The November 1988 Israeli election confirmed a pattern set in 1981 and 1984: the vote was nearly equal between the two large bourgeois parties, the Likud and the Alignment (Labor), and both these parties lost strength to their left and right.
The steady decline of both the Alignment and the Likud (from 95 Knesset members in 1981 to 85 in 1984 and 79 in 1988) is the predominant trend in the Israeli political system. More people than ever before voted “no confidence” in either of the main parties. Instead, they supported forces proposing peace with the Palestinians or those advocating more severe repression. The gains of the religious parties were only relative. They won 18 seats in the new Knesset, but they had previously won 18 seats in the elections of 1959, 1961 and 1969, and at no time did they have less than 13. Some of the religious parties this time were more fundamentalist and more nationalist than in the past. Still, these parties are not all of the same stripe; some elements are ready for dialogue with the Palestinians.
With the intifada providing new impetus, the Zionist parties to the left of the Alignment — the Citizens’ Rights Movement (CRM) and MAPAM — presented the voter with a clearer alternative than ever before. These two parties previously took vague stands on the Palestinian question, and were unwilling to recognize clearly and publicly the national right of the Palestinian people to a state. Now they were even ready to support (though still not publicly) the activities of the extra-parliamentary peace movement. CRM almost doubled its constituency, from 2.4 percent (50,000 votes) in 1984 to 4.3 percent (100,000 votes) in 1988.
MAPAM also had appreciable success, especially considering its starting point. Since its departure from the Alignment in 1984, MAPAM has searched for its own identity, emphasizing social and economic issues. Since the outbreak of the uprising, it has clarified its message advocating dialogue with the Palestinians. Many within MAPAM now support the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, although party policy waffles between this stand and supporting the “Jordanian option.” It won three Knesset seats and received about 56,000 votes (2.5 percent).
Before the uprising, two parties in the non-Zionist left camp had unequivocally supported talking with the PLO and the establishment of a Palestinian state: the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (HADASH), and the Progressive List for Peace (PLP). The Arab Democratic Party (founded by MK ‘Abd al-Wahhab Darawsha after he resigned from the Labor Party to protest Rabin’s repressive hand in the occupied territories) sought votes only among the Arab public in Israel (some say only from the Muslim Arab public).
HADASH failed to improve its situation appreciably. In 1984, it received 69,000 votes (3.4 percent), and in the latest elections, 84,000 (3.7 percent). The PLP lost ground from 38,000 votes (1.8 percent) in 1984 to 33,000 (1.5 percent) in 1988. The Arab Democratic Party, in its first election bid, won 27,000 votes (1.2 percent) — unquestionably the personal achievement of Darawsha, who gained considerable popularity when he left Labor.
Most of the support for the non-Zionist left bloc came from Palestinian citizens of Israel. Here, HADASH is the strongest force, with 34.5 percent of the vote (34.4 percent in 1984). Next came the Alignment, which lost considerable strength; down to 16.3 percent from 22 percent in 1984. The PLP, too, lost votes: 14.7 percent compared to 18.6 percent in 1984. CRM increased its strength significantly in the Arab sector, from 0.8 percent in 1984 to 4.4 percent in the latest election. Both Darawsha and MAPAM now received a significant number of Arab votes which once might have gone to Labor. HADASH did make significant gains in localities where Islamist movements have gained strength, including Umm al-Fahm, the third largest Arab city in Israel, Kafr Qasim and Tayyiba.
Two other extra-parliamentary organizations are of importance on the left. SHASI (Israeli Socialist Left) is a Marxist group which broke off from HADASH following tactical and political disagreements with the Communist Party (RAKAH) in the 1984 elections. In 1988, SHASI asked its members to vote for HADASH, but acknowledged that a vote for the PLP was also a “vote for peace.” Abna’ al-Balad (Sons of the Village) defines itself as a progressive Palestinian organization and “does not recognize the existence of the State of Israel.” Abna' al-Balad boycotted the elections for the “Zionist parliament.”
As in 1984, a feature of this election campaign was division on the left. CRM and MAPAM attacked each other relentlessly during the campaign, but the most painful dissension was between HADASH and the PLP. Unbridled attacks, even fistfights, mutual ostracism and defamation were common, even though the political platforms of the two parties were identical.
About six months before the elections, SHASI and unaffiliated activists from the radical peace camp undertook to unite the non-Zionist left bloc. A unified bloc of HADASH and the PLP might well have garnered at least seven to eight seats, instead of the four held by the HADASH and two by the PLP in the previous Knesset. But the conflict between them which broke out in 1984 only intensified during the 1988 campaign. No union was forged. Nor did the non-Zionist forces sign a “surplus vote” agreement, which would have enabled either HADASH to win a fifth Knesset member or the PLP to win a second. (Israeli electoral law allows all “surplus” votes beyond those needed to elect a Knesset member to be distributed among the other parties in proportion to their size, but parties may sign a surplus vote agreement which stipulates that their surplus votes are transferred to a second party rather than to all parties.)
The voting bloc to the left of the Alignment together received about 300,000 votes in the 1988 election, or 13.2 percent. Had the entire bloc presented itself as one list, it would have become the third largest political force in the State of Israel. The Likud was first with 709,000 votes, the Alignment garnered 685,000 votes, and the largest religious party won 107,000 votes. To be sure, we are speaking only hypothetically. Unification of the elements advocating peace and dialogue with the PLO is not a realistic prospect, but clearly there is a significant social force in Israel ready to move toward peace.
Lack of unity deeply affected potential voters, but the bloc also failed to mobilize fully its forces to bring out the vote, especially among the Arab population. Lack of flexibility on the part of HADASH and an unwillingness to make changes of any kind within its party framework (Vilner and Tubi have been heads of the list for the last 30 years!) also limited the mobilization of many activists. As one young Arab communist activist commented: “We are members of a Brezhnevist party in the era of Gorbachev.”