Israel Prepares for Elections

By Gilad Slonim
Gilad Slonim
Gilad Slonim
December 9, 2008 Updated: December 10, 2008

Israel's right-wing Likud party activists advertise their candidates with posters outside a ballot station in Jerusalem on December 8, 2008, during an internal party vote to determine their general election candidates.   (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)
Israel's right-wing Likud party activists advertise their candidates with posters outside a ballot station in Jerusalem on December 8, 2008, during an internal party vote to determine their general election candidates. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli elections are due on February 10th, and the run-up to the elections is picking up the pace. The Likud party, headed by former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, held its primaries on Monday this week. The Likud party is considered right-wing in national and security issues, and free-market oriented in economic affairs.

The Likud party crashed in Israel's last elections, in 2006, after being in power since 2001. In 2006, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left the Likud party to form the new Kadima (“forward”) party, and his old party's power had fallen. Likud has led the opposition for two years, and today seems to be leading the polls, but the gap isn't large and there may be changes before election day.

These elections were necessitated by the resignation of current interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, following pressure from members of his coalition government after Olmert was apparently implicated in several criminal investigations. His replacement from the Kadima party, current Foreign Minister Mrs. Tzipi Livni, was not able to form a new government during the allotted time; thus these new elections were called.

Israel's has a parliamentarian regime—citizens vote for parties competing for the 120 seats of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Then the Israeli president assigns the head of the biggest party (usually) the task of forming a government.

In Israel, the prime minister is the top executive while the president has more of a ceremonial role. So far no party has managed to gain more than a majority of seats; thus Israel’s governments have always been coalition governments.

Israel's right-wing Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu talks to the media as he casts his ballot at a polling station in Jerusalem on December 8, 2008.    (Lior Mizrahi/AFP/Getty Images)
Israel's right-wing Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu talks to the media as he casts his ballot at a polling station in Jerusalem on December 8, 2008. (Lior Mizrahi/AFP/Getty Images)

The Likud primaries on Monday were especially interesting since the party has gained a renewed popularity. Many new members joined the primaries race, among them former senior Likud politicians that had left the party, and returned. Quite a few of them indeed gained top places in the party's list.

Noteworthy is Benny Begin, son of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who won the 5th place on the list. Begin resigned from Netanyahu's first government in 1997 in a dispute over an agreement Netanyahu signed with the Palestinian authority. Begin is considered an honest man and an honest politician, and thus considered an asset to the party.

Another candidate that has drawn much attention is Moshe Feiglin, leader of the Manhigut Yehudit (“Jewish leadership”) faction within the Likud. Mr. Feiglin is considered very right-wing.

Netanyahu wants to widen Likud’s appeal, and is trying to avoid scaring centrist voters by appearing to lean too far to the right. However, despite Netanyahu’s efforts, Feiglin might have enough support to win a seat in the Knesset

Along with his adamant views on Palestinian policy and his refusal to swap Israeli land for peace, Feiglin also takes a strong stand on human rights in Israel and around the world, and emphasizes high moral standards.

Gilad Slonim
Gilad Slonim