The Israeli Labor Party 1968-1999 – Book Review
“The Israeli Labor Party 1968-1999” (In Arabic) By Dr. Haytham A. Mouzahem – Reviewed by Professor Adham Saouli — In this book, Dr. Haytham.A. Mouzahem sheds light on the historical, ideological, political,organizational, and electoral features of the Israeli Labor Party. Divided into three parts and an introduction, the study’s first part discusses the ideological and organizational basis of the party, the second part talks about the social and electoral foundations of the Labor, and, the third part analyzes the position of the Labor Party vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Before moving into the major parts of the study, the author sheds light on major characteristics of the Israeli party system. One of the major and distinguishing aspects that characterize Israeli parties is that most of the present political parties in Israel have deep historical roots and that they have been engaged in the establishment of the Jewish State during the British mandate, in where the Labor party was the forerunner. Another feature that characterizes the party system in Israel is the high number of political parties.
This, Mouzahem attributtes to the division on ethnic, religious, political, and socio-economic issues. According to the author, Israeli parties may not be divided on the classical distribution of Left and Right, rather the Arab-Israeli conflict and the relation between state and religion are what generally define the party spectrum in Israel.
In the part on the “ideological and organizational foundations of the Labor”, the author pierces deeply into the emergence of Zionist labor movements in Palestine and the historical background of this emergence. The role of Mapai ( The Workers’ Party of the Land of Israel) in the establishment of the Israel and its merger with other socialist movements to form the Labor Party in 1965 are discussed. Since 1965, the Labor’s ideology has developed from that of Marxist socialism moving to the center of the political spectrum, with the emergence of a liberal trend within the party, while preserving the Zionist nature of the party throughout of the century.
The Labor, however, distinguishes itself from parties of the right in its perception of the state, which in principle believes it should be secular. This part of the study, also, reflects on the first electoral defeat of the Labor in 1977 and moves further to analyze the circumstances that kept Labor out of power until 1984, the year Labor entered into a political coalition with the Likud Party, before discussing the conditions which brought the Labor back to power in 1992, its defeat in 1996 and return with Ehud Barak in 1999.
On the social basis of the party, the author maintains that, historically, the second and third waves (1905-1914 and 1919-1923) of Jewish emmigration from Eastern Europe were to form the popular basis of Mapai. However, due to socio-economic development in Israel, the Labor began to attract supporters from other social stratas. Thus, the party’s social base transferred from this of workers and peaseants to middle class and petty bourgousie. Ethnically, the party includes members of all ethnic groups, whether Western , Eastern , or Palestinian Jews.
The last part of the book analyzes the position of the Israeli Labor Party on the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Challenging the conventional belief that Labor is more lenient on the settlement of the dispute with the Arabs, the author maintains that Labor, regardless of its pragmatism, preserves the “Zionist principles” that were formulated in the Basle Conference in 1897. Yet, the author observes a development on the position in regards to the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
During the period between 1948 and 1967, the party refused all international plans for resolution, starting with the U.N. Resolution 181. However, twenty years later and due to the eruption of the first Intafada and increased American intervetion for the settlement of the dispute, the Labor party was to engage itself in negotiations which led to the conclusion of the Oslo Agreements. This development led to the elimination of the “Jordanian Option”, which was proposed by a concervative trend and which entails a Jordanian-Palestinian state in Jordan and areas in which Israel will withdraw.
The Oslo Agreement, led to the recognition of Israel by the PLO and vice-versa. However, the agreement didn’t provide a solution for the key and historically controversial issues on the status of Jerusalem, return of the Palestinian refugees, and the nature of the Palestinain state, which the Labor party, as compared with Likud by the author, is not ready to provide any concessions on. The Barak tenure as Prime Minister, eruption of the second Intifada and the severe situation reached until the time this review is being written make this argument a sound one.
In his conclusion, Mouzahem maintains that regardless of the divisions within the Israeli Labor party, the party preserves the principles and goals of the Zionism. The author sees the Labor party as a major party in the establishment of the Jewish State, its economy, and the army and in the safeguarding and expansion of Israel in the wars which its governments have directed (1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973 wars).
Other than being a good reader of geo-political changes, whether regional or international, the Labor Party did not fall hostage to its ideology whether Marxism or Zionism. It was able, pragmatically, to maneuver ideologically to maintain its position in government.
This book may be of great interest to the general reader or observer and to students and scholars in Political Science, for it sheds important light on the Israeli Labor Party and general politics in Israel particularly their connection to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Some definitions of parties and party systems may have brought the book further into academic writing.
On the part on the social and electoral basis of the Labor, the discussion may have been advanced to shed light on the Arab minority in Israel and the “Arab Minority Lists”, which Mapai has established in 1948. Furthermore, the book tries to demonstrate the Zionist nature of the Labor, which the latter doesn’t negate, nor any specialist in Israeli of Middle Eastern politics, finally Labor is an Israeli party brought to power by the votes of the Israelis and would certainly not behave in contrary to Israeli interests.