Israeli PM Netanyahu decided elections to be held in 22nd January 2013, in advance of the November 2013 deadline. The immediate cause for early elections might be his troubles to agree budget cuts with his coalition colleagues.
The key issue in Israeli politics during last decades has been the Israeli-Palestinian peace process but this time differ; socioeconomic questions rises to top of agenda. While the Israeli economy is slowing the ruling coalition has proposed budget cuts and already some social protests occurred summer of 2011.
Other issues are the Iranian thread and PM Netanyahu’s leadership skills to copy with it, tensions between secular and religious Jews in Israel especially related to military service and a debate about how to break the deadlock in the Palestinian issue which has close link to worsened relationship between U.S and Israel.
Israeli Elections 2013 Factbox
34 parties are competing in the upcoming Israeli national election that will be held on Tuesday, January 22, 2013. The Knesset, the Israeli parliament, is elected directly by the voters, not through a body of electors. Elections to the Knesset are based on a vote for a party rather than for individuals, and the entire country constitutes a single electoral constituency. The 120 Knesset seats are assigned in proportion to each party’s percentage of the total national vote. However, the minimum required for a party to win a Knesset seat is 2% of the total votes cast.
Who will be the parties and leaders running in the next election?
The 120 seat Knesset is elected on a directly proportional party list system. Each party submits a list of candidates for the Knesset and the entire country votes as a single constituency, with each voter choosing a party list. No single party is likely to win much more than 30 seats, so after the election the President will ask the party leader most likely to be able to form a majority coalition to attempt to form a government.
- Likud: Led by Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s main centre-right party is looking to maintain its role as the dominant party in the government, and will be expecting to emerge as the largest party by a good margin. Likud currently enjoys consistent rates of support and polls indicate that Netanyahu is seen as the most appropriate politician to be Prime Minister, and is the most trusted on security and defence issues.
- Kadima: Currently the largest faction, the centrist Kadima party has recently elected Shaul Mofaz as its leader, replacing Tzipi Livni who consequently resigned from the Knesset. Mofaz took over a party which has been struggling in the polls since the summer of 2011. The shift in focus to socioeconomic issues left Kadima, which was focused largely on promoting the peace process, somewhat irrelevant. Although Mofaz is a respected former IDF chief of staff, defence minister and a determined politician, he has not established himself as an alternative to Netanyahu as Prime Minister. His short lived coalition with Netanyahu earlier this year further damaged his and Kadima’s standing.
- Yisrael Beiteinu: This right-wing party, led by hawkish foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, was the third-largest in the current Knesset and played a prominent role in the government. Recently, the party has adopted a more vocal position on the exemption of Arabs and ultra-Orthodox from military service.
- Labour: After years of falling support, Labour will be looking to capitalise on the renewed interest in socioeconomic issues following the socioeconomic protests of 2011. Under the new leadership of Shelly Yachimovich, a former journalist with a strong record on social issues, Labour has sought to reclaim its social-democratic brand and has succeeded in re-energising its activist base, on which it will rely upon in the upcoming election.
- Shas: Although the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic party has been led by Eli Yishai for over a decade, Shas has been unable to recreate the popular fervour it possessed under its previous political leader Aryeh Deri in the 1990s. Shas will try to energise its supporters against public anger at ultra-Orthodox exemption from military service, and in defence of welfare benefits that favour its constituents.
- Meretz: Following widespread disillusionment with the peace process after the eruption of the second Palestinian intifada, the left wing, secular Meretz became an almost inconsequential political faction. Under the new leadership of Zehava Galon, the party could enhance its power to a small degree with the support of upper-middle class liberal and Kibbutz voters.
- Atzmaut: After splitting from Labour, five MKs under the leadership of Defence Minister Ehud Barak formed this new centrist faction, which is now essentially a vehicle to return Ehud Barak to the Knesset so he can remain as Defence Minister. However, in some polls, the party does not succeed in crossing the electoral threshold (2% of the votes).
- Yesh Atid (‘There is a Future’): The entry of former journalist Yair Lapid into politics may be one of the biggest changes in the next Knesset. Lapid has positioned himself as a centrist outsider and will run on a consensual messages of social responsibility and equality of the social burden. Recent polls predict the new party may receive up to 10-12 seats, but it is unclear whether the party will be able to sustain its momentum once the campaign heats up.
- Smaller parties
- United Torah Judaism: An ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi party.
- National Union: A right-wing national religious party with strong support from voters in West Bank settlements.
- Mafdal: Another right-wing national religious party with strong support from voters in West Bank settlements.
- Ra’am-Ta’al: A national-Islamic Arab party promoting an end to Israel presence in the West Bank and recognition of Arab-Israelis as national minority. Ahmad Tibi is the faction’s most prominent MK.
- Hadash: A Jewish-Arab socialist party supporting Israeli-Arab peace and promoting a left-wing socioeconomic agenda.
- Balad: An Arab nationalist party led by MK Jamal Zahalka.
More about parties in interactive Parties Guide by Haaretz and about key election candidates in chart by BICOM.
Israeli leaders outline final election positions
BICOM (the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre) describes the final election positions of Israeli leaders as follows:
With Israel set to vote on Tuesday, party leaders yesterday positioned themselves on policy issues and the composition of the next government.
Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was interviewed in Maariv, Israel Hayom and Jerusalem Post, indicating it is unlikely that West Bank settlements will be removed under his leadership during the coming four years. He told the Jerusalem Post that a “real and fair solution” to the conflict with the Palestinians “doesn’t include driving out hundreds of thousands of Jews.” He also conceded that he and US President Obama “have our differences.”
However, Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni said yesterday that apparent discord between Obama and Netanyahu is the “tip of the iceberg,” warning that Israel is facing “growing isolation” in the absence of peace talks. She then called for “a central Zionist unity government,” in order to tackle “a diplomatic, social and security emergency situation.” Naftali Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home party, told Channel Two “There is no chance of achieving peace in this generation. The Tzipi Livnis are deluded.”
Meanwhile, Labour Party leader Shelly Yachimovich pledged, “if I form the next government, Livni will be the foreign minister” and reiterated that Labour will not join a Netanyahu-led coalition. At a party rally, she said, “All the rest of the parties have locked a place for themselves in the government, as if it was already chosen…We’ll either be in charge of forming the government – or we will be the leaders of the opposition.”
Yair Lapid, leader of Yesh Atid emphasised that his party will only join a government that will implement a universal draft, pledging not to enter a coalition “of the extreme right and the ultra-Orthodox, which will use the middle-class as if it is its personal cash machine.”
A series of surveys was published in Israel, giving a final indicator of how the country might vote in next week’s election. Each of the polls indicates that the Likud-Beitenu list headed by current-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be the largest faction in the next Knesset, the Labour Party is likely to be the second largest party followed by Jewish Home. Looking at the political map as a whole, the right-wing and religious bloc of parties will win the centrist and left-wing parties with margin of 12 – 26 seats – a range that all but guarantees Netanyahu a third term in office.
The former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who has recently been cleared of corruption charges and relieved of community service, could have been an alternative of hope to the Netanyahu regime; however he did not join to the race even Kadima MKs, businessmen, public opinion leaders and regular citizens were pressuring him to do so. After four years in which the center-left bloc was missing a dominant leader, Olmert could have changed the situation entirely. Amid the stalemate in the peace talks with the Palestinians, the shaky relations with western countries, the fear of a brutal war with Iran and the sense that there is no hope for a better future – Olmert could have been the real alternative. But sadly not now.
While right- wing block has united their lines Kadima, the largest party in the outgoing Knesset and the main opposition to Netanyahu’s government, will split among no less than eight different factions. None of these parties will have enough power to seriously challenge the next coalition as the centre and the mainstream Zionist left is more fragmented than ever.
One more aspect has its effect to result. According to statistics 80 percent of Israeli citizens over the Green Line voted in the last election, while the average rate in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Beersheba is 57%. The numbers presented by Peace Now come from 2009, when 64.72% of eligible Israelis voted. One can guess that votes from disputed territories favour more the right than the left.
Peaceprocess on the sidelines before elections
As mentioned above the peace process has drifted on the background. The problem is that most Israelis consider the prospects for success in peace talks to be slim. The way they see it, Ehud Olmert in 2008 and Ehud Barak in 2000 offered the Palestinians a reasonable deal and they didn’t take it. Even when Israel got out of the Gaza Strip unilaterally the Palestinians weren’t satisfied, bringing Hamas to power and using the area to fire more rockets at Israel. However a good base for new peace talks is the fact that governments in Israel are relatively stable.The total number of governments that have fallen by no-confidence votes in all of Israeli history is one (in 1990).
The most notable exception is former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, running at the head of ‘Hatnua’, (The Movement) a new party she has created. Of all the candidates competing in the Jewish, secular, Zionist centre-ground, she is the one most prepared to make the peace process a central part of her offer. She led Israel’s negotiating team with the Palestinians in 2008, and she is the one arguing that Israel should make every effort to resume final status talks in the belief that it’s possible to finish the job.
…but jump start on March
The European Union was drawing up a detailed new plan to jump start peace talks. The plan is reportedly to be presented after the Jan. 22 elections. The plan includes clear timetables for the completion of the negotiations on all the core issues in the course of 2013 and it will include a clause demanding that Israel halt all settlement construction. As the British and French foreign ministries are sponsoring the initiative, also backed by Germany, it could ultimately be adopted by the EU as a whole. The EU plan’s ultimate objective was to bring about the establishment of a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital. however this EU initiative probably is as insignificant for peace process as always before.
Israel Radio also reported that Jordan’s King Abdullah believes that peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians will resume next month. Israel Radio quoted him as saying that the start of U.S. President Barack Obama’s second term and the end of the Israeli election would serve as a window of opportunity for the sides to reconvene.
In my opinion the most important cause for new peace talks is the new pro-American Sunni Muslim-led axis which American diplomats established in Cairo last month. This opens possibilities for alternative solutions and process instead of old brain-dead two-state solution and its road map. (More this in my previous article A Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation Is On The Move )