In Labor's loss, some analysts see signs of historic power shift.
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
and then by the eruption of the Palestinian intifada
two months later."
for the left's decline: its lack of a distinctive socioe-
conomic policy and the loss during the 1990s of its
huge Histadrut Trade Union power base.
"These elections," he wrote in the Israeli daily
istoric" may be a term that is used too
The left was accused of naivete for believing peace
Maariv, "are the fault line in the transformation of
often, but respected Israeli political
with the Palestinians was possible and the left was
the Israeli left into an historic episode which has
analysts believe the Labor Party's elec-
blamed for the horrific wave of terrorism that fol-
ended. The political system will now reflect a pro-
toral debacle last month was a water-
lowed the collapse of the peace process, Ya'ar says.
found rejection of the left and its culture."
shed in the balance of power between left and right
Ya'ar sees another deep attitudinal change, also
As a result, Rosenthal foresees dire consequences
related to thePalestinian intifada (uprising), working
for Israelis' attitudes about education, democracy,
Labor Party Chairman Amram Mitzna believes
to the left's detriment: the strengthening of what he
freedom of expression, the independence of the judi-
the decision to join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
calls "the particularist Jewish component of the col-
ciary and minority rights.
previous national unity government
However, not all analysts agree that the left's
was one of the main reasons for the
_ decline is irreversible. Yaron Ezrahi, a politi-
crushing,- b defeat Labor suffered at the
cal scientist at Hebrew University and the
polls on Jan. 28.
• Israel Democracy Institute, accepts Ya'ar's
Mitzna hopes that leading Labor
thesis that the political argument between
into the opposition will allow him to
- left and right in Israel has been almost
rebuild the party and quickly turn it
• exclusively over peace and security. But
into a credible government alternative.
• voter behavior depends on the state of the
"Our stay in opposition will be short,"
peace process at any given time, he says.
he promised party faithful in his con-
"If there is real hope for peace and a rea-
sonable leadership on the other side, that
But experts aren't so sure. Ephraim
will revive the left," Ezrahi says.
Ya'ar, head of Tel Aviv University's
He also has a different explanation for
Steinmetz Center for Peace Research,
the apparent contradiction between sup-
argues the decline in support for the
port for the parties of the right but the
Labor Party and the left in general
positions of the left. The elections reflected
stems from deep and possibly irre-
a dissonance between what many potential
versible changes in Israeli voting pat-
left-wing voters see as the pressing need of
the moment — fighting terror — and
In 1992, when Yitzhak Rabin came
what they see as Israel's prime long-term
to power, Labor and its more dovish
interest in making peace, Ezrahi says.
ally Meretz won 56 seats in the 120-
"They have no faith in the Likud's long-
member Knesset. Last month, they
term prescriptions," he says. "But they don't
polled a combined total of 25.
trust Labor and Meretz on what needs to be
Tommy (Yosef) Lapid, head of the centrist Shinui Party, listens to Labor Party
In other words, in just over a decade
in the short term."
head Amram Mitzna at a press conference Jan. 30.
the left has lost more than 55 percent
of its parliamentary strength. Ya'ar con-
tends that this is part of an ongoing, long-term
His peace index surveys indicate that the terrorist
threat has made Israelis more insular, identifying
But Ezrahi doesn't underestimate the difficulties the
In a forthcoming article entitled "Toward the
more with the right's nationalist and traditional
left will face in making a comeback. He notes that
Third Era of Israeli Democracy," Ya'ar divides
Jewish values rather than with the cosmopolitan, uni-
Labor and Meretz are struggling to make inroads in
Israeli politics into three periods: The hegemony of
versal values of the left. Even many left wingers now
several key constituencies, including Sephardim,
the left from the 1930s to the mid-'70s; a shifting
advocate Palestinian statehood as a means of preserv-
Russian immigrants and young people.
equilibrium between left and right from 1977 to
ing Israel's Jewish character, not as an expression of
For example, Labor and Meretz together polled
the turn of the century; and the hegemony of the
the Palestinians' right to self-determination, Ya'ar says.
just 16 percent among young, first-time voters in
right for the foreseeable future.
But there is a paradox at the heart of Ya'ar's analy-
the Jan. 28 election, while the secular, centrist
Ya'ar contends that the new trend already was evi- sis: He finds that the Israeli public still accepts many Shinui Party got 16 percent and the center-right
dent in the summer of 1999, shortly after Labor's
of the left's key ideas on peace, including an inde-
Likud Party won 34 percent.
Ehud Barak was elected prime minister.
pendent Palestinian state, the evacuation of settle-
In 1996, in contrast, the Labor-Meretz share of the
Ya'ar's "peace index," a monthly measure of public
ments and the pre-1967 borders as the basis for
young, first-time vote was a staggering 46 percent.
support for the Oslo peace process with the
future peace negotiations.
Mitzna now is promising a nationwide effort to
Palestinians, reached record highs at the time of
"The public accepts the left's message but wants
reverse public attitudes. "We will be present in the
Barak's election, but within months it began to slide.
the messenger to come from the right," he says,
development towns and the villages," he says, "in the
"The general public sensed there was something
"because the left is not trusted, seen as not skillful
cities, the kibbutzim, and the poor neighborhoods."
wrong with Oslo before the leaders did," Ya'ar says.
enough and as too eager to advance the process."
But the question is whether, given changing atti-
"And their doubts were confirmed first by the fail-
Journalist Ruvik Rosenthal, another longtime
tudes and the new demography in Israel, the public
ure of the July 2000 Camp David peace summit
observer of left-wing affairs, adds two more reasons
will be in any mood to listen.