The Party Line

Nearly 30 political parties are vying in Israel’s Jan. 28
general elections.

According to the latest polls, about 15 parties stand a
chance of getting at least 1.5 percent of the vote, the threshold for getting
at least one of the Knesset’s 120 seats.

Following is a guide to the leading parties in the race:

Likud: The odds-on favorite, with a projected 32 seats in
the next Knesset, according to weekend polls. In 1999, when party leader
Benjamin Netanyahu lost the premiership to Ehud Barak, Likud won 19 seats in
the Knesset, considered a major defeat at the time. Now, under the leadership
of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the party consistently has led in the polls,
despite recent allegations of corruption against party officials and members of
Sharon’s own family.

Traditionally, the party has opposed any territorial
concessions to the Palestinians and has also balked at supporting the eventual
creation of a Palestinian state. As prime minister, however, Sharon has agreed
to make “painful concessions,” but only after the Palestinians completely
renounce terrorism. Sharon backs the creation of a national unity government
with the Labor Party.

Labor: Labor has the largest number of seats — 25 — in the
current Knesset. But, according to the latest polls, the party will get only 19
seats in the next Knesset — a devastating blow for the party that led Israel
for the first 30 years of the country’s existence.

With much of the Israeli electorate turning rightward, party
leader Amram Mitzna’s stances have appeared too dovish to rally greater
support, according to the polls. Mitzna has called for building a fence to
separate Israel from the West Bank, a project already begun by the Sharon
government, but which has not moved as swiftly as some would like. Mitzna also
calls for abandoning Jewish settlements, those in the Gaza Strip first. He also
has expressed willingness to negotiate with whomever the Palestinians choose as
a leader, including Yasser Arafat. Last week Mitzna declared that he would not
join a national unity government with Likud, but he faces strong opposition on
this issue from other members of his party.

Shas: With 17 seats in the current Knesset, this fervently
Orthodox-Sephardi party might soon lose its place as parliament’s third largest
party. Polls show Shas losing votes to Likud, and according to the latest
polls, it will win only 10 Knesset seats this time around. Along with seeking
support for Orthodox causes, the party seeks generous state funding for poorer
Israelis. A member of past coalitions led by Labor and Likud, Shas adopted a
hawkish stance toward the Palestinians after the intifada began in September

Shinui: This dovish and secular party is the Cinderella
story of the current election campaign. Under the leadership of former
journalist Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, the party is expected to leap from six to 15
Knesset seats, making it the third strongest political force in the next
Knesset. Lapid’s main agenda is anti-clerical. He calls for the creation of a
secular national government, with no religious parties in power. He is
considered liberal on economic issues, and center-right on the Palestinian

Meretz: When Yossi Beilin, the architect of the Oslo accords
and one of Israel’s leading doves, recently left Labor to join Meretz, this
leftist party hoped the move would boost its chances in the elections. However,
recent polls show it will lose three of its 10 Knesset seats. Under the
leadership of Yossi Sarid, the party calls for Jerusalem to become the shared
capital of both Israel and an eventual Palestinian state. It also calls for the
disbanding of most all settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

National Union-Israel Our Home: Led by Avigdor Lieberman, a
former director of the prime minister’s office, this hawkish bloc stands to
grow from seven Knesset seats to nine, primarily because of its clear stance
against any concessions to the Palestinians.

The National Religious Party: This pro-settler party is
expected to retain its current five seats in the next Knesset. Considered the
main political force behind the settlement movement, the party opposes any
territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

United Torah Judaism: This fervently Orthodox bloc, which
includes the Agudat Yisrael and Degel HaTorah parties, is expected to retain
its current five Knesset seats. The party opposes drafting yeshiva students and
strongly objects to any changes in Shabbat laws. It has been flexible on the
Palestinian issue, but in recent years adopted a more hawkish stance.

Yisrael Ba’Aliyah: This immigrant-rights party, which held
four seats in the outgoing Knesset, will have to settle for three in the next,
according to polls. Apart from fighting for the rights of new immigrants, the
party adopts a hawkish stand on the Palestinian issue.

One Nation: This workers-rights party seeks to close the
economic gap between the haves and have-nots. It currently has two Knesset seats,
and polls say it will have three in the next parliament.

Green Leaf: This party advocates legalizing marijuana. Polls
say it will make its debut in the Knesset with one seat.

Herut: This nationalist party is expected to retain its sole
Knesset seat after the elections. Led by veteran legislator Michael Kleiner,
formerly of Likud, Herut also features the candidacy of Baruch Marzel, a former
member of the outlawed Kach movement. The party is courting the fervently
Orthodox community — a move that prompted members of the Ashkenazi community to
urge co-religionists not to vote for any “non-religious” party.

Hadash-Ta’al: The latest coalition in the Israeli Arab
sector, combining Hadash, under the leadership of Mohammad Barakeh, with Ahmed
Tibi’s Ta’al movement. The two parties have four Knesset members in the
outgoing Knesset; the polls anticipate three in the next.

United Arab List: A coalition of the Islamic Movement and
the Arab Democratic Party, strongly influenced by moderate Islamists. It is
expected to lose one of its current five Knesset seats.

Balad: A nationalist, pan-Arabist movement, chaired by Azmi
Beshara, who calls for turning Israel into a country of “all its citizens” —
that is, for it no longer to be a specifically Jewish State. Beshara is
currently the only member of the party serving in the Knesset, but Balad is
projected to win two additional seats.