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What are the Main Political Parties in Israel?

Israel's political landscape is diverse, with the main parties being Likud, a center-right party, and Yesh Atid, centrist. Others include Labor, left-wing, and Shas, ultra-Orthodox. The Joint List represents Arab citizens. Each party reflects Israel's multifaceted society. Curious about how these parties shape Israel's policies? Dive deeper to explore their ideologies and influence on the nation's future.
Venus D.
Venus D.

There are dozens of political parties in Israel. many of which have representatives Israel has five major political parties: Kadima, Labor, Likud, Shas and Yisrael Beytenu. These five and smaller political parties comprise the Israeli parliamentary system of government. Knesset, a 120-member unicameral parliament, is elected every four years through a proportional representation system. The head of the political party that wins the most seats is responsible for forming the government and thereby becomes the prime minister. Since the formation of Israel in 1948, no single political party has won the majority of the seats, sixty-one, in Knesset. As a result, governments are formed through coalitions.

Kadima, a right-wing political party, was created in 2005 by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Kadima's primary aim is to create a strong Israeli and Palestinian State. It focuses on continuing Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan--to move Israeli settlements out of Gaza and strengthen security in Palestinian areas. This political party also hopes to reform the Knesset with more elections at different levels of government.

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Man holding a globe

The Labor Party, formed in the 1930s, is probably the oldest of the five main Israeli political parties. Originally a left-wing socialist political party, it can now be classified as a left-of-center party. The Labor party advocates for less government and a stable monetary and fiscal policy. In terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict, this political party strongly supports territorial concessions and is opposed to military aggression against Palestinians. It is this stance that makes the political party sometimes unappealing to Israelis especially in times of frequent terrorist attacks.

The Likud Party, formed in 1973, advocates a free market for the Israeli economy and has established free trade agreements with the European Union (EU) and the United States (US). It is largely based on the idea of a "Greater Israel" which emphasizes the nation’s entitlement to the West Bank--the region within Israel that is west of the Jordan River. Still, it was the Likud Party that was the first political party to concede territory to Egypt. The Likud's lack of interest in the Disengagement Plan was what led Sharon to break off and form the Kadima party. Likud currently supports Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas and while it supports a Palestinian state, it supports a smaller Palestinian state than what most Arabs advocate.

In 1984, the Shas political party was formed by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who continues to serve as its spiritual leader today. It was formed as a reaction to the government’s refusal to extend Rabbi Yosef’s term as Chief Rabbi of Israel. After the 2006 elections, its political leader, Eli Yishal, formed a coalition with Kadima since Shas had won a total of 12 seats in Knesset. Its practice of forming coalition has a large effect upon its policies toward Arab-Israeli relations, often being the same as the ruling political party with which it has aligned. Furthermore, it advocates social payments and restricting state authority.

Yisrael Beiteinu has two basic policies. One is the advocating a hard-line approach towards Palestine and the rest of the world. Since its foreign policies are largely based on realism, Yisrael Beiteinu believes other nations would prefer that Israel not gain control of the Gaza Strip. The second policy concerns creating friendlier socio-economic conditions for new immigrants. In the 2006 elections, Yisrael Beiteinu won 11 votes within Knesset and became a part of the Kadima-led coalition government.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the largest political parties in Israel?

As of the latest elections, the largest political parties in Israel include Likud, which is a center-right to right-wing party, and Yesh Atid, a centrist party. Other significant parties are Blue and White, a centrist alliance, and Shas, which represents ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jews. The political landscape in Israel is highly dynamic, with parties often forming alliances or splitting, reflecting the diverse political, religious, and social views within the country.

How does Israel's proportional representation system affect party politics?

Israel's proportional representation system means that parties must secure a minimum threshold of votes to gain seats in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. This system encourages a multiparty landscape and often results in coalition governments. Smaller parties can wield significant influence by being necessary coalition partners for forming a government, which can lead to a focus on niche issues or constituency interests within the broader political agenda.

What role do Arab political parties play in Israeli politics?

Arab political parties in Israel, such as the Joint List and Ra'am, represent the interests of the Arab-Israeli population. They have become increasingly significant in recent years, with the potential to tip the balance in coalition negotiations. These parties focus on issues pertinent to Arab citizens, such as civil rights, equality, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their involvement in mainstream politics is a testament to Israel's complex and multifaceted society.

How often do elections take place in Israel, and why are they sometimes frequent?

Elections in Israel are scheduled to occur every four years, but they can happen more frequently due to the instability of coalition governments. When a government cannot maintain a majority or there is a significant political deadlock, the Knesset can be dissolved, leading to early elections. This has led to a period of political volatility in recent years, with several elections taking place in quick succession.

What impact does the Israeli political system have on peace negotiations and foreign policy?

The Israeli political system, with its diverse array of parties and coalitions, directly impacts peace negotiations and foreign policy. The composition of the ruling coalition can influence the government's stance on key issues such as settlements, security, and relations with the Palestinians and neighboring countries. A government leaning towards the right may adopt more conservative positions, while a centrist or left-leaning coalition might pursue more conciliatory policies in peace talks.

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Discussion Comments

Markerrag

It seems vastly unfair that Israel has five political parties while, in the U.S., we're primarily stuck with two that do a terrible job of representing the majority of Americans.

Of course, there are problems with having several strong political parties in a country. Coalition governments tend to fall quite often and the political system gets embroiled in chaos until equilibrium is found.

On second thought, that might not be an altogether bad thing.

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