1996 Israeli general election


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.

1996 Israeli general election

← 1992 29 May 1996 1999 →
Prime ministerial election
  Benjamin Netanyahu.jpg Shimon Peres, WJC Plenary Assembly, 2009.jpg
Candidate Benjamin Netanyahu Shimon Peres
Party Likud Labor
Popular vote 1,501,023 1,471,566
Percentage 50.5% 49.5%

Prime Minister before election

Shimon Peres
Labor Party

Prime Minister after election

Benjamin Netanyahu

Knesset election
Party Leader % Seats +/–
Labor Shimon Peres 26.8% 34 -10
LikudGesherTzomet Benjamin Netanyahu 25.1% 32 -8
Shas Aryeh Deri 8.5% 10 +4
Mafdal Zevulun Hammer 7.8% 9 +3
Meretz Yossi Sarid 7.4% 9 -3
Yisrael BaAliyah Natan Sharansky 5.7% 7 New
Hadash-Balad Hashem Mahameed 4.2% 5 +2
UTJ Meir Porush 3.2% 4 0
Third Way Avigdor Kahalani 3.1% 4 New
Ra'am-Mada Abdulmalik Dehamshe 2.9% 4 +2
Moledet Rehavam Ze'evi 2.4% 2 -1
This lists parties that won seats. See the complete results below.
Speaker of the Knesset before Speaker of the Knesset after
Dan Tichon Shevah Weiss
Dan Tichon
Dan Tichon

The elections for Prime Minister resulted in a surprise victory for Benjamin 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 Shimon Peres win,[1] spawning the phrase "went to sleep with Peres, woke up with Netanyahu".[2] Although Peres lost the prime ministerial vote – his fourth and last defeat as Labor leader – Labor emerged as the largest party in the Knesset, winning two more seats than the LikudGesherTzomet alliance.


Peace processEdit

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 West Bank and Gaza Strip 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 RabinEdit

On 4 November 1995, at the end of a rally in support of the Oslo agreements held in the center of Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated. The murderer, Yigal Amir, a right-wing Jewish radical, was a law student at the Bar-Ilan University who fanatically opposed the Prime Minister's peace initiative, particularly the signing of the Oslo Accords. The assassination of Rabin was a shock to the Israeli public. Approximately 80 heads of state attended Rabin's funeral in Jerusalem.

Palestinian terror campaign between February–March 1996Edit

The ongoing South Lebanon conflictEdit

Parliament factionsEdit

The table below lists the parliamentary factions represented in the 13th Knesset.

Name Ideology Symbol Leader 1992 result Seats at 1995
Votes (%) Seats
Labor Social democracy אמת Shimon Peres 34.7%
44 / 120
42 / 120
Likud National liberalism מחל Benjamin Netanyahu 24.9%
32 / 120
30 / 120
Meretz Social democracy
מרצ Yossi Sarid 9.6%
12 / 120
12 / 120
Tzomet Nationalism
ץ Rafael Eitan 6.4%
8 / 120
8 / 120
Mafdal Religious Zionism ב Zvulun Hammer 5.0%
6 / 120
6 / 120
Shas Religious conservatism
שס Aryeh Deri 4.9%
6 / 120
6 / 120
UTJ Religious conservatism ג Avraham Yosef Shapira 3.3%
4 / 120
4 / 120
Hadash Communism
ו Tawfiq Ziad 2.4%
3 / 120
3 / 120
Moledet Ultranationalism ט Rehavam Ze'evi 2.4%
3 / 120
3 / 120
Mada Israeli Arab Interests עם Abdulwahab Darawshe 1.6%
2 / 120
2 / 120
Third Way Centrism הד Avigdor Kahalani -
0 / 120
2 / 120
Gesher Liberal conservatism
Economic egalitarianism
- David Levy -
0 / 120
2 / 120


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]

During the campaign US president Bill Clinton attempted to influence the results of the election in favor of Peres saying that "I tried to do it in a way that didn’t overtly involve me" because Peres was "more supportive of the peace process".[8]

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 and severely damaged Peres' election chances.[9] Polls taken in mid-May showed Peres ahead by just 4-6%,[10] whilst two days before the election his lead was down to 2%.[11]

Several leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis, including Elazar Shach, called on their followers to vote for Netanyahu,[12] whilst Leah Rabin, Yitzhak's widow, called on Israelis to vote for Peres so that her husband's death "would not be in vain."[13] 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 MinisterEdit

Binyamin NetanyahuLikud1,501,02350.50
Shimon PeresLabor Party1,471,56649.50
Valid votes2,972,58995.24
Invalid/blank votes148,6814.76
Total votes3,121,270100.00
Registered voters/turnout3,933,25079.36
Source: Nohlen et al.[14]

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.[15]


Labor Party818,74126.8334−10
National Religious Party240,2717.879+3
Yisrael BaAliyah174,9945.737New
United Torah Judaism98,6573.2340
The Third Way96,4743.164New
Unity for the Defence of New Immigrants22,7410.750New
Progressive Confederation13,9830.460New
Telem Emuna12,7370.420New
Settlement Party5,5330.180New
Yamin Yisrael2,8450.090New
Man's Rights in the Family Party2,3380.080New
Da'am Workers Party1,3510.040New
Valid votes3,052,13097.83
Invalid/blank votes67,7022.17
Total votes3,119,832100.00
Registered voters/turnout3,933,25079.32
Source: CEC, Nohlen et al.[14]


  • James A. Baker III, Secretary of State for U.S. President George H. W. Bush, worried that Netanyahu's hard-line coalition partners would be able to boss him around and prevent him from advancing the peace process, even though the Israeli people want the peace process to continue.[16]
  • Warren Christopher, Secretary of State for U.S. President Bill Clinton, said that "President Clinton and [he] look forward to having a good working relationship with [Netanyahu]", and that it appeared "that Mr. Netanyahu was committed to pursuing the peace process".[17]
  • Then-U.S. President Bill Clinton called Netanyahu and congratulated him on his election victory. Clinton also told Arab countries not to "pre-judge" the new Netanyahu government. Clinton invited Netanyahu to visit the White House, and "[Clinton] affirmed the continued support of the United States for the people of Israel in their quest for peace with security" in a White House statement. The White House decided to consider Netanyahu's election win as a positive, despite the fact that Clinton supported Netanyahu's opponent Shimon Peres in this election.[17]
  • Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican Presidential nominee, "said [that] he could "work with [Netanyahu]" and that he was confident "that Netanyahu was "committed to peace""[17]
  • David Grossman, Israeli author, said that "Netanyahu's election shows that at least half of the people are not really mature enough for the peace process", since while "[t]hey want peace", "they're not willing to make the concessions it takes".[16]
  • Yossi Klein Halevi, senior writer for the Jerusalem Report, warned Netanyahu against implementing a right-wing agenda and attempting to stop the peace process since Israel at that time was very divided and polarized, and most Israeli voters still supported the peace process.[16]
  • Michael Lerner, editor and publisher of Tikkun, speculated that "[Netanyahu's election victory is] going to undermine the peace process severely", and that while Netanyahu will claim that he supports the peace process, he will "subtly underm[ine it]" whenever he will be able to.[16]
  • Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine, said that he didn't think that Netanyahu will be able to stop the peace process completely, but that he expects the Palestinian Authority to have a civil war with Hamas after the establishment of a Palestinian state, which would then be used by Syria and other hostile Arab states to intervene in "Palestine" and start a new war with Israel, in order "to make one last effort to wipe the Jewish state off the map".[16]
  • Leah Rabin, widow of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, said that it is "very difficult to say what will be in the future", but that she "think[s] Netanyahu will try [to continue the peace process]" despite objections from hard-liners in his party.[16]
  • Nadav Safran, professor emeritus at Harvard University, said that Netanyahu would take a much harder line with Syria and the Palestinians in negotiations, and that he will also attempt to slow down the peace process. He said that Netanyahu's hard-line positions could start another armed conflict with the Palestinians if Netanyahu does not show more flexibility in his positions later on.[16]
  • Elie Wiesel, famous author and Holocaust survivor, said that he "[doesn't] think that [the impact of the elections on the peace process] will change much", since "[Netanyahu] has already said he will respect the achievements in negotiations", and since the peace process is irreversible. He also pointed out that while Netanyahu talked tough, so did Menachem Begin 20 years before that, and Begin ended up singing a peace treaty with Egypt a couple years after he was elected.[16]


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 faction to lead a government in Israeli political history (the previous low 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 National Religious Party, Yisrael BaAliyah the Third Way and the two 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.

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. Gesher broke away from the alliance with Likud and left the government coalition in January 1998. Netanyahu was forced to call early elections in 1999 due to problems passing the state budget.

14th KnessetEdit

During the Knesset term several new parties were created by defecting MKs. Three MKs left the Labor Party to establish One Nation; 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, a new party created by Avraham Poraz after he left Meretz); three other Likud MKs left to establish Herut – The National Movement; three members of Gesher and two members of Tzomet also left alliance. Two MKs left the National Religious Party to establish Tkuma; two MKs left Yisrael BaAliyah to establish Aliyah; and Moshe Peled broke away from Tzomet and formed Mekhora before joining Moledet.

In 1999 David Zucker left Meretz and Emanuel Zisman left The Third Way to sit as independents.

Prior to the 1999 elections Balad left its alliance with Hadash and United Torah Judaism split into Agudat Yisrael (three seats) and Degel HaTorah (one seat)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ At the Crossroads Archived 2012-11-07 at the Wayback Machine PBS, 30 May 1996
  2. ^ Prime Minister Netanyahu. Remember? Ma'ariv, 30 August 2005 (in Hebrew)
  3. ^ Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements Archived 2017-03-02 at the Wayback Machine 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. ^ "Bill Clinton admits he tried to help Peres beat Netanyahu in 1996 elections".
  9. ^ Suicide bombings scar Peres' political ambitions CNN, May 28, 1996
  10. ^ Pivotal Elections: Candidates CNN, 1996
  11. ^ Israeli election is a dead heat CNN, 28 May 1996
  12. ^ Israeli race for prime minister narrows CNN, 27 May 1996
  13. ^ Rabin's widow tells Israelis: Vote for Peres CNN, 30 May 1996
  14. ^ a b Dieter Nohlen, Florian Grotz & Christof Hartmann (2001) Elections in Asia: A data handbook, Volume I ISBN 0-19-924958-X
  15. ^ "Razor-close race awaits absentee count". CNN. 31 May 1996. Archived from the original on 13 August 2007. Retrieved 5 October 2013.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h "Across The Spectrum". TIME. 1996-06-10. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved 2012-09-21.
  17. ^ a b c Clifford, Timothy (1996-06-01). "Bubba Asks Bibi To Come & Visit". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2012-09-21.

External linksEdit

  • Historical overview of the Fourteenth Knesset Knesset website
  • Election results Knesset website
  • Elazar, Daniel Judah; Sandler, Shmuel (1998). Israel at the Polls, 1996. Psychology Press. ISBN 9780714648644.