Israeli Political Parties

    Here is a look at the main Israeli political parties that will contest an early parliamentary election in January or February next year. The parties will compete for 120 seats in Israel's single-chamber national assembly, called the Knesset. The seats will be allocated by proportional representation to party lists that win a minimum of two percent of the national vote.

    LIKUD (The Consolidation)
    * Nationalist, conservative party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
    * It holds 27 seats in Israel's outgoing 66-seat ruling coalition of nationalist, centrist and religious parties
    * Polls indicate it is likely to maintain its strength and become the largest party in the next Knesset
    * Its ruling coalition has largely shielded Israel's economy from the global financial crisis
    * It accepts the idea of a Palestinian state
    * It insists on an Israeli right to develop Jewish settlements on occupied land claimed by Palestinians
    * It refuses to rule out a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear sites if Tehran produces weapons-grade uranium

    LABOR
    * Center-left opposition party led by former journalist Shelly Yachimovich
    * Leaders of the party and its precursors led all governments from Israel's independence in 1948 to 1977
    * It holds only 8 seats in the outgoing Knesset, but polls suggest it will rebound to become the second largest faction
    * It quit Netanyahu's government in 2011
    * It wants to reduce Israel's large economic gaps between rich and poor and create a more 'just' society
    * It takes a more conciliatory approach than Likud toward seeking peace with the Palestinians

    YISRAEL BEITENU (Israel Our Home)
    * Ultranationalist, secular party led by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman
    * It is the second largest party in the outgoing government, holding 15 seats
    * It draws much of its support from Israeli immigrants from the former Soviet Union
    * It often has taken a tougher line than Likud on the stalled peace process with the Palestinians

    SHAS (Sfarad's Guards of the Torah)
    * Ultra-Orthodox religious party founded by Sephardi Jews of Middle Eastern origin
    * It holds 11 seats in the outgoing Likud-led government
    * It seeks to devote more public funds to the social welfare needs of observant Sephardi Jews
    * Its supporters tend to be hawkish on security issues

    YESH ATID (There is a Future)
    * New centrist, secular party established this year by Yair Lapid, a popular TV personality
    * It advocates changing Israel's political system of often short-lived, fractious coalition governments
    * Polls indicate it will win at least several seats in the Knesset

    KADIMA (Forward)
    * Centrist opposition party led by Shaul Mofaz, former military chief of staff
    * It is the largest party in the outgoing Knesset, with 28 seats, and leads the opposition
    * It joined the ruling coalition in May this year, but pulled out in July
    * Mofaz quit in protest at Netanyahu's refusal to support a proposed law requiring ultra-Orthodox Jews to perform military service
    * Mofaz advocates creating a Palestinian state through land swaps, ceding Israeli territory in return for annexing Jewish settlements
    * Mofaz accuses Netanyahu of trying to lead Israel toward an irresponsible, unilateral war with Iran
    * Polls suggest the party will fare poorly in the next election due to Mofaz's reputation for changing positions

    ATZMAUT (Independence)
    * Center-left party founded by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak
    * Its members split from Labor in 2011 and joined Netanyahu's government as a separate faction with 5 seats
    * Barak, a former prime minister, has been a close ally of Netanyahu
    * Barak-Netanyahu relationship has become strained due to recent differences in how to seek U.S. support for Israel's Iran strategy

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