The Israeli elections: The main players

February 5, 2009
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Likud

Leader
Binyamin Netanyahu

Latest polls
27-30 Knesset seats

Platform
Netanyahu’s Likud is in favour of putting negotiations for a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians on hold and focusing on interim agreements to improve their economic situation. The position on talks with Syria is unclear although Netanyahu has said further Israeli pullbacks will take place only as part of comprehensive peace treaties. On the economic front, Netanyahu has promised tax cuts and investment in infrastructure, rather than welfare, to help Israel out of the recession.

Prospects
Netanyahu has been in the lead throughout the campaign. Polls have also given an overall majority to the right-wing/religious bloc expected to support him. Netanyahu remains the favourite but while Likud will likely be the largest party in the Knesset, it will still be too small to ensure a stable government. Netanyahu will be beholden to coalition partners pulling in different directions on diplomatic and economic issues.

Kadima

Leader
Tzipi Livni

Latest polls
23-26 Knesset seats

Platform
Kadima supports the continuation of the negotiations for a comprehensive deal with the Palestinian Authority that Livni has been conducting for the past two years. Party leaders have spelled out that this will mean pulling back from most of the West Bank and a compromise over Jerusalem. Kadima is also in favour of continuing talks with Syria where the price of a deal is clear — an Israeli retreat from the Golan Heights. Livni supports a limited enlargement of the deficit, mild tax cuts and incentives for workers and businesses. She opposes enlarging social benefits.

Prospects
A lacklustre campaign has failed to close the gap between Kadima and Likud. Livni has failed to capitalise on her “Ms Clean” image, partly because of a public atmosphere during and following the Gaza operation that was less inclined towards a woman as national leader. Livni’s options for forming a coalition are also limited. Her rivals might mount a leadership challenge the day after the elections and Kadima will have to prove if it can survive as a party while it is not holding the reins of power.

Yisrael Beiteinu

Leader
Avigdor Lieberman

Latest polls
14-18 Knesset seats

Platform
Lieberman has focused most of his campaign on the party’s demand that Israeli citizenship will be conditional on a pledge of allegiance to Israel as a Jewish state. His proposal for a diplomatic solution envisages a division of the territory on ethnic and religious lines so that Jews and Arabs do not live side-by-side in the same country, but the party has not been clear on how this is to be achieved. On the economic front, the party supports “social compassion” along with “open markets”.

Prospects
Boosted by the rightward trend in the electorate, the lack of other credible candidates and his overwhelming popularity in the large Russian-born constituency, Lieberman’s party is threatening to push Labour into fourth place. Lieberman intends to be a major partner of whoever forms the next government, Netanyahu or Livni. But Lieberman’s outspoken nationalistic views might cause the three other main parties to join together in a coalition excluding him. The lengthy police investigation into his financial affairs may also disqualify Lieberman from senior cabinet posts and keep his party in opposition.

Labour

Leader
Ehud Barak

Latest polls
14-18 Knesset seats

Platform
Labour is the only major party to accept the Arab League plan as a basis for a diplomatic solution. The party supports similar territorial compromise to Kadima. Labour supports a much larger deficit to pay for wider social benefits, a higher minimum wage, investment in infrastructure and tax cuts for low-earners.

Prospects
Labour is headed for the worst electoral showing in its history. Barak might have gained credit over the Gaza operation but that was enough only to raise Labour from single digits in the polls. While still officially running for prime minister, Barak’s real objective is to remain defence minister in the next coalition. While Netanyahu would like Barak in his cabinet, Labour may rebel if Barak tries to take them into a coalition with Yisrael Beitenu. Barak will then have no choice but to try and rebuild Labour in opposition. Or to leave political life again.

    Last updated: 6:19pm, February 5 2009