A Freeman Center Special Release

An Analysis

By Yehuda Poch

The current election situation in Israel is still very fluid, and will remain so for at least another 4­6 weeks. What follows is a brief picture of the legalities and political maneuvering that are taking place in the Israeli political scene.

Any party can run for the Knesset (the Israeli parliament). In order to receive official standing, and a portion of election budgets, any party wishing to run for the Knesset must be registered with the Central Elections Commission. In order to register, a party must have the signatures of 50,000 citizens on its application, or of 10 Members of Knesset.

Elections in Israel are by party list and not by district representation. Each party must submit to the Central Elections Committee a list of 120 names. When seats are apportioned after the election, the top names on the list get seats. If one member of Knesset resigns or dies in office, the next name on the list of that party takes the seat, with no by­election.

In order to receive seats in the Knesset, a party must gain 1.5% of the national vote. There is a bill pending before the Knesset to raise this to a 5% minimum. Seats are apportioned according to the percentage of the vote. Each seat is worth 50,000 votes. If the number of votes does not equal a multiple of 50,000, all votes over the nearest multiple are wasted. Thus, if a party gets 463, 297 votes, it will get 9 seats, and 13,297 votes will be wasted. Thus, in the last election, in an effort to avoid vote wasting, the Likud, Tsomet and Gesher united and ran as one list for the Knesset. The same will likely happen with other parties in this election, as described below.

There are 120 seats in the Knesset.

Registration of parties can take place up until a defined time prior to the elections.

In Israel, the Prime Minister is elected on a separate ballot from the party, and need not lead the largest party in the Knesset. Thus, in the current Knesset, the leader of the largest party, Ehud Barak of Labor, is not the Prime Minister. Not every party leader must run for Prime Minister, but in order to run for PM, a person must lead a party. There are currently 6 declared candidates for Prime Minister. In the likely event that none receive 50% on the first ballot on May 17, a second round will be held between the top two candidates on June 1. The elections for Knesset will be held on May 17.

The normal term of the Knesset is 4 years, though the government can fall earlier.

New parties are announcing their formation or official registration daily. What follows is a listing of the parties officially registered as of January 17, 1999, or expected to officially register this week. This list is not complete due to the constant fluidity of the situation.

Current declared candidates for Prime Minister:

ˇ Binaymin Netanyahu, current Prime Minister. Leads the Likud party. Has served as Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, and as Deputy Foreign Minister. Was part of Israel's delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference.

ˇ Ehud Barak, leader of the opposition. Leads the Labor party. Former Chief of Staff, Israel Defense Forces. Served in previous government as Minister of Interior and as Foreign Minister.

ˇ Yitzchak Mordechai, leads the as­yet­unnamed "Centrist" party. Former Defense Minister in the current government, and former Brig­Gen in IDF. Former Commander of the Northern Front and of the Southern Front.

ˇ Rafael Eitan, Minister of Environment and Agriculture. Leads Tsomet party. Former Chief of Staff, Israel Defense Forces.

ˇ Benny Begin, former minister of Science. Leads Herut party. Son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Professor of Geology, founding Director of the College of Judea and Samaria, in Ariel.

Parties running for seats in Knesset:

ˇ Likud: Party leader, Binyamin Netanyahu. Current seats in Knesset: 23 (three members have resigned from the party and now sit as independents) This party was born through the efforts of Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon in 1973, as the union of the older Herut and Liberal parties in Israel. Likud has traditionally held the following policies: anti­Palestinian state, supports settlement of Judea and Samaria. Against negotiation with Palestinians, whom the Likud viewed as terrorists. The Likud has traditionally enjoyed the support of immigrants from north Africa and the Middle East, who were impeded from joining the European elite in Israel. Likud support has also traditionally come from economically disadvantaged communities. During the current term, the Likud has suffered from inept management and internal strife. Several large political scandals have rocked the party and many members are unhappy with the current situation. Netanyahu maintained a strong, no­nonsense posture with the Palestinians, refusing to negotiate while terrorist acts were still being carried out against Israelis. In January 1997, Netanyahu gave control over 80% of the city of Hevron to the Palestinians. Israelis on the right felt betrayed over this, viewing Hevron as the cradle of Jewish civilization. Benny Begin resigned from the government and the party over this agreement. In Octber 1998, at the Wye Plantation, Netanyahu agreed to a further withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, despite continuing terrorism. This agreement lead to the early fall of his government and new elections. Likud's economic policies have been tight­fisted in an effort to soften the blow of economic recession. Interest rates have remained high and government spending has been held down. This has provided little extra money to solve the problems of unemployment, but it has succeeded in keeping prices down. privatization has added to the efficiency of the economy, which is now leading to lower unemployment. But many people are unhappy with the economic situation in Israel.

Other leaders in the party: Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon, former Commanding Officer Northern Command and Southern Command; Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi; Chairman of Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Uzi Landau; Moshe Arens, former Foreign and Defense Minister (also newly appointed Defense Minister to replace Mordechai); Communications Minister Limor Livnat.

ˇ Labor: party leader, Ehud Barak. Current Knesset seats, 32. Labor was founded as the amalgamation of several parties who have traditionally held power in Israel. David Ben­Gurion, Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin, and Shimon Peres are some of the people who have lead the party in the past. Labor represents the European male elite in Israel. Most of its members of Knesset have attained high rank in the army. Labor traditionally represents unions in Israel, which have been extremely strong. Over the years, as Israel modernized, Labor has come to represent the wealthy elite in Israel, including big business and the Israeli jet set. Labor's economic policies are in need of modernization, eschewing privatization, and preferring to maintain control over the economy while doing little to spur economic growth. Labor supports the collective kibbutzim, and has in the past spent billions of dollars to bail out these financially non­viable ventures.

Other leaders in the party: Former Health Minister Haim Ramon, Former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Ophir Paz, Shlomo Ben­Ami, Yossi Beilin (former Deputy Foreign Minister). New members of the party include Matan Vilna'i, former deputy Chief of Staff of the IDF and former commander of the Northern Front.

ˇ Shas: Party leader Aryeh Deri. Current Knesset seats: 10. This party is made up of religious members of North African and Middle Eastern ("Sfardic") descent. The party represents chiefly these communities. Policies of the party include economic improvement for the disadvantaged communities in Israel, many of which are Sfardic communities, more classroom hours in schools, and fighting unemployment. The party also maintains a strong voice in religious issues. The party follows the leadership advice of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Sfardic Chief Rabbi of Israel.

Other leaders of the party: Interior Minister Eli Suissa, Religious Affairs Minister Eli Yishai, Knesset House Committee Chairman Raphael Pinchasi.

ˇ National Religious Party: Party leader Education Minister Yitzchak Levy. Current Knesset Seats: 9.The NRP represents the interest of the modern religious population. The party is actively involved in settling Judea and Samaria and other areas of low population, and enjoys wide support in these areas. The party is ideologically allied with a network of yeshivot, Hesder, which combine army service and Torah study, and which contribute many of the combat leaders in the army's elite units. The NRP is against the Oslo process, but historically prefers to fight for its policies within the government framework rather than from the opposition. They did not vote to bring down the government after the Wye agreement.

Other leaders of the party: Transportation Minister Shaul Yahalom, Knesset Law Committee Chairman Hanan Porat, Tzvi Hendel, Nisan Slomiansky, Rabbi Avraham Shapira (former Ashkenazic (European descent) Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu (former sfardic Chief Rabbi), former MK Rabbi Chaim Druckman.

ˇ Meretz: party leader Yossi Sarid (former Environment Minister). Number of Knesset seats: 9 Meretz was created before the 1992 elections through the unification of three parties, two of which were on the extreme left, and one of which was relatively centrist but was opposed to all religion in Israel. Meretz is situated at the left extreme of the Knesset. They support a Palestinian State and a shrinking of Jewish boundaries. They are against settlement activity in, and any retention of, Judea and Samaria. They support dividing Jerusalem and creating a Palestinian capital in that city. They support transfering all Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria out of these areas and into what is left of Israel. They are against any manifestation of religion in Israel.

Other party leaders: Dedi Zucker, Haim Oron, Amnon Rubinstein (former Education Minister).

ˇ Yisrael Ba'aliya: party leader Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky. Number of Knesset seats: 7. (two members have resigned from the party and now sit as independents.) Natan Sharansky was previously known as Anatoly Shcharansky, the leading Prisoner of Zion in Communist Russia. The party was set up to represent the 750,000 Russian Immigrants who have come to Israel since 1990. Their platform consists of economic programs for immigrants and other disadvantaged communities, and protecting the rights and benefits accorded to immigrants in Israel. They are also striving to protect the Russian culture that has come with these immigrants. They have no specific policy regarding the peace process.

Other party leaders: Immigration Minister Yuli Edelshtein, Roman Bronfman, Tzvi Weinberg.

ˇ Gesher: party leader David Levy, number of Knesset seats: 5. (one member has resigned from the party and now sits independently.) Gesher ran for the current Knesset on a joint list under the umbrella of the Likud. David Levy was originally the Foreign Minister in this government, but resigned on January 4, 1998 due to his dissatisfaction with the budget. Levy is now leading Gesher independently in the current election campaign. Gesher's policy supports economic packages for the disadvantaged, particularly among the sfardic community. But the party is run more as a vehicle for satisfying Levy's ego than for any real benefit.

ˇ Tsomet: party leader Environment Minister Raphael Eitan, number of Knesset seats 4. Tsomet also ran under the Likud umbrella. The party was founded in 1988 as a breakaway from the Likud. The party is made up largely of people who do not live in Judea and Samaria but support Israel's retention of those areas. The party supports liberal economic policies and does not support religion. The anachronistic nature of their policy platform has lead to a consistent decline in their public support.

Other party leaders: deputy minister of education Moshe Peled.

ˇ Third Way: Party leader Internal Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani, number of Knesset Seats: 4.

The party was founded in 1996 as a single issue party supporting Israeli retention of the Golan Heights. Kahalani, a former General, was a decorated war hero in the Yom Kippur war as he lead the valiant fight to defend the Golan from Syrian invasion. He left Labor when they began negotiations with Syria over the Golan. Since the 1996 election, the party's policy platform has grown to include national unity and reconciliation between left and right, and between secular and religious.

Other party leaders: Emmanuel Zissman, Alex Lubotsky, Yisrael Harel.

ˇ United Torah Judaism: party leader Rabbi Meir Porush. Number of Knesset Seats: 4 This party represents the "Haredi" or ultra­Orthodox communities in Israel. It is answerable to the Council of Torah sages, which is made up of representatives of the major Haredi communities in Israel. Their platform centers around defending the rights of the religious communities in Israel, and of the network of yeshivas in the haredi communities.

Other party leaders: Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Avraham Ravitz, businessman Chaim Sheinfeld, Shmuel Laizerson, Rabbi Uri Lupoliansky.

ˇ Moledet: party leader Rehavam Ze'evi, Number of Knesset seats: 2 This party represents the right extreme in the Knesset. They support retention of all of Judea and Samaria and the transfer by agreement of all Arab communities out of these areas and into Jordan or Syria. They support integrating the Israeli­Arab communities into national life in Israel, including service in the army. The party supports increased Jewish construction in the eastern portion of Jerusalem, specifically in the Old City's Arab quarter, the City of David neighbourhood, and the Mt. of Olives.

Other party leaders: Rabbi Benny Elon

ˇ Shinui: Party leader, MK Avraham Poraz. Shinui is the centrist party that joined with Meretz in 1992, and has now decided to run independently. They oppose religion in Israel, and are in favour of territorial withdrawal from areas of Judea and Samaria. They are against futher Jewish settlement in these areas, and favour a Palestinian State. Their major emphasis appears to be on national unity, emphasizing secular values, and improving education.

ˇ Arab Democratic Party: leader Abdul­Wahab Darawshe Communist Party / Hadash: Abdul­Malik Dehamshe Total Knesset Seats: 9

These parties represent Israeli Arabs in the Knesset. They support a Palestinian State, and Arab land claims in the Galilee. They oppose further Jewish development in Israel.

Other parties that will compete for elections:

ˇ Centrist Party (no official name yet): Party Leader: Former Defense Minister Yitzchak Mordechai. Policy is not clear yet, but they support the creation of Palestinian State, and greater economic relaxation. They oppose religion in Israel, and support territorial compromise on the Golan Heights. They are jockeying for position in the center of the political spectrum with Labor and Likud, and several smaller parties (Third Way, Yisrael Ba'aliya).

Other senior party members include former Chief of Staff Amnon Lipkin­Shahak, former Likud finance and justice minister Dan Meridor, former Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo, former Labor MK Haggai Merom, and former Labor Party Secretary General Nissim Zvilli.

ˇ Yisrael Beiteinu: party leader Avigdor Leiberman, former Director General of the Prime Minister's office. This party is formed as an alternative to Yisrael Ba'aliya for the Russian immigrant vote. They support changing the electoral system in Israel to allow for a Republic­styled government including district elections of all members. They will support Binyamin Netanyahu for Prime Minister.

ˇ Herut: New party formed by Benny Begin. He is using the old name used by his father, Menachem, in the 1950's and 60's for his party. This party supports retention of Judea and Samaria, and is opposed to a Palestinian State. They support greater settlement in these areas. They have no stated economic or social policies yet. Other leading supporters include MK Michael Kleiner.

ˇ Meimad: The left wing of the National Religious Party which has broken away to run independently. The party is made up of religious members who support the peace process and compromise on religious issues. The party has attracted former Labor MK and current Jewish Agency Head Avraham Burg, and Third Way MK Alex Lubotsky. NRP MK Eli Gabbai and Transportation Minister Shaul Yahalom may also join.

ˇ Tekumah: This party supports settlement activity in Judea and Samaria and the Hesder Yeshivot. The main difference between Tekumah and Herut is that Tekumah is largely religious, while Herut is largely secular. Party leaders include Yaakov Katz (Katzele), director general of Arutz­7 radio, Bet El Mayor Uri Ariel, Kiryat Arba Mayor Benny Katzover. Rabbi Avraham Shapira and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu will likely support this party in the election. This will end up being the right wing of the National Religious Party, and attempts will be made to attract NRP MK's Hanan Porat, Tzvi Hendel and Nisan Slomiansky.

ˇ Worker's Party: Formed by Labor MK and Histadrut National Labor Union leader Amir Peretz. The party is founded on the basis that the Labor party has abandoned the blue collar workers and the disadvantaged communities of Israel in favour of the old ruling elites. Chief issues are labour relations, higher wages, better working conditions, and more jobs to solve unemployment.

ˇ Voice of the Environment: Nechama Ronen, Director General of the Ministry of the Environment, has formed this party whose platform is environmental protection.

ˇ YESH: This party has no named leader yet, but represents women's rights, and is in favour of a Palestinian State. The party name is made up of the initials of the Hebrew words Yitzug Shaveh, meaning equal representation.

ˇ Penina Rosenblum Party: founded by Israeli cosmetics magnate Penina Rosenblum (Israel's Mary Kay) and with no apparent policy platform.

Political Fluidity:

There will likely be far too many parties competing for limited votes. Most of the smaller ones will not place in the Knesset. But some new ones will. The greatest political activity in the next few weeks will come from these areas:

The new centrist party will decide upon its policy and its name. It will also continue to attempt to attract leading names in public life.

Tekumah and Herut will likely join forces in an attempt to unify the right wing and avoid wasting votes. They may be joined by the Moledet Party, and by a collection of Members of Knesset, belonging to different parties, who all support increased settlement in Judea and Samaria and strengthening of Jewish presence in Jerusalem. These MK's, called the Land of Israel Front, numbered 17 in the current Knesset, and formed a strong lobby group for the Israeli right. The Land of Israel Front is coordinated by MK Michael Kleiner, who has joined Herut.

Labor and the new centrist party have both made overtures to Meimad to join them. Meimad is negotiating with Labor and is asking to be guaranteed the Education ministry in any Labor­led government.


Yehuda Poch is a political analyst and writer living in Israel. He holds a degree in Political Science and International Relations from the University of Toronto, and has served as political analyst for the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies since 1993. He has also done research on Zionist history. Currently, Poch is a leading member of the Israel Action Alliance, a grass­roots group in Israel working for right­wing unity and a greater understanding of religion and religious­secular issues. He comments widely on Israeli political issues, and has been featured on Arutz­7 National Radio, and in print media in North America. Poch and his wife, Rebecca, have two children, and live in Rehovot, Israel.

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