Binyamin Netanyahu

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Posted by r2d2 04/28/2009 @ 06:13

Tags : binyamin netanyahu, likud, knesset, israel, middle east, world

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Netanyahu: Iran protesters show courage - United Press International
WASHINGTON, June 21 (UPI) -- Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says Iranian anti-government demonstrators have shown "incredible acts of courage." Netanyahu, speaking Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," said the Tehran confrontations between...
Binyamin Netanyahu's welcome step forward - Jerusalem Post
By URI SAVIR Since he entered the White House, President Barack Obama has been trying to convince Binyamin Netanyahu to accept the inevitable need for a Palestinian state. During his speech on Sunday, Netanyahu finally acknowledged this need....
Druze protesters disrupt Cabinet meeting - United Press International
JERUSALEM, June 21 (UPI) -- Israeli Druze leaders protested outside the offices of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Sunday, demanding recognition of their grievances, witnesses said. The Druze, a distinct Muslim minority prominent within the Israeli...
A farcical position on statehood - Institute for Middle East Understanding
Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu's speech this past week can only be classified as a failed public relations exercise, mainly because it catered just to the right-wing constituency that put him in the position he is in. To all others, without exception,...
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Says Two-State Solution ... - ABC News
By SIMON McGREGOR-WOOD It was billed as the speech of his political life, and it was one in which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu finally spoke of a Palestinian state, albeit one with very strict limits. Netanyahu expected to give speech outlining...
Text: Binyamin Netanyahu explains why impossible to limit ... - Independent Media Review Analysis (IMRA)
these rights and will also exercise them. And it doesn't matter if we agree to it or do not agree to it…. authority in its power to destroy the State of Israel. But it will interfere with us when we want to deny them these authorities....
Netanyahu's Lateness Spins Rumor Mill - Arutz Sheva
by Hillel Fendel ( Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office released a bogus statement saying he would miss Sunday's weekly Cabinet meeting, for reasons termed “private.” After a whirlwind of rumors, he showed up 10 minutes late - after...
Minister Ben-Eliezer urges PM Netanyahu to meet with Palestinian ... - Ynetnews
Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer lauded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policy speech during Sunday's cabinet meeting, but clarified that "its test is in its execution, because every day passing by is not on our side". The minister added that "the...
Barak: Better not to talk about Schalit - Jerusalem Post
He said that there was a drastic improvement for the better in the relationship between the Schalit family and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the new negotiator Hagai Hadas but that at the end of the day what was most important was results,...
Druse, Circassians protest in Jerusalem - Jerusalem Post
In light of the demonstration, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai met with a delegation of Druse and Circassian leaders, Army Radio reported. Police arrested three protesters after several people tried to break into the...

History of Likud

A truck canvassing for Likud in Jerusalem in advance of the 2006 election

This article covers the history of Likud party in Israel.

The Likud was formed by a merger of several right wing parties prior to the 1973 elections, including Gahal, the Free Centre, the National List and the Movement for Greater Israel; hence the name "Likud," as the merger represented the consolidation (in Hebrew, likud) of the Right in Israel. The Likud worked as a coalition of its factions led by Menachem Begin's Herut until 1988 when the factions formally dissolved and Likud became a unitary political party. From its establishment in 1973, Likud enjoyed great support from blue-collar Sephardim who felt discriminated against by the ruling Alignment.

The first Likud prime minister was Menachem Begin, who had led the party to victory in the 1977 elections, the first time the left-wing had lost power in Israel's political history. A former leader of the hard-line paramilitary Irgun, Begin helped initiate the peace process with Egypt, which resulted in the Camp David Accords and the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty.

The second premier was Yitzhak Shamir, who first became PM in October 1983 following Begin's resignation. Shamir, a former commander of the Lehi underground, served as a strong Israeli leader seen as more hard-line than Begin. Under his leadership, the Jews of Russia and Ethiopia were brought on aliyah to Israel and settlements flourished throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The third Likud premier was Binyamin Netanyahu, elected in May 1996, following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Netanyahu proved far less ideological than Begin and could not stand up to United States' pressure as firmly as Shamir had. Though critical of the Oslo accords and more hawkish than Rabin and Peres' Labour governments, like his rivals in the Labor party, Netanyahu negotiated with Yasser Arafat.

The fourth Likud premier was Ariel Sharon, elected March 2001, who resigned from both the Likud and as Prime Minister on 21 November 2005. Sharon served as defense minister during Operation Peace for the Galilee (1982), and was found by the Kahan Commission to be indirectly responsible for the Sabra and Shatila Massacre (16 September-18 September, 1982). Sharon was forced to resign as defense minister after the Kahan Commission issued its report, but he was allowed to remain in Begin's cabinet.

In 1998, after Binyamin Netanyahu ceded territory to the Palestinians in the Wye accords, several MKs split off from the Likud in an act of protest. Led by Benny Begin (Menachem Begin's son), Michael Kleiner and David Re'em, a new party named Herut – The National Movement was formed, gaining support from former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir (who had expressed harsh disappointment in Netanyahu's leadership).

In 2001, following Palestinian attacks during the al-Aqsa Intifada, Ehud Barak lost the elections to Likud leader Ariel Sharon. At the 2003 elections the Likud doubled its power, rising to 40 mandates (out of 120) and securing power jobs in the government, ministries, public institutes and state bureaucracy.

Sharon's entire tenure was marked by the Al-Aqsa Intifada and he ventured further away from the Likud's traditional values and association with the settler movement. In the summer of 2005, Sharon uprooted thousands of Jewish settlers from their homes in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank in order to withdraw from the territory.

Ariel Sharon's perceived leftward shift to the political center, especially in his execution of the Disengagement Plan, alienated him from some Likud supporters and fragmented the party. He faced several serious challenges to his authority shortly before his departure. The first was in March 2005, when he and Netanyahu proposed a budget plan which met fierce opposition, though it was eventually approved. The second was in September 2005, when Sharon's critics in Likud forced a vote on a proposal for an early leadership election, which was defeated by 52% to 48%. In October, Sharon's opponents within the Likud Knesset faction joined with the opposition to prevent the appointment of two of his associates to the Cabinet, demonstrating that Sharon had effectively lost control of the Knesset and that the 2006 budget was unlikely to pass.

The next month, Labor announced its withdrawal from Sharon's governing coalition following its election of the left wing Amir Peretz as leader. On 21 November 2005, Sharon announced he would be leaving Likud and forming a new centrist party, Kadima, and that elections would take place in early 2006. As of 21 November seven candidates had declared themselves as contenders to replace Sharon as leader: Netanyahu, Uzi Landau, Shaul Mofaz, Yisrael Katz, Silvan Shalom and Moshe Feiglin. Landau and Mofaz later withdrew, the former in favour of Netanyahu and the latter to join Kadima.

Netanyahu went on to win the Likud Party Chairman elections in December, obtaining 44.4% of the vote. Shalom came in a second with 33%, leading Netanyahu to guarantee him second place on the party's list of Knesset candidates. Shalom's perceived moderation on social and foreign-policy issues were considered to be an electoral asset. Observers noted that voter turnout in the elections was particularly low in comparison with past primaries, with less than 40 percent of the 128,000 party members casting ballots. There was much media focus on "far-right" candidate Moshe Feiglin achieving 12.4% of votes, who is the only candidate who aims to see Likud actually pursue the policies presented in its own official charter.

The founding of Kadima was a major challenge to the Likud's generation-long status as one of Israel's two major parties. Sharon's perceived centrist policies have drawn considerable popular support as reflected by public opinion polls. The Likud is now led by figures who oppose further unilateral evacuations, and its standing in the polls has suffered. After the founding of Kadima, Likud came to be seen as having more of a right-wing tendency than a moderate centre-right one. However there exist several parties in the knesset which are more right wing than the post-Ariel Sharon Likud.

Prior to the 2006 elections the party's Central Committee relinquished control of selecting the Knesset list to the 'rank and file' members at Netanyahu's behest. The aim was to improve the party's reputation, as the central committee had gained a reputation for corruption.

In the elections, the Likud vote collapsed in the face of the Kadima split. Other right-wing nationalist parties such as Yisrael Beiteinu gained votes, with Likud coming only fourth place in the popular vote, edging out Yisrael Beiteinu by only 116 votes. With only twelve seats, Likud is currently tied with the Shas for the status of third-largest party.

Likud is currently Israel's main opposition party with Binyamin Netanyahu Israel's Opposition Leader.

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Centre Party (Israel)

The Centre Party (Hebrew: מפלגת המרכז‎, Mifleget Hamerkaz), originally known as Israel in the Centre, was a short-lived political party in Israel. Formed in 1999 by former Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, the aim was to create a group of moderates to challenge both Binyamin Netanyahu on the right and opposition leader Ehud Barak's Labour Party on the left.

The party was established on 23 February 1999, towards the end of the 14th Knesset's term, by Mordechai, David Magen and Dan Meridor from Likud, Hagai Merom and Nissim Zvili of Labour, and Eliezer Sandberg of Tzomet. However, the most significant ally Mordechai had made was General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, the just-retired army Chief-of-Staff who had been his most bitter rival for that post in 1994.

It borrowed many of its themes from The Third Way, a group that split with the Labour Party in 1994 over rumours of negotiatons to return the Golan Heights. However, by 1999 The Third Way was a partner of the Likud government and had lost much of its public credit due to its small influence on Netanyahu. Mordechai, who was less hawkish than Netanyahu, wanted further progress in the Oslo Accords, and clashed with the prime minister and other members of his cabinet. Though few of the new party's positions were original, it was considered impossible for Mordechai to break with the Likud in any other way, as joining the Labour Party would mean taking the passenger seat to Ehud Barak, who was far more hated by Mordechai than Netanyahu.

The joining of Dan Meridor was one of the best events of the early days of the party. One of the Likud's younger and more professional members, Meridor had a solid record as minister of justice from 1988 until 1992, was the son of Irgun resistance member and later Knesset member Eliyahu Meridor, and was a civilian counterballance to Mordechai.

Prior to the 1999 elections the party changed its name to the Centre Party. Mordechai was also a candidate in the direct election for prime minister but dropped out before the ballot when it became clear that Ehud Barak was rapidly rising in the polls. In elections to the Knesset itself the Centre Party took roughly 5% of the vote, enough for 6 seats.

The party joined Ehud Barak's One Israel coalition alongside Shas, Meretz, the National Religious Party and Yisrael BaAliyah. Mordechai became Minister of Transport and Deputy Prime Minister, whilst Lipkin-Shahak became Minister of Tourism. Following Shas leaving the coaltion in August 2000, former mayor of Tel Aviv, Roni Milo, was made Minister of Health. However, Mordechai was brought down by a sex scandal from his years in the army, and resigned from the Knesset on 30 May, 2000; Lipkin-Shahak replaced him as Minister of Transport. Following Mordechai's resignation, the party began to disintegrate.

The perceived blandness of the Centre Party during the frenzied opposition campaign against Barak made it a dead duck in the Knesset, and soon its legislators began to desert, although Shahak would not resign from the cabinet, and the Centre Party was the only group that stayed the duration of the Barak government. Milo and former Likud member Yehiel Lasry defected back to Likud, and Rabin-Pelossof, Lipkin, and Uri Savir formed the New Way after Barak lost elections for prime minister to Ariel Sharon in 2001. By the end of the Knesset term only Meridor and Nehama Ronen remained in the faction and the party did not run in the 2003 elections.

When Mordechai campaigned in 1999 for prime minister, it was rightly believed that he would be the factor that would kill the chance of Netanyahu's reelection. It was not yet known whether the Center Party was simply a group of disgruntled Likud and Labour members, or were progressive ideologues of their parties. The worst problem they encountered was the ascendance of Shas, the Haredi pressure group that drew masses of Mizrahim that otherwise may have voted for Mordechai. Even at its height, the Center was only the fourth largest party in Barak's coalition, after Labour, Shas, and Meretz respectively. They also could not effectively counter Meretz's leftward slant that ultimately led to defection of more moderate allies in the coalition.

When the Sharon government came to power, Lipkin and his New Way broke with the Center and tried to be a part of the opposition, but had minimal effect against the broad coalition that included Likud, Labour, Shas, and numerous other parties across the spectrum. Both Meridor and Lipkin became disillusioned with politics by the time of the 2003 elections, and neither ran. Lipkin later joined the Labour Party in an internal role.

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Benjamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu with Yasser Arafat and Nabil Shaath at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 1997

Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu (Hebrew: בִּנְיָמִין "בִּיבִּי" נְתַנְיָהוּ (help·info), also Binyamin Netanyahu born 21 October 1949) is the current Prime Minister of Israel. He previously held the same position from June 1996 to July 1999.

Netanyahu is also Chairman of the Likud Party. Netanyahu is the first (and, to date, only) Israeli prime minister born after the State of Israel's foundation. Netanyahu was Foreign Minister (2002-2003) and Finance Minister (2003- August 2005) in Ariel Sharon's governments and left over disagreements regarding the Gaza Disengagement Plan. He retook the Likud leadership on 20 December 2005. In the election of 2006 Likud did poorly winning twelve seats and in December 2006, Netanyahu became the official Opposition Leader in the Knesset and Chairman of the Likud Party. In August 2007, he retained the Likud leadership by beating Moshe Feiglin in party elections. Following Israel's parliamentary elections of 10 February, 2009, where the Likud came in second and right wing parties won a majority, Netanyahu formed a coalition government.

Netanyahu was born in Tel Aviv, to Cela (Tsilah) (née Segal) and Benzion Netanyahu (original name Mileikowsky). His mother was born in 1912 in Petah Tikva, part of the future British Mandate of Palestine that would eventually become Israel. Though all his grandparents were born in Russia, his mother's parents emigrated to Minneapolis in the United States. Netanyahu's father is a former professor of Jewish history at Cornell University (although the elder Netanyahu has remained active into his 90s in research and writing), a former editor of the Hebrew Encyclopedia, and a former senior aide to Zeev Jabotinsky. When he was 14 years old, Netanyahu's family moved to the United States and settled in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, where he graduated from Cheltenham High School.

Netanyahu's older brother, Yonatan, was killed in Uganda during Operation Entebbe in 1976. His younger brother, Iddo, is a radiologist and writer. All three brothers served in the Sayeret Matkal reconnaissance unit of the Israeli Defense Force - Benjamin from 1967 to 1972 as a captain. He earned a B.S. degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1975, an M.S. degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1977, and studied political science at Harvard and MIT. After graduate school, Netanyahu worked at the Boston Consulting Group in Boston, Massachusetts and eventually returned to Israel.

Following a brief career as a furniture company's chief marketing officer, Netanyahu was appointed by Moshe Arens as his Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. in 1982. Subsequently, he became Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, serving from 1984 to 1988. He was elected to the Knesset in 1988 and served in the governments led by Yitzhak Shamir from 1988 to 1992. Shamir retired from politics shortly after Likud's defeat in the 1992 elections. In 1993, for the first time, the party held a primary election to select its leader, and Netanyahu was victorious, defeating Benny Begin, son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and veteran politician David Levy (Ariel Sharon initially sought Likud party leadership as well, but quickly withdrew when it was evident that he was attracting minimal support).

Netanyahu has authored several books including two on fighting terrorism. He has a daughter, Noa, from his first marriage to Micki Weizman. His second marriage was to Fleur Cates, who converted to Judaism though her father was a Jew. He is now married to his third wife, Sarah, with whom he has two sons: Yair and Avner.

In 1996 Israelis elected their Prime Minister directly for the first time. Netanyahu hired American Republican political operative Arthur Finkelstein to run his campaign, and although the American style of sound bites and sharp attacks elicited harsh criticism from inside Israel, it proved effective. (The method was later copied by Ehud Barak during the 1999 election campaign in which he beat Netanyahu.) Netanyahu won the election, surprising many by beating the pre-election favorite Shimon Peres. The main catalyst in the downfall of the latter was a wave of suicide bombings shortly before the elections; on 3 and 4 March 1996, Palestinians carried out two suicide bombings, killing 32 Israelis, with Peres seemingly unable to stop the attacks. Unlike Peres, Netanyahu did not trust Yasser Arafat and conditioned any progress at the peace process on the Palestinian Authority fulfilling its obligations - mainly fighting terrorism, and ran with the campaign slogan "Netanyahu - making a safe peace". However, although Netanyahu won the election for Prime Minister, Labor won the Knesset elections, beating the Likud-Gesher-Tzomet alliance, meaning Netanyahu had to rely on a coalition with the Ultra-orthodox parties, Shas and UTJ (whose social welfare policies flew in the face of his capitalistic outlook) in order to govern.

As Prime Minister, Netanyahu negotiated with Yasser Arafat in the form of the 1998 Wye River Accords. No progress was made regarding negotiations with the Palestinians, and although they failed to implement agreed-upon steps of the Oslo Accords, Netanyahu turned over most of Hebron to Palestinian jurisdiction. In 1996, Netanyahu and Jerusalem's mayor Ehud Olmert decided to open an exit for the Western Wall Tunnel. This sparked three days of rioting by Palestinians, resulting in both Israelis and Palestinians being killed.

As Prime Minister Netanyahu emphasized a policy of "three no(s)": no withdrawal from the Golan Heights, no discussion of the case of Jerusalem, no negotiations under any preconditions.

Netanyahu was opposed by the political left wing in Israel and also lost support from the right because of his concessions to the Palestinians in Hebron and elsewhere, and due to his negotiations with Arafat generally. After a long chain of scandals (including gossip regarding his marriage) and an investigation opened against him on charges of corruption (later acquitted), Netanyahu lost favor with the Israeli public.

After being defeated by Ehud Barak in the 1999 election for Prime Minister, Netanyahu temporarily retired from politics.

In 2001, Netanyahu missed the opportunity to return to power since he refused to run unless there were general elections, a move that facilitated Sharon's entry into the race for Prime Minister.

In 2002, after the Labor Party left the coalition and vacated the position of foreign minister, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appointed Netanyahu as Foreign Minister. Netanyahu challenged Sharon for the leadership of the Likud party, but failed to oust Sharon.

After the 2003 elections, Netanyahu accepted the post of Finance Minister in a newly formed Sharon coalition. Netanyahu did not support the concept of a future Palestinian state, though on two occasions in 2001, he indicated willingness to consider the idea.

As Finance Minister, Netanyahu undertook an economic plan in order to restore Israel's economy from its low point during the al-Aqsa Intifada. The plan involved a move toward more liberalized markets, although it was not without its critics. Netanyahu succeeded in passing several long-in-the-queue reforms, including an important reform in the banking system. However, opponents in the Labor party (and a few even with his own Likud) viewed Netanyahu's policies as "Thatcherite" attacks on the venerated Israeli social safety net. Likud's defeat in the 2006 elections is seen by many observers as a collective Israeli rejection of these policies.

Netanyahu threatened to resign in 2004 unless the Gaza pullout plan was put to a referendum, but later lifted the ultimatum and voted for the program in the Knesset. He submitted his resignation letter on 7 August 2005, shortly before the Israeli cabinet voted 17 to 5 to approve the initial phase of withdrawal from Gaza. Netanyahu's resignation went into effect 9 August 2005, two days after he submitted his letter. Shortly thereafter he said he had rejected an invitation to serve as Italy's finance minister, allegedly extended to him by Italian billionaire businessman Carlo De Benedetti, who later said it was a joke.

Following the withdrawal of Ariel Sharon from the Likud, Netanyahu was one of several candidates who vied for the Likud leadership. His most recent attempt prior to this was in September 2005 when he tried to hold early primaries for the position of the head of the Likud party, while the party held the office of Prime Minister - thus effectively pushing Ariel Sharon out of office. The party rejected this initiative. Netanyahu retook the leadership on 20 December 2005, with 47% of the primary vote. In the March 2006 Knesset elections, Likud took the third place behind Kadima and Labor and Netanyahu served as Leader of the Opposition.

Following Livni's election to head Kadima and Olmert's resignation from the prime minister post, Netanyahu declined to join the coalition Livni was trying to form and preferred new elections, which were held in February 2009.

Netanyahu was the Likud's candidate for Prime Minister in the Israeli elections that took place on 10 February 2009, as Tzipi Livni, the previous Designated Acting Prime Minister under the Olmert government, had been unable to form a viable governing coalition. During the race, Netanyahu's campaign website was noted for its strong resemblance to that used the previous year by United States President Barack Obama to reach his supporters during his campaign, including colors, fonts, icons, the use of embedded video, and social networking options such as Twitter. Opinion polls showed Likud in the lead, but with as many as a third of Israeli voters undecided. In the election itself, Likud won the second highest number of seats, Livni's party having outnumbered the Likud by one seat. A possible explanation for Likud's relatively poor showing is that some Likud supporters defected to Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party. Netanyahu, however, claimed victory on the basis that right wing parties won the majority of the vote, and on 20 February 2009, Netanyahu was designated by Israeli President Shimon Peres to succeed Ehud Olmert as Prime Minister, and began his negotiations to form a coalition government.

Despite right wing parties winning a majority of 65 seats in the Knesset, Netanyahu preferred a broader centrist coalition and turned to his Kadima rivals, chaired by Tzipi Livni, to join his government. This time it was Livni's turn to decline to join, with a difference of opinion on how to pursue the peace process being the stumbling block. Netanyahu did manage to entice a smaller rival, the Labour party, chaired by Ehud Barak, to join his government, giving him a certain amount of centrist tone.

Netayahu presented his cabinet for a Knesset "Vote of Confidence" on 31 March 2009. The 32nd Government was approved that day by a majority of 69 lawmakers and the members were sworn in.

Upon the arrival of the Obama administration's special envoy, George Mitchell, Netanyahu has said that any furtherance of negotiations with the Palestinians will be conditioned with Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, as this issue have not been clearly raised and the Palestinian position was to have a two state solution with no Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories, and on the other hand, refusing to agree not to have Palestinian refugees on the Jewish state's territories.

Netanyahu has called U.S. backed peace talks a waste of time while at the same time refusing to commit to the same two state solution that other Israeli leaders have. He has repeatedly made public statements which advocated an "economic peace" approach, meaning an approach based on economic cooperation and joint effort rather than continuous contention over political and diplomatic issues. This is in line with many significant ideas from the Peace Valley plan. He raised these ideas during discussions with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Netanyahu continued to advocate these ideas as the Israeli elections got nearer.

Strongly against Iran's pursuit of uranium enrichment, Netanyahu said "It’s 1938, and Iran is Germany, and Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs”. In an 8 March 2007 interview with CNN, he asserted that there is only one difference between Nazi Germany and the Islamic Republic of Iran, namely that the first entered a worldwide conflict and then sought atomic weapons, while the latter is first seeking atomic weapons and, once it has them, will then start a world war.

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Israeli legislative election, 2006

Coat of arms of Israel.svg

Elections for the 17th Knesset were held in Israel on 28 March 2006. The voting resulted in a plurality of seats for the then-new Kadima party, followed by the Labour Party, and a major loss for the Likud party.

After the election, the government was formed by the Kadima, Labour, Shas, and Gil parties, with the Yisrael Beiteinu party joining the government later. The Prime Minister was Ehud Olmert, leader of Kadima, who had been the acting prime minister going into the election.

In the 2003 elections, Likud, under the leadership of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, had a convincing win by Israeli standards, winning 38 seats in the 120-member Knesset (parliament), with Sharon perceived as tough anti-terrorist leader on the wings of his 2002 Operation Defensive Shield. Labour, led by Amram Mitzna under slogans for "disengagement" from Gaza, won only 19 seats and did not initially join the new government.

Following the 2003 elections Likud suffered severe divisions over several positions taken by Sharon, most notably his adoption of a plan to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip. This was exactly the position taken by Labour and denounced as being defeatist by Sharon prior to the 2003 elections, so it caused tension within the Likud party and in January 2005 Shimon Peres led Labour into a coalition with Sharon to allow the Gaza withdrawal to proceed despite opposition from a majority of Likud members.

As of the fall of 2005, Peres's Labour Party was providing the votes necessary for the Likud-led 30th Government to maintain its majority support in the Knesset. In Labour's internal leadership election scheduled for early November, Amir Peretz campaigned for the party leadership on a platform that included withdrawing Labor from the Sharon-led coalition. Peretz narrowly defeated Peres in the leadership election on November 9, 2005, and two days later all Labor ministers resigned from the Cabinet and Labour withdrew its support for the Government, leaving it without majority support in the Knesset.

The impending elections raised the prospect of a leadership election within Likud, with former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expected to challenge Sharon for the party leadership. In late November, Sharon and a number of other Likud ministers and Knesset members announced that they were leaving Likud to form a new, more centrist party, which was eventually named Kadima. The formation of Kadima turned the election into a three-way race among the new party, Labor and Likud, marking a shift from Israel's tradition of elections dominated by two major parties.

Although Kadima was formed primarily of former Likud members, Peres (having lost the Labor leadership election to Peretz) also announced his support for the new party, and later officially left Labor. Peres cited Sharon's leadership skills as a reason for his party switch.

Polls taken through the end of 2005 showed Sharon's Kadima Party enjoying a commanding lead over both Labor and Likud.

Sharon, as founder of Kadima and incumbent Prime Minister, was universally expected to lead the new party into the March 2006 election. However, on 4 January 2006, Sharon suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, leaving him in a coma. On 31 January 2006, Kadima submitted its list of candidates, with Sharon excluded from the list due to his inability to sign the necessary documents to be a candidate. Ehud Olmert who had become Acting Prime Minister and acting chairman of Kadima when Sharon became incapacitated, now officially became the new party's candidate for Prime Minister. Peres was placed second on Labor's list of candidates. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was placed third on the Kadima list, with the understanding that she would be the senior Vice Premier if Kadima formed the next government.

In the Shinui primaries, Tel Aviv council member Ron Levintal defeated Avraham Poraz for the number 2 spot. Poraz, a close ally of party leader Yosef Lapid, subsequently resigned from Shinui, as did most Shinui Knesset members, forming a breakaway party called Hetz (ha-Miflaga ha-Hilonit Tzionit or 'the Secular Zionist Party'). Lapid resigned as party leader on 25 January 2006, and Leventhal was subsequently elected the new party leader. Neither Shinui nor Hetz received sufficient votes to win any seats in the 17th Knesset. Shinui had won 15 seats in the 2003 election and was the third largest party in the 16th Knesset.

On 30 January 2006 the right-wing National Union (Halchud HaLeumi), a coalition of three small parties (Moledet, Tkuma, Tzionut Datit Leumit Mitchadeshet), submitted a joint list with the National Religious Party. The merged list is headed by Binyamin Elon. The largely Russian immigrant Israel Beytenu (Israel Our Home) party has separated from National Union and is running a separate list.

This separation occurred following polls that predicted that, when running separately, these two major rightist blocs would receive between 20 to 25 seats (in the previous elections, they had received only 7), and it turned out to be true: the National Union bloc received 9 seats and Israel Beytenu received 11.

Likud selected Netanyahu as its leader, over then-Defense Minister Silvan Shalom. At Netanyahu's insistence, Shalom and the other remaining Likud ministers resigned from the Olmert-led government in January 2006.

Polls conducted from January through March showed Kadima still enjoying a substantial lead, though somewhat reduced from polls taken under Sharon's leadership.

During the al-Aqsa Intifada, more than a thousand Israelis were killed in Palestinian militant attacks. Israel's security policy during that time was focused on arresting or killing members of the militant organizations, through frequent military excursions into the Palestinian territories and (somewhat controversially) targeted assassinations, and to curb the movement of suspected militants - especially would-be suicide bombers - through the use of checkpoints. This policy won the support of the Jewish mainstream, but elements in the Jewish left, as well as the vast majority of the Arab population, vehemently opposed what they saw as excessive response to the security threat. Some claimed that Israel's policy was in fact encouraging more violence from the Palestinian side. Despite the decrease in violence during 2005 and 2006, or perhaps because of it, popular support for the security policy remained high among the Israeli public, which continued to fear suicide bombings and Qassam rocket attacks.

During the 2006 electoral campaign, the center and right parties vowed to continue the relentless fight against the Palestinian militants. Even Labor, which was traditionally known for its dovish views, put "combating terrorism" at the top of its agenda on the Conflict. Opposition to the current security policy, especially the use of targeted assassinations and the existence of checkpoints on Palestinian soil, comes mainly from Jewish left parties such as Meretz and from the Arab parties.

In the wake of the disengagement plan, the political field in Israel split into two roughly distinct groups: those who are in favor of withdrawing from most or all of the West Bank (unofficially nicknamed "Blues"), and those who wish for that area to remain under Israeli control (so-called "Orange"). In particular, Ariel Sharon and his faction left Likud to form Kadima because of their support of ending Israeli control over the West Bank. However, the two groups are also divided internally as to what practical steps need to be taken during the next few years.

Since Israel's establishment, the political scene has been dominated by security and peace issues. The major parties were mainly divided by the different approaches with regard to the Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.

The 2006 elections mark the first time a major party - the Labor Party - has placed economic and social issues on top of its agenda. This is mainly attributed to Amir Peretz's surprise victory over Shimon Peres in the November 2005 Labour leadership election; Peretz had left the party a few years earlier to form the socialist One Nation, which had only recently merged into Labour.

In addition to Labor, the orthodox religious Shas, which has always claimed to champion the poor in Israeli society, also attacked Netanyahu's policies during the campaign, as did a number of small (and often new) socialist parties.

From 1948 to 2003, religious parties played a part in every coalition formed in Israel. Zionist religious parties focused on maintaining the balance between observants and seculars in issues such as education, Kashrut, keeping the Sabbath and matrimonial law, while Haredi parties demanded funds for religious scholars and the continued exemption of their followers from military service (decided on by David Ben Gurion in 1951.) All of this alienated many secular Israelis, who felt their personal freedoms were being infringed upon and that they were unfairly carrying most of the burden. This led to the rise of Shinui, which at the 2003 elections won 15 out of 120 seats and joined Ariel Sharon's coalition. Shinui failed in making significant changes to the status quo on religious issues, and quit the government in 2005 after Sharon decided to transfer funds to the orthodox United Torah Judaism party. An internal quarrel caused most Knesset members from Shinui to form a new party (Hetz); both parties ran in the 2006 elections, although neither of them received any mandates.

The various religious parties, both Zionist (National Religious Party) and Haredi (Shas, United Torah Judaism) strictly oppose these changes. They wish to see Israel's Jewish character strengthened through further enforcement of the Sabbath and changes in the educational system.

Israeli Arabs constitute roughly 20% of the population in Israel. Many Israeli Arab groups claim continued institutional and social discrimination against them in Israel. Because they are not Jews and many identify ethnically with Palestinians their identity often clashes with their citizenship in the Jewish state. There are large disparities in general living standard and education between Israeli Arabs and the non-Arab Israeli population; they also have a lower participation rate in the workforce. Discrimination and a lower proportion of females in the workforce are often cited as reasons for this. See Israeli Arab.

The Arab parties, the largest of which are the United Arab List, Balad and Hadash (a Jewish-Arab communist party, with mostly Arab composition and electorate), advocate abolition of all forms of ethnic inequality, and the establishment of a democratic bi-national state.

Elections to the Knesset allocate 120 seats by party-list proportional representation, using the d'Hondt method. The election threshold for the 2006 election was set at 2% (up from 1.5% in previous elections), which is a little over two seats.

After official results are published, the President of Israel delegates the task of forming a government to the Member of Knesset with the best chance of assembling a majority coalition (usually the leader of the largest party.) That designee has up to 42 days to negotiate with the different parties, and then present his government to the Knesset for a vote of confidence. Once the government is approved (by a vote of at least 61 members), he/she becomes Prime Minister.

Note: traditional left-right divisions in Israel are different than in most countries, being mostly based on the different positions with regard to security and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. For example, the left-wing Meretz-Yachad mainly advocates negotiations with the Palestinians along the lines of the Geneva Initiative, while the right-wing National Union is opposed to any territorial concessions, yet both parties have strong histories of tabling social/welfare laws.

Numbers in the table below are seats, out of a total of 120, as predicted by opinion polls prior to the election.

As the electoral threshold stands at 2%, it is impossible for a party to receive only one seat in the Knesset.

Note: Most Israeli pollsters lump the "Arab" parties together, so that the listed number is the total number of seats that the three main Arab lists (Raam, Balad, Hadash) are expected to obtain. In the event that one or more of the three lists does not pass the 2% threshold, the representation of these parties will be one to three fewer seats than listed by the polls.

1 National Union and Yisrael Beiteinu together have 7 seats.

1 14 Knesset members joined Kadima in November 2005, 13 of them from Likud. 2 One Nation (3 Knesset members) merged with Labour (19 Knesset members) in 2004. 3 Israel Ba-Aliya (2 Knesset members) merged with Likud (38 Knesset members) in 2003, 13 MKs split and joined Kadima in 2005. 4 Israel Beytenu (3 Knesset members) split from the National Union (7 Knesset members) in 2003. 5 National Religious Party (6 Knesset members) joined the National Union (4 Knesset members after the split 4) prior to the election. 6 9 Knesset members split from Shinui and joined Hetz prior to the elections. 7 Only 2 Knesset members were left from the original faction after the split6 prior to the elections.

The turnout was the lowest in Israeli legislative election history, 63.6% of eligible voters, compared to 68.9% in 2003 and 78.7% in 1999. The turnout of 62.5% in 2001 prime-ministerial election is the lowest in nationwide elections.

On 2 April both Gil and Meretz recommended to Katzav that Olmert become Prime Minister. The next day, at a joint appearance, Olmert and Peretz announced that Kadima and Labor would be coalition partners and that Peretz would advise the President to tap Olmert as Prime Minister.

On 6 April President Katzav formally asked Olmert to form a government officially making him Prime Minister-designate. A coalition government was formed consisting of Kadima, Labour, Shas and Gil. Olmert refused to accede to Peretz's demands for the Finance ministry, who was forced to accept the Defense ministry instead.

In October 2006 with the coalition shaken after the 2006 Lebanon War, Olmert brought the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu into government as well. However, they left the coalition in January 2008 in protest at peace talks with the Palestinian National Authority.

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Israeli prime ministerial election, 1996

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The first ever election for Prime Minister was held in Israel on 29 May 1996 alongside simultaneous Knesset elections. There were only two candidates, Shimon Peres of the Labour Party and Binyamin Netanyahu of Likud. The result was a surprise win for Netanyahu by just 29,000 votes, less than 1% of the total number of votes cast. This came after the initial exit polls had predicted a Peres win, spawning the phrase "went to sleep with Peres, woke up with Netanyahu." The election was Peres' fourth and last election defeat.

The election was a result of a change in the law during the thirteenth Knesset which was intended to strengthen the position Prime Minister given the Knesset's fragmentary nature.

After taking over from Yitzhak Rabin following his assassination, Peres decided to call early elections in order to give the government a mandate to advance the peace process.

Netanyahu's campaign was helped by Australian mining magnate Joseph Gutnick, who donated over $1 million to Likud.

Nevertheless, Labour and Peres were comfortably ahead in the polls early in 1996, holding a lead of 20%. However, the country was hit by a spate of suicide attacks by Hamas including the Jerusalem bus 18 massacres and other attacks in Ashkelon and the Dizengoff Center, which killed 59 people and severely damaged Peres' chances; polls taken in mid-May showed Peres ahead by just 4-6%, whilst two days before the election his lead was down to 2%.

In addition to the 2,972,589 valid votes, there were 148,681 invalid votes.

Netanyahu's win was bolstered by large support from the ultra-orthodox community, 91.2% of whom voted for him. Peres on the other hand, gained overwhelming support from the country's Arab community, 97.5% of which backed him.

Despite winning the election for Prime Minister, Netanyahu's Likud (in an alliance with Gesher and Tzomet) lost the Knesset elections to Labour, winning only 32 seats compared to Labour's 34.

The objective of strengthening the position of Prime Minister by having separate elections was also a failure, as the election saw both major parties lose around ten seats compared to the 1992 election (Likud held only 24 of the 32 seats it won in its alliance) as many gave their Knesset votes to smaller parties; Labour received 818,570 votes to Peres' 1.47 million, (56%), whilst the Likud-Gesher-Tzomet alliance managed even less - 767,178 compared to 1.50 million for Netanyahu (51%).

With only 32 seats, the Likud-Gesher-Tzomet alliance was, at the time, the smallest governing party in Israeli political history (the previous lowest had been Mapai's 40 seats in the 1955 election; since then, the 2006 elections saw Kadima emerge as the largest party with just 29 seats). This meant Netanyahu had to form a coalition with several smaller parties, including the ultra-orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism whose financial policies (generous child benefits and state funding for religious activities) were in direct opposition to his capitalistic outlook.

After several defections from his party, Netanyahu was forced to call early elections in 1999.

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Source : Wikipedia