Likud (ליכוד, lit. Consolidation) is the major centre-right political party in Israel. Founded in 1973 as an alliance of several right-wing and liberal parties, Likud's victory in the 1977 elections was a major turning point in the country's political history, marking the first time the left had lost power. However, after ruling the country for most of the 1980s, the party has won only one Knesset election since 1992, though its candidate, Binyamin Netanyahu, did win the popular vote for Prime Minister in 1996. After a big win in the 2003 elections, a major split in 2005 saw Likud leader Ariel Sharon leave to form the new Kadima party, with Likud slumping to fourth place in elections the following year. The party now leads the opposition in the Knesset.
Likud has in the past espoused hawkish policies towards the Palestinians, including opposition to Palestinian statehood and support of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. However, it has also been the party which carried out the first peace agreements with Arab states. For instance, in 1979, Likud Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, signed the Camp David Accords with Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, which returned the Sinai Peninsula (occupied by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967) to Egypt in return for peace between the two countries. Yitzhak Shamir also granted some legitimacy to the Palestinians by meeting them at the ill-fated Madrid Conference following the Persian Gulf War in 1991. However, Shamir refused to concede the idea of a Palestinian state, and as a result was blamed by some (including U.S. Secretary of State James Baker) for the failure of the summit. Later, as Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu restated Likud's position of opposing Palestinian statehood, which after the Oslo Accords was largely accepted by the opposition Labor Party, even though the shape of any such state was not clear.
Following conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians in 2002, Israel's Likud-led government reoccupied Arab towns and refugee camps in West Bank, a position that remains unchanged today. In 2005 Ariel Sharon defied the recent tendencies of Likud and abandoned the "Greater Israel" policy of seeking to settle the West Bank and Gaza. Though re-elected Prime Minister on a platform of no unilateral withdrawals, Sharon carried out the Israeli unilateral disengagement plan, withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and demolishing the Israeli settlements there, as well as four settlements in the northern West Bank. Whilst an overwhelming majority of the Likud's membership opposed this policy, Sharon achieved the approval of this policy through the necessary government channels by firing all cabinet members who opposed the plan before the vote in order to assure a needed majority, and by submitting his plan to what Sharon called a "binding" vote in his party which he lost and yet later disregarded.
Ariel Sharon and the faction who supported his "Disengagement" proposals left the Likud party after the Disengagement and joined the new Kadima party which was itself founded by former Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. This new party supports unilateral disengagement from most of the West Bank and the fixing of borders by the separation barrier. The basic premise of the policy is the view that the Israelis have no viable negotiating partner on the Palestinian side, and since they cannot remain in indefinite occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel should unilaterally withdraw. If pursued, this further Disengagement will, according to many, ultimately mean allowing the creation a Palestinian state although smaller than most Palestinians are likely to accept. It is not known why Mr. Sharon did not create this new party before he carried out the disengagement plan instead of after it.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the new rightist leader of Likud, and Silvan Shalom, the party's #2 ranking member, both supported (against the Likud charter) the disengagement plan, however Netanyahu resigned his ministerial post before the plan was executed. Most current Likud members support the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and oppose Arab statehood and the disengagement from Gaza.
The Likud emphasize such nationalist themes as the flag and the victory in Israel's 1948 war with neighbouring Arab states. The Likud advocates teaching values in childhood education. The Likud endorses press freedom and promotion of private-sector media, which has grown markedly under governments Likud has led. A Likud government headed by Ariel Sharon, however, closed the popular right-wing pirate radio station Arutz 7 ("Channel 7). Arutz 7 was popular with the settlement movement and often criticised the government from a right-wing perspective. However, the Likud is inclined towards the Torah and expresses support for it within the context of civil Judaism, as a result of its Irgun past, which aligned itself according to the word of the Tanakh.
The first Likud prime minister was Menachem Begin, who had led the party to victory in the 1977 elections, the first time the left-wing had lost power in Israel's political history. A former leader of the hard-line paramilitary Irgun, Begin helped initiate the peace process with Egypt, which resulted in the Camp David Accords and the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty.
The third Likud premier was Binyamin Netanyahu, elected in May 1996, following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Netanyahu proved far less ideological than Begin and could not stand up to United States' pressure as firmly as Shamir had. Though critical of the Oslo accords and more hawkish than Rabin and Peres' Labour governments, like his rivals in the Labor party, Netanyahu negotiated with Yasser Arafat.
The fourth Likud premier was Ariel Sharon, elected March 2001, who resigned from both the Likud and as Prime Minister on 21 November 2005. Sharon served as defense minister during Operation Peace for the Galilee (1982), and was found by the Kahan Commission to be indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila Massacre (16 September-18 September, 1982). Sharon was forced to resign as defense minister after the Kahan Commission issued its report, but he was allowed to remain in Begin's cabinet.
In 1998, after Binyamin Netanyahu ceded territory to the Palestinians in the Wye accords, several MKs split off from the Likud in an act of protest. Led by Benny Begin (Menachem Begin's son), Michael Kleiner and David Re'em, a new party named Herut – The National Movement was formed, gaining support from former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir (who had expressed harsh disappointment in Netanyahu's leadership).
In 2001, following Palestinian attacks during the al-Aqsa Intifada, Ehud Barak lost the elections to Likud leader Ariel Sharon. At the 2003 elections the Likud doubled its power, rising to 40 mandates (out of 120) and securing power jobs in the government, ministries, public institutes and state bureaucracy.
Sharon's entire tenure was marked by the Al-Aqsa Intifada and he ventured further away from the Likud's traditional values and association with the settler movement. In the summer of 2005, Sharon uprooted thousands of Jewish settlers from their homes in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank in order to withdraw from the territory.
The next month, Labor announced its withdrawal from Sharon's governing coalition following its election of the left wing Amir Peretz as leader. On 21 November 2005, Sharon announced he would be leaving Likud and forming a new centrist party, Kadima, and that elections would take place in early 2006. As of 21 November seven candidates had declared themselves as contenders to replace Sharon as leader: Netanyahu, Uzi Landau, Shaul Mofaz, Yisrael Katz, Silvan Shalom and Moshe Feiglin. Landau and Mofaz later withdrew, the former in favour of Netanyahu and the latter to join Kadima.
The founding of Kadima was a major challenge to the Likud's generation-long status as one of Israel's two major parties. Sharon's perceived centrist policies have drawn considerable popular support as reflected by public opinion polls. The Likud is now led by figures who oppose further unilateral evacuations, and its standing in the polls has suffered. After the founding of Kadima, Likud came to be seen as having more of a right-wing tendency than a moderate centre-right one. However there exist several parties in the knesset which are more right wing than the post-Ariel Sharon Likud.
Prior to the 2006 elections the party's Central Committee relinquished control of selecting the Knesset list to the 'rank and file' members at Netanyahu's behest. The aim was to improve the party's reputation, as the central committee had gained a reputation for corruption.
In the elections, the Likud vote collapsed in the face of the Kadima split. Other right-wing nationalist parties such as Yisrael Beiteinu gained votes, with Likud coming only fourth place in the popular vote, edging out Yisrael Beiteinu by only 116 votes. With only twelve seats, Likud is currently tied with the Shas for the status of third-largest party.
Likud is currently Israel's main opposition party with Binyamin Netanyahu Israel's Opposition Leader.
Past figures (deceased, retired or left Likud):