

Following this crisis, new elections took place on 17 May 1999. Parallel to the election of Ehud Barak to replace Netanyahu as Prime Minister, the Likud only earned 13 seats in the Knesset, a sharp drop from the 32 seats it held in the previous Knesset. Following this setback, Mr. Netanyahu resigned as leader of the Likud; Mr. Sharon was installed as its interim chairman. He was elected as chairman on 2 September 1999 and as Prime Minister on 6 February 2001. Ariel Sharon is at the initiative of several changes in policy pursued by Israel: he shows the contradiction between a greater Israel and the interests of the Jewish state, he is also the instigator of the delimitation of territory by a wall and proposed a withdrawal of the most populated territories, starting with the Gaza Strip. The withdrawal will be held in 2005 despite protests of supporters of a greater Israel. Faced to such opposition, Ariel Sharon leaves the Likud and creates Kadima party. He is replaced by Benjamin Netanyahu.

But the Likud has lost much popularity among the Israeli population as shown by the general elections in March 2006: The party only gets 9% of votes and moves into opposition. War between Hezbollah and Israel during the summer of 2006 seriously undermines the popularity of Olmert’s government and plays in favor of Benjamin Netanyahu, reelected to the presidency of the party in August 2007.
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(1) Herut is the heir of Vladimir Jabotinsky’s in 1925 founded Revisionist Movement. This movement was staunchly anti-British and anti-Arab. Out of it grew several terrorist groups such as Begin’s Irgun and Yitzhak Shamir’s Lehi or Stern Gang which combatted the British and the Palestinians in the 1930’s and 1940’s. They were involved in the Deir Yassin massacre in 1948, the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and several political murders: e.g. those of the British High Commissioner, Lord Moyne, and of Count Folke Bernadotte, the Swedish UN mediator in Palestine.