Early Knesset elections will be held in Israel on February 10, after the new Kadima leader, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni failed to put together a coalition government.
The Israeli electoral system is proportional, very proportional, with a 2% threshold (it used to be even lower, 1%!). The main current parties are Kadima, a centrist-liberal party founded by Likud PM Ariel Sharon before he fell into his still-ongoing coma. Several Labor MKs joined the party, including Shimon Peres, now President (purely ceremonial role). Labor was founded as a socialist Zionist party in 1968, but has since trended to the centre in a way similar to Britain’s Labour. There are a number of religious parties. It is very hawkish (although less so than in the past) and most Arab-Israeli wars have taken place under Labor administrations (Sinai, Six-Days, Yom Kippur). Since 1999, Labor has been allied with Meimad, a small religious Zionist party. However, this election, Meimad will be running with the Green Movement.
There are a number of haredi religious parties located on the far-right in Israel. The Shas, the strongest of the religios parties in recent years, are mostly Mizrahi (msotly MidEastern-origin Jews) and Sephardi (Jews of Iberian origin). The Shas are flexible on the Palestinian issue, for example, they are not strongly in favour of Israeli settlements. United Torah Judaism, known as UTJ, is Ashkenazi (European-origin Jews). The UTJ is also opposed to peace negotiations with the PalestiniansThe National Union-National Religious Party (NU-NRP) is an electoral alliance of mostly religious Zionists. NU-NRP is opposed to a Palestinian state, supporting an Israeli state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan.
Yisrael Beiteinu is also far-right, but is more secular compared to the other far-right parties. It represents mostly Russian immigrants. Its voters are split between traditional religious voters and secular votes. On the Palestinian issue, Yisrael Beiteinu favours a Palestinian state but supports a hard-line vis-a-vis terrorists. Likud, founded in 1973, is a conservative-nationalist party. It is economcially liberal and capitalist, and hawkish on Arab issues. It moderated its support for Greater Israel under Ariel Sharon, but under its current rightist leader, Binyamin Netanyahu, it has become more hawkish. Most of its voters support Israeli settlements and are opposed to the two-state solution.
Meretz-Yachad, formed in 1992, is the main representative of the left-wing Israeli peace camp. It is strongly anti-clerical and secular.
There are three parties identified by the Israeli media as “Arab parties”. The first one is the United Arab List, which is seen by some as having links to Palestinian terror groups. It was recently banned (as was Balad) by the Israeli Central Elections Committee, but the ban was overturned by the Supreme Court. Hadash, a communist party, is not really a “Arab party” per se, but rather bi-communal. It has a significant Jewish vote, but is generally more Arab. Balad, a socialist party, has had the same problems as the UAL.
The 2006 elections produced the following results:
Kadima 22.02%: 29
Labor-Meimad 15.06%: 19
Shas 9.53%: 12
Likud 8.99%: 12
Yisrael Beiteinu 8.99%: 11
NU-NRP 7.14%: 9
Gil (Retirees) 5.92%: 7
United Torah Judaism 4.69%: 6
Meretz-Yachad 3.77%: 5
United Arab List-Ta’al 3.02%: 4
Hadash 2.74%: 3
Balad 2.30%: 3
Parties above 1%, but below the threshold:
The Greens 1.52%
Ale Yarok 1.29%
The latest poll, from February 6, gives the following seat allocation:
Yisrael Beiteinu 18
United Torah Judaism 6
United Arab List-Ta’al 3
Jewish Home (NRP etc) 2
Yisrael Beiteinu has soared recently, despite its leader, Avigdor Lieberman under investigation for taking bribes. It has recently indicated that it might join a coalition with Kadima, to prevent Likud’s Binyamin Netanyahu from taking power in a coalition with the Shas. The Shas are opposed to Yisrael Beiteinu’s more secular platform (legalize civil marriage etc).
The Gil retirees, who surprised observers in 2006 by winning 7 seats, should be destroyed following this election. The Greens, however, who were close to the 2% threshold in 2006, could win seats.