Key players in March 17 Israeli parliamentary election
Mar. 17, 2015
JERUSALEM (AP) — Here's a look at the key parties competing in Israel's parliamentary election Tuesday:
— Likud: Led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud holds tough positions toward Palestinian independence and largely opposes ceding territory for a future state. Netanyahu grudgingly accepted the idea of Palestinian independence in the past but in a dramatic last-minute appeal to hard-line voters Monday, he pledged to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu has also pushed for strong international action against arch-enemy Iran's nuclear facilities and has focused his campaign on security issues.
— Zionist Union: The main opposition party and challenger to Netanyahu's lengthy rule. Headed by Isaac Herzog, it is a blend between his Labor Party — which governed the country from its founding in 1948 until 1977, and twice since — and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's centrist Hatnua party. The new alliance has pledged a renewed push for peace with the Palestinians and for mending relations with Israel's most important ally, the United States, which have deteriorated under Netanyahu. The party has also attacked Netanyahu on economics, blaming him for high housing prices and the economic struggles of the middle class.
— Yesh Atid: Founded by former TV personality Yair Lapid, the centrist party represents secular, middle class interests and focuses mostly on economic issues — saying less money should be spent on settlements and stipends for the ultra-Orthodox. The party was the surprise of the previous vote in 2013 and then joined Likud as its senior coalition partner. The charismatic Lapid saw his popularity drop as finance minister but has recovered since Netanyahu fired him in December and called the new election. The party has attacked Netanyahu as out of touch with average Israelis, but hasn't ruled out cooperating with him again.
— Kulanu: The new party headed by former Likud government minister Moshe Kahlon is shaping up to be the kingmaker of this election. Kahlon is running on an economic platform that deals almost exclusively with bread-and-butter issues, while all but ignoring Israel's diplomatic challenges. He is demanding to become finance minister in the next government and could tip the scales in favor of either Netanyahu or Herzog. Kahlon, the son of Libyan immigrants, is popular with working class Israelis thanks to his Middle Eastern background, his modest upbringing and for reforming the local mobile-phone market.
— The Joint List: A recently established alliance of four small, largely Arab-backed parties representing Israel's 20-percent Arab minority that could emerge as the third-largest bloc. Despite deep differences between socialists, Palestinian nationalists and traditional Islamists, the list's leader, 40-year-old lawyer Ayman Odeh, says the unprecedented union could dramatically increase Arab turnout at the polls and clout in Israel's parliament.
— Yisrael Beitenu: The far-right secular party headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman takes a hard line against Israel's Arab minority and says it will push for the death penalty for terrorists. The party has shrunk in the polls since breaking up an alliance with Likud and following a series of corruption scandals that forced out several key players.
— Jewish Home: Representing modern Orthodox Jews, the party has strong ties with the West Bank settlement movement. Considered a natural partner of Likud, its charismatic leader, high-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett, has been looking to broaden his appeal to secular Jews.
— Shas: Founded in the early 1980s by ultra-Orthodox Jews of Middle Eastern origin who felt marginalized. Its followers tend to be hawkish and the party traditionally has been a Likud ally, even though two decades ago, its spiritual leader, the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, ruled that saving lives is more important than keeping territory. The party, headed by Arieh Deri, emphasizes social welfare for its low-income constituency. A breakaway faction led by former party leader Eli Yishai is also running.