A Liberal Upheaval

Analysis01.12.2013Dror Zeigerman
A Liberal Upheaval

This essay is based on a doctoral dissertation, later turned into a book entitled “The Liberal Upheaval.” The focus of the research is on the General Zionists Party, which in the 1960’s became the Israeli Liberal Party; then formed a part of Gahal in 1965; became part of the Likud from 1973; and was merged into the Likud (thus effectively disappearing) in 1988. The research attempts to investigate and comprehend a recurring theme in politics that nevertheless has not received sufficient attention: the question of estimating the degree of success and durability of party merger. The research hypothesis is that political parties which are divergent in their Ideological inclinations, policy, leadership, supporter base and organizational Structure can create a lasting merger that will achieve its stated goals. On The other hand parties who are almost identical in terms of the above variable take a greater risk when entering mergers negotiation. The case study focuses on two mergers that the Liberal Party participated in; the first being the merger with the progressive party in 1961, the second the creation of Gahal as a common block by the Herut and Liberal parties – which paved the way to the founding of Likud and the political transformation of 1977.

The aim of this study is to utilize the analysis of party merger to examine the historical role of the General Zionists – Liberal Party and its contribution to the success of the center-right bloc in Israeli politics. The essential claim here is that the contribution of the liberal party was a necessary (though not in itself sufficient) condition for the attaining of power by the Likud in 1977.

The contribution of the liberal party included changing the priorities of Gahal and the Likud in the economic, social, political, and security dimensions. The research demonstrates that Begin comprehended that only cooperation with the Liberals will allow Herut to move towards the center - a movement that created a viable alternative to Labor rule. It shows that the motivation to attain power became an inseparable part of the ideology of the General Zionists and the Liberal party; and claims that the Liberals saw the creation of Gahal as a test for the ability of non-socialist forces to form an alternative capable of attaining power.

The study observes the political and organizational tensions between Herut and the Liberals, despite of which the merger survived and was successful. It examines the manner in which by 1965 the strategic aims of Begin and the leaders of the Liberal party converged. The creation of Gahal paved the way to participation in the emergency unity government after the 1967 war. The research points towards the tendency of the of Israeli voters to move towards the political center and claims that after the creation of Likud in 1973 Gahal was already in a situation where the merger was a profitable one. The voters in the center of the political map comprehended that Gahal and the Likud became a center party, erasing the fringe image of Herut and Begin. The study examines the relationship between party mergers and transformations in the political system. It emphasizes the inter-party, intraparty and intra-block dimensions, aid into comprehend political mergers and the potential of a proto-coalition for becoming a ruling coalition, a process that has crucial implications for the stability of the political system and the policy executed by governments. The political party in all of its facets is presented – it is claimed that only an integrated analysis of all components allows for explaining the failure or success of political processes such as party mergers.