Courtesy Reuters

Israel: The Peres Era and Its Legacy

ISRAEL: THE PERES ERA AND ITS LEGACY

When Shimon Peres became prime minister of Israel on September 14, 1984, his country was weary of the bloody Lebanese quagmire and disoriented by an inflation rapidly spiraling out of control. Just over two years later, Israel has found imperfect but at least temporarily acceptable solutions for those problems, and Peres’ term in office has ushered in what could become an extended period of government by coalition and compromise.

Seven years under Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, the prime ministers of the hard-line Likud bloc, had unexpectedly produced the first formal peace treaty with an Arab adversary. Israel’s most crucial foreign polícy relationship, the unwritten alliance linking Jerusalem and Washington, was healing well after being battered by the controversies surrounding the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Shamir and his defense minister, Moshe Arens, had successfully restored a civil tone to Israel’s dialogue with the Reagan Administration, as Jerusalem and Washington abandoned confrontation over Lebanon in favor of policy coordination—though success in breeching the Lebanese impasse remained hopelessly elusive. Shamir had persuaded President Reagan to launch a meaningful U.S.-Israeli strategic cooperation that was low-key, practical and professional, shunning the bombast and inflated pretensions of the abortive 1981 effort pushed by Begin and his defense minister, Ariel Sharon.

But by the time Israelis voted for a new Knesset on July 23, 1984, those Likud accomplishments were dwarfed by the inflationary tornado and by a disillusioned sense of helplessness about Israel’s stalemated military position in Lebanon. The Israel Labor Party expected to capitalize on that mood, but it was sorely disappointed. Israel’s electorate wanted new leadership in Jerusalem, but even more strongly it wanted an end to squabbling among political leaders, who seemed to put party interests ahead of solving urgent national crises. Polls taken during the final weeks of the 1984 campaign revealed the true mood of the voters; an overwhelming majority preferred a broad coalition government that would include both Likud and Labor. When the

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