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  • Hawks’ Beaks, Doves’ FeathersLikud Prime Ministers Between Ideology and Reality
  • Arye Naor (bio)


Since the political upheaval of May 17, 1977, Israel has had four Likud Prime Ministers—Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ariel Sharon. All four had pledged allegiance to the Greater Israel (Eretz Israel Hashlemah) ideology before being elected and during tenure. Different from each other in background, in style, and language as they might have been, all of them were elected on the Greater Israel ticket, having disassociated themselves and their Likud Party from Labor mainly on this issue. Judging by their past positions and their criticism of Labor's "territories for peace" policy, one might have concluded that none of them would relinquish anything in negotiating the future of Eretz Israel; however, the policies they conducted were, indeed, different, resulting in shaking the foundations of Greater Israel ideology. In the end it appears that under Likud leadership the Land of Israel is about to be partitioned—manifesting the antithesis of Revisionist Zionism.

Although it is too early to sum up Ariel Sharon's policy and evaluate its results, it is already clear that his initiative for Israeli disengagement from Gaza and his acceptance of President Bush's road map eventually leads to partition. Its parameters, from exact boundaries to time-table are irrelevant from an ideological point of view. However, since this policy is still in the making, this article analyzes the development of the approaches of Begin, Shamir, and Netanyahu.

The comparative study shows that Begin, as the main ideology-maker after Jabotinsky, was obliged to consider opportunities and constraints, and as prime minister he also had to acknowledge considerations of Realpolitik. The result was a moderation of his ideological demands; indeed, Begin revised Revisionism. In the transition from Begin to Shamir, the ideological [End Page 154] dimension in policy making was strengthened, leading to the development of a dogmatic approach that rejected any revision of this ideology, which was used to form strict rules for policy; however, he went to Madrid, thus unintentionally paving the way for the Oslo process.1

With the transition from Shamir to Netanyahu, by contrast, the attachment to ideology as the basis for policy making and policy evaluation weakened; policy reasoning gave way to "Hasbarah"—that is to say, propaganda and political manipulation. From the viewpoint of those who remained faithful to the old ideology, this was an extremely worrying development—a grave defect that may only be rectified with considerable effort.2 Equally, however, it should be emphasized that Netanyahu's book, A Place Among the Nations, is based not only on an evaluation of the situation and a neutral discussion of the lessons of history, but also on a profound ideological and emotional commitment to continued Israeli control of all territories under its supervision. As we shall see below, the gap between this commitment and the policy of Netanyahu's government is due to political manipulation, and to an instrumentalist approach which sees ideology as a means for achieving political ends. The relationship of ideology and policy is thus revealed in three different ways.


For fifty years, Menachem Begin was a leading ideological and political figure in his movement. Throughout this period, he had an ideological approach to policy and politics. We shall examine his approach to the principle of the "integrity of the homeland," the term he used for the principle of a "Greater Israel," at three critical junctures: shortly before the establishment of the State of Israel (1947/8); immediately after the Six Day War (1967/8); and during term as prime minister (1977–1983).

In response to UN General Assembly Decision 181 of November 29, 1947, supporting the division of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, Begin published a statement on behalf of the Irgun (Etzel) underground organization which he commanded. The statement begins, "In the name of the Divine promise given to the nation's forefathers," goes on to speak "in the name of the nation's martyrs in each generation," and "in the name of this people, tortured throughout the generations," and reaches its peak in the underground war—"in the name of those...


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pp. 154-191
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