Israeli general election, 1996

Election for Prime Minister
29 May 1996

Candidate Benjamin Netanyahu Shimon Peres
Party Likud Labor Party
Popular vote 1,501,023 1,471,566
Percentage 50.5% 49.5%

Prime Minister before election

Shimon Peres
Labor Party

Elected Prime Minister

Benjamin Netanyahu

General elections were held in Israel on 29 May 1996. For the first time the Prime Minister was elected on a separate ballot from the remaining members of the Knesset.

The 1996 elections resulted in a surprise victory for Netanyahu by a margin of 29,457 votes, less than 1% of the total number of votes cast, and much smaller than the number of spoiled votes. This came after the initial exit polls had predicted a Peres win,[1] spawning the phrase "went to sleep with Peres, woke up with Netanyahu."[2] This election was Peres's fourth and last election defeat.


Peace process

Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton, and Yasser Arafat during the Oslo Accords on 13 September 1993

On 13 September 1993, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the Oslo Accords (a Declaration of Principles)[3] on the South Lawn of the White House. The principles established objectives relating to a transfer of authority from Israel to an interim Palestinian authority, as a prelude to a final treaty establishing a Palestinian state.

On 25 July 1994, Jordan and Israel signed the Washington Declaration, which formally ended the state of war that had existed between them since 1948 and on 26 October the Israel–Jordan Treaty of Peace, witnessed by U.S. President Bill Clinton.[4][5]

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat signed the Israeli–Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on 28 September 1995, in Washington. The agreement allowed the PLO leadership to relocate to the occupied territories and granted autonomy to the Palestinians with talks to follow regarding final status. In return the Palestinians promised to abstain from use of terror and changed the Palestinian National Covenant, which had called for the expulsion of all Jews who migrated after 1917 and the elimination of Israel.[6]

Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin

Tensions in Israel arising from the continuation of terrorism led to the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin by a right-wing Jewish radical on 4 November 1995 during at the end of a rally in support of the Oslo agreements held in the center of Tel Aviv. The murderer, Yigal Amir, was a law student at the Bar-Ilan University, believed that the Oslo Accords were an existential threat to Israel and hoped that by murdering Rabin he would prevent the implementation of the Oslo Accords. The assassination of Rabin was a shock to the Israeli public. approximately 80 heads of state attend Rabin's funeral in Jerusalem.

Palestinian terror campaign between February–March 1996

The ongoing South Lebanon conflict


After taking over from Yitzhak Rabin following his assassination, Peres decided to call early elections in order to give the government a mandate to advance the peace process.[7]

Netanyahu's campaign was helped by Australian mining magnate Joseph Gutnick, who donated over $1 million to Likud.

Nevertheless, Labour and Peres were comfortably ahead in the polls early in 1996, holding a lead of 20%. However, the country was hit by a spate of suicide attacks by Hamas including the Jerusalem bus 18 massacres and other attacks in Ashkelon and the Dizengoff Center, which killed 59 people, severely damaged Peres' election chances.[8] Polls taken in mid-May showed Peres ahead by just 4-6%,[9] whilst two days before the election his lead was down to 2%.[10]

Several leading ultra-orthodox Rabbis, including Elazar Shach, called on their followers to vote for Netanyahu,[11] whilst Leah Rabin, Yitzhak's widow, called on Israelis to vote for Peres so that her husband's death "would not be in vain."[12] Netanyahu also warned that a Peres victory would lead to the division of Jerusalem in a final peace deal with the Palestinians.

Despite the national trauma which the assassination of Rabin caused, and although many blamed at the time the leaders of Israeli political right for the incitement that preceded the assassination, due to the series of suicide bombings carried out in Israel, and due to the failed military operation "Grapes of Wrath" conducted in Lebanon that caused many casualties among Lebanese civilians, a significant change occurred in the position of the Israeli voters which resulted eventually in 50.5% percent of voters supporting Netanyahu on election day. A significant number of Israeli Arabs boycotted the elections amidst rising Lebanese casualties, which became an advantage for Netanyahu as the vast majority of Arabs would have supported Peres but declined to vote. In addition, the intensive campaign conducted by Netanyahu versus the failed campaign of Shimon Peres, as well as the support Netanyahu got at the last moment from the Chabad movement, were all in Netanyahu's favor.


Prime Minister

Candidate Party Votes %
Binyamin Netanyahu Likud 1,501,023 50.50%
Shimon Peres Labor 1,471,566 49.50%
Invalid/blank votes148,681
Total 3,121,270 100%

Netanyahu's win was bolstered by large support from the ultra-orthodox community, 91.2% of whom voted for him. Peres on the other hand, gained overwhelming support from the country's Arab community, 97.5% of which backed him.[13]


Party Votes % Seats +/–
Labor Party 1 2818,74126.834−10
Likud-Gesher-Tzomet 2 3767,40125.132−8
National Religious Party 4240,2717.89+3
Meretz 5226,2757.49−3
Yisrael BaAliyah 6174,9945.77New
Hadash-Balad 7129,4554.25+2
United Torah Judaism 898,6573.240
The Third Way 996,4743.14New
United Arab List89,5142.94New
Moledet 1072,0022.42−1
Unity for the Defence of New Immigrants22,7410.70New
Progressive Confederation13,9830.50New
Telem Emuna12,7370.40New
Settlement Party5,5330.20New
Yamin Yisrael2,8450.10New
Man's Rights in the Family Party2,3880.10New
Organization for Democratic Action1,3510.00New
Invalid/blank votes67,702
Registered voters/turnout3,933,25079.3
Source: Nohlen et al.[14]

1 Three MKs left the Labor Party to establish One Nation.

2 Two MKs from the Labor Party and four from Likud left to form the Centre Party. Eliezer Sandberg later broke away from the Centre Party and formed HaTzeirim before joining Shinui.

3 Three MKs left Likud to establish Herut – The National Movement. Three members of Gesher and two members of Tzomet also left alliance.

4 Two MKs left the National Religious Party to establish Tkuma.

5 Avraham Poraz left Meretz to establish Shinui, whilst David Zucker also left the party.

6 Two MKs left Yisrael BaAliyah to establish Aliyah.

7 Balad left its alliance with Hadash.

8 United Torah Judaism split into Agudat Yisrael (three seats) and Degel HaTorah (one seat).

9 Emanuel Zisman left The Third Way.

10 Moshe Peled broke away from Tzomet and formed Mekhora before joining Moledet.


Political aftermath

Despite winning the election for Prime Minister, Netanyahu's Likud (in an alliance with Gesher and Tzomet) lost the Knesset elections to Labour, winning only 32 seats compared to Labour's 34.

The objective of strengthening the position of Prime Minister by having separate elections was also a failure, as the election saw both major parties lose around ten seats compared to the 1992 election (Likud held only 24 of the 32 seats it won in its alliance) as many gave their Knesset votes to smaller parties; Labour received 818,570 votes to Peres' 1.47 million, (56%), whilst the Likud–Gesher–Tzomet alliance managed even less—767,178 compared to 1.50 million for Netanyahu (51%).

With only 32 seats, the Likud–Gesher–Tzomet alliance was, at the time, the smallest governing party in Israeli political history (the previous lowest had been Mapai's 40 seats in the 1955 election; since then, the 2006 elections saw Kadima emerge as the largest party with just 29 seats, and the 2009 election was won by Kadima with 28 seats, but Likud with 27 formed the government). This meant Netanyahu had to form a coalition with several smaller parties, including the ultra-orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism whose financial policies (generous child benefits and state funding for religious activities) were in direct opposition to his capitalistic outlook.

After several defections from his party, Netanyahu was forced to call early elections in 1999.

The 14th Knesset

Labour retained its position as the largest party, but Likud's Binyamin Netanyahu won the election for Prime Minister, meaning he had the power to form the 27th government, which he did on 18 June 1996.

Alongside his Likud–Gesher–Tzomet alliance, Netanyahu formed a coalition with Shas, the National Religious Party, Yisrael BaAliyah, United Torah Judaism and The Third Way, with 18 ministers.

Gesher broke away from the alliance with Likud and left the government coalition in January 1998.

Netanyahu faced several issues; the left argued the peace process was advancing too slowly, but signing the Hebron Agreement and the Wye River Memorandum also caused him problems with the right-wing.

Eventually problems passing the state budget for 1999 led to early elections for both the Knesset and Prime Minister being called, which were held in May 1999.


  1. At the Crossroads PBS, 30 May 1996
  2. Prime Minister Netanyahu. Remember? Ma'ariv, 30 August 2005 (Hebrew)
  3. Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements Jewish Virtual Library
  4. Main Points of Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty October 26, 1994 Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  5. Treaty of Peace between The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and The State of Israel King Hussein website
  6. accessed January 2010
  7. Israeli elections will test support for peace CNN, 11 February 1996
  8. Suicide bombings scar Peres' political ambitions CNN, May 28, 1996
  9. Pivotal Elections: Candidates CNN, 1996
  10. Israeli election is a dead heat CNN, 28 May 1996
  11. Israeli race for prime minister narrows CNN, 27 May 1996
  12. Rabin's widow tells Israelis: Vote for Peres CNN, 30 May 1996
  13. "Razor-close race awaits absentee count". CNN. 31 May 1996. Archived from the original on 13 August 2007. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  14. Dieter Nohlen, Florian Grotz & Christof Hartmann (2001) Elections in Asia: A data handbook, Volume I ISBN 0-19-924958-X
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Follow TIME Facebook Twitter Google + Tumblr (1996-06-10). "Across The Spectrum". TIME. Retrieved 2012-09-21.
  16. 1 2 3 Clifford, Timothy (1996-06-01). "Bubba Asks Bibi To Come & Visit - New York Daily News". Retrieved 2012-09-21.

External links

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