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Understanding Israel’s Elections during a most precarious time

February 1, 2006
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Understanding the political system of this very important country in the Middle East is vital in such a precarious time, when we are facing the resetting of Israel’s borders, increased terrorist attacks throughout the world, and the prospect of a nuclear Iran.

When we look at any country and how it is handling conflict, we must examine its political system and how it operates, in order to form an educated opinion on the situation. Israel operates under a democratic parliamentary system with proportional representation. This is distinguished by the executive branch of government being dependent on the support of the parliament and each party being represented in the government by the percentage of votes received for the party. If the party gets 8% of the votes, it gets 8% of the seats in parliament.

Israel’s government consists of three branches: legislative, executive, and judiciary. The legislative branch is elected at least once every four years. Every party running for election presents a list of candidates. The public votes for the party, and the number of candidates entering the house of representatives is proportional to the percentage of the support the party receives. The house of representatives is called the Knesset and has 120 members. The law does not define the authority of the Knesset, and details regarding the way it functions appear in its regulations. The president assigns the task of forming a government and heading it as prime minister to the Knesset member considered to have the best chance of forming a viable coalition government.

To form a government requires a majority of at least 61 of the 120 seats. To date this has been done by forming coalitions, as no one party has filled 61 or more seats by general election. This allows for parties that are represented by a small number of seats to potentially have great power. When forming coalitions, negotiations are made for filling positions as a minister in any one of the 12 standing committees or 3 special committees. If the party with the largest number of seats has 59 seats, they might negotiate with a party that has only 2 seats to make a majority and offer a significant ministerial position in return for the loyalty to form a coalition and run the government. In this system, there are no insignificant parties.

The elections to the legislative branch are held once every four years or upon dissolution of the current government. The general public, vote for the party they wish to represent them. The parties will be represented in the next Knesset in direct relation to the proportion of votes it gets with a 1.5% minimum necessary to be represented in the legislature. The government can be dissolved at any time by a no-confidence vote of the legislators or by the prime minister, with the permission of the president, resigning the current government. A government that has resigned or been brought down by a no-confidence vote continues to serve until a new government is elected. Until that time, it is called a transitional government. During the time of the transitional government, the prime minister has the power to appoint ministers without legislative ratification. The president is elected by the Knesset and serves a term of seven years. The president bears the ancient title of the Head of the Sanhedrin. The president customarily assigns the task of forming a new government to one of the largest represented parties. The president signs laws and treaties, receives credentials of new ambassadors of foreign states, and approves the appointment of judges and the state comptroller. The president also has the power to pardon prisoners on advice of the minister of justice. Additionally, he performs public functions and ceremonial duties.

The state comptroller is appointed by the president on the basis of the recommendation of the Knesset House Committee. The comptroller is elected for a five-year term and is to examine the legality of activities performed by the supervised bodies on matters of money and property, their frugality, efficiency, and integrity.

Some of the more well-known parties and their platforms are listed herein, in no particular order:


Willing to negotiate peace with the Palestinians leadership and “not compromise by terror.”Not in favor of Palestinian state, although contradictory statements have been made by Sharon the former head of this party who has now split away to start Kadima (see below). Opposed to dismantling settlements, although the Disengagement occurred under Sharon as the party leader.


Wants to restart negotiations through “land for peace” formula. In favor of Palestinian state.Willing to consider some unilateral withdrawal from West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and dismantlement of some communities.Centers on interior economic issues.

Kadima (Reports as Center, but no voting record. New party formed by Ariel Sharon in November 2004.)

Believes the Israeli national agenda to end the Palestinian conflict will be the Road Map. Seeks to preserve the Jewish majority in Israel by territorial concessions to Palestinians. Adamantly against one-state solution. Desires for Jerusalem and large settlement blocs in the West Bank to be kept under Israeli control. Wants to modify the political system to have voters choose the prime minister and legislators on an individual basis and not as part of a party list. Seeks a secular civil agenda.


Supports a just and comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbors. In favor of dismantlement and withdrawal from West Bank.Seeks a human and civil rights agenda.

National Religious

Advocates religious Jewish lifestyle, as well as full participation in Israeli society. Wants retention of the territories based on security, as well as Biblical and Zionistic beliefs. Represents interests of citizens living in communities in Judea and Samaria. Favors expansion of communities in the territories as part of the Jewish nation’s right and obligation to settle the Land of Israel.

National Unity or Haichud HaLeumi

Coalition of right wing secular parties––Moledet, Tekuma, and Israel Beteinu. Supports voluntary transfer of Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza to other Arab countries. Against concessions to the Palestinian Authority and creation of a Palestinian state. Favors a tough attitude toward security.


Prepared to relinquish land in return for peace, but uncomfortable with this policy given increased terror. Believes government policies should be based on strict Jewish Law.


Advocates a secular state in form of separate religion and state. In favor of territorial compromise for peace, but tough on security. Supports free market economy.

United Arab List

Believes Israel should be a state for all inhabitants and not have a Jewish Character. Seeks establishment of Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Election Date March 28, 2006

God has called Bridges for Peace to be “Watchmen on the Wall,” praying for Israel, and reminding God of His promises to her. We ask you to join with us in prayer at this election time. Election fever has already infected the country. The newspapers are full of commentaries, polls, and news stories. Reporters hang on the words of the major candidates. They are right to be so interested. This election will be pivotal in the history of the state. The next Prime Minister and his government will make decisions regarding territorial concessions, which will impact the nation far into the future. With Iran and Syria rattling their swords, the potential for war has increased. Terror groups continue to afflict the nation.

The next Prime Minister needs our prayers.

Prayer Focus:

• Pray for God to put the man He chooses in office.
• Pray the electorate will vote with conscience.
• Pray for wisdom for the leaders of Israel.
• Pray that the people of Israel will turn to God Almighty for guidance and direction.

Who will be the next Prime Minister?

That is the question being discussed in Israel today. The main parties have chosen their top man and so we can say, with reasonable certainty, that one of these three men will be the next Prime Minister.

Benjamin Netanyahu

He is the head of the Likud Party, a right of center party, which has been the ruling party much of the time since 1977. He is willing to make limited territorial concessions for peace, but only with reciprocity from the other side. His platform calls for defensible borders. Those borders would mean Israel keeping the Jordan Valley, the Golan Heights, and undivided Jerusalem, settlement blocs in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and the hilltops overlooking Ben Gurion Airport, the Gush Dan region, and Route 433. He served as Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999. He served as Finance Minister in the last government.

Amir Peretz

He is the head of the Labor party, a left of center party. He is from a Sephardic background. Sephardic Jews are those who came from Spanish, or Arab countries. He is running on a socio-economic agenda. Being in the land for peace camp, he has not made security or the peace process the major focus of his campaign, saying that there is a broad consensus at the moment on how to conduct the war on terrorism, and also that the public realizes that a Palestinian state is in the country’s best interest.

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