Israel Votes 2003 a Guide to the 15 Israeli Parties Expected to Be in the New Knesset

Nearly 30 political parties are vying in Israel’s Jan. 28 general elections.

According to the latest polls, about 15 parties stand a chance of getting at least 1.5 percent of the vote, the threshold for getting at least one of the Knesset’s 120 seats.

Following is a guide to the leading parties in the race:

Likud: The odds-on favorite, with a projected 32 seats in the next Knesset, according to weekend polls. In 1999, when party leader Benjamin Netanyahu lost the premiership to Ehud Barak, Likud won 19 seats in the Knesset, considered a major defeat at the time.

Now, under the leadership of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the party consistently has led in the polls, despite recent allegations of corruption against party officials and members of Sharon’s own family.

Traditionally, the party has opposed any territorial concessions to the Palestinians and has also balked at supporting the eventual creation of a Palestinian state. As prime minister, however, Sharon has agreed to make “painful concessions,” but only after the Palestinians completely renounce terrorism. Sharon backs the creation of a national unity government with the Labor Party.

Labor: Labor has the largest number of seats — 25 — in the current Knesset. But, according to the latest polls, the party will get only 19 seats in the next Knesset — a devastating blow for the party that led Israel for the first 30 year of the country’s existence.

With much of the Israeli electorate turning rightward, party leader Amram Mitzna’s stances have appeared too dovish to rally greater support, according to the polls.

Mitzna has called for building a fence to separate Israel from the West Bank, a project already begun by the Sharon government, but which has not moved as swiftly as some would like. Mitzna also calls for abandoning Jewish settlements, those in the Gaza Strip first. He also has expressed willingness to negotiate with whomever the Palestinians choose as a leader, including Yasser Arafat. Last week Mitzna declared that he would not join a national unity government with Likud, but he faces strong opposition on this issue from other members of his party.

Shas: With 17 seats in the current Knesset, this fervently Orthodox-Sephardi party may soon lose its place as parliament’s third largest party. Polls show Shas losing votes to Likud, and according to the latest polls, it will win only 10 Knesset seats this time around.

Along with seeking support for Orthodox causes, the party seeks generous state funding for poorer Israelis. A member of past coalitions led by Labor and Likud, Shas adopted a hawkish stance toward the Palestinians after the intifada began in September 2000.

Shinui: This dovish and secular party is the Cinderella story of the current election campaign. Under the leadership of former journalist Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, the party is expected to leap from six to 15 Knesset seats, making it the thirst strongest political force in the next Knesset.

Lapid’s main agenda is anti-clerical. He calls for the creation of a secular national government, with no religious parties in power. He is considered liberal on economic issues, and center-right on the Palestinian issue.

Meretz: When Yossi Beilin, the architect of the Oslo accords and one of Israel’s leading doves, recently left Labor to join Meretz, this leftist party hoped the move would boost its chances in the elections. However, recent polls show it will lose three of its 10 Knesset seats.

Under the leadership of Yossi Sarid, the party calls for Jerusalem to become the shared capital of both Israel and an eventual Palestinian state. It also calls for the disbanding of most all settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

National Union-Israel Our Home: Led by a former director of the Prime Minister’s Office, Avigdor Lieberman, this hawkish bloc stands to grow from seven Knesset seats to nine, primarily because of its clear stance against any concessions to the Palestinians.

The National Religious Party: This pro-settler party is expected to retain its current five seats in the next Knesset. Considered the main political force behind the settlement movement, the party opposes any territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

United Torah Judaism: This fervently Orthodox bloc, which includes the Agudat Yisrael and Degel HaTorah parties, is expected to retain its current five Knesset seats. The party opposes drafting yeshiva students and strongly objects to any changes in Shabbat laws. It has been flexible on the Palestinian issue, but in recent years adopted a more hawkish stance.

Yisrael Ba’Aliyah: This immigrant-rights party, which held four seats in the outgoing Knesset, will have to settle for three in the next, according to polls. Apart from fighting for the rights of new immigrants, the party adopts a hawkish stand on the Palestinian issue.

One Nation: This workers-rights party seeks to close the economic gap between the haves and have nots. It currently has two Knesset seats, and polls say it will have three in the next parliament.

Green Leaf: This party advocates legalizing marijuana. Polls say it will make its debut in the Knesset with one seat.

Herut: This nationalist party is expected to retain its sole Knesset seat after the elections. Led by veteran legislator Michael Kleiner, formerly of Likud, Herut also features the candidacy of Baruch Marzel, a former member of the outlawed Kach movement. The party is courting the fervently Orthodox community — a move that prompted members of the Ashkenazi community to urge co-religionists not to vote for any “non-religious” party.

Hadash-Ta’al: The latest coalition in the Israeli Arab sector, combining Hadash, under the leadership of Mohammad Barakeh, with Ahmed Tibi’s Ta’al movement. The two parties have four Knesset members in the outgoing Knesset; the polls anticipate three in the next.

United Arab List: A coalition of the Islamic Movement and the Arab Democratic Party, strongly influenced by moderate Islamists. It is expected to lose one of its current five Knesset seats.

Balad: A nationalist, pan-Arabist movement, chaired by Azmi Beshara, who calls for turning Israel into a country of “all its citizens” — that is, for it no longer to be a specifically Jewish state. Beshara is currently the only member of the party serving in the Knesset, but Balad is projected to win two additional seats.

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