Several million Israelis go to the polls today facing what to many may appear to be a bewildering array of choices.
Outside of Israel, the question on most people’s minds will be how a new government may address the conflict with Palestine, and their country's illegal settlements. As things stand, the answer seems likely to be “much the same as the last one”.
Many Israelis believe the West Bank is theirs by right and the settlements are illegal only in the eyes of the rest of the world, which should frankly mind its own business. And this is reflected in their political parties, who may differ on domestic policies, but offer no real solutions.
As the writer Gideon Levy has pointed out, the occupation is the "elephant in the room, but Israel believes that if nobody talks about it, the elephant does not exist". So, what are the parties actually offering?
Netanyahu announced yesterday that if he is PM there will be no Palestinian state. This will have come as a surprise to absolutely no-one, as his rhetoric was always countered with ever more settlements, and statelessness for the occupied territories. He repeatedly states that Jerusalem will never be divided.
However, is speech to the US Congress last week, effectively urging at attack on Iran, may have earned him standing ovations in the Republican-dominated House in Washington, but no additional votes at home. In Tel Aviv people are more concerned about the cost of housing and household goods – including food – than a threat that doesn't even exist yet.
The main Opposition is officially committed to a two-state solution that would have the support of the Arab world. But its leader Isaac Herzog will go no further than calling for “freezing” building in isolated settlements to halt Israel’s isolation in the international arena and to allow for the conclusion of a final-status agreement with the Palestinians.
What's more, his political partner, Tzipi Livni, criticised Netanyahu over last summer’s assault on Gaza – which left 550 children dead – for striking a ceasefire with Hamas.
BAYIT YEHUDI (Jewish Home)
This party boasts Ayelet Shaked, who called for Arab children to be killed before they grow up to be terrorists. She is at the top of its candidates list.
Its leader Naftali Bennett also is opposed to a two-state solution west of the Jordan River. Known for his violent rhetoric, he has called for the immediate annexation of the area of the West Bank, where some 350,000 Israelis live in all existing settlements, granting Israeli citizenship to what it estimates are 50,000 Palestinians. He also wants Gaza to be cut off from the West Bank and be solely connected to Egypt, which would be disastrous for the 1.8m people living there.
Israel’s next PM: Herzog's rival candidates
Israel’s next PM: Herzog's rival candidates
1/4 Benjamin Netanyahu
Seeking a fourth term, the 65-year-old has made security a main issue. His policy of settlement-building on occupied land has put him at loggerheads with many of Israel’s traditional allies. But he is still seen as the person most likely to cobble together a coalition on the right.
2/4 Tzipi Livni
Sacked by Mr Netanyahu in December after cabinet infighting, Ms Livni, a centrist who served as Justice Minister and chief peace negotiator, seemed destined for the political wilderness until she struck the partnership deal with Isaac Herzog. A leading advocate of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, the 56-year-old has pledged to seek ways to resume peace talks.
3/4 Yair Lapid
Mr Lapid, 51, was the rising star of Israeli politics in the 2013 election. His centrist Yesh Atid party came second behind Mr Netanyahu’s Likud. As a result, Mr Netanyahu appointed him Finance Minister. Fired amid the government squabbling in December, Mr Lapid is a potential kingmaker, predicted to win 12 seats.
4/4 Ayman Odeh
The Arab Israeli lawyer heads the Joint Arab List and is gaining momentum. It is the first time Israel’s four Arab parties have united and they are predicted to win around 13 seats. Mr Odeh, 40, from Haifa, advocates an Arab-Jewish “alliance of the disadvantaged”. He has said his party would not join any government.
YESH ATID (There is a Future)
Despite being the biggest hope of the 2012 elections, Yesh Atid has been a let down. It believes in a two-state solution – but subject to a unified Jerusalem and retention of the main West Bank settlement blocs, which will be unacceptable to the Palestinians. A call for the immediate halt to settlement building outside the settlement blocs during negotiations with the Palestinians will not help.
KULANU (All of Us)
The biggest hope of the elections this time round is led by a former Likud minister, Moshe Kahlon. Campaigning mainly on economic issues, Kahlon will also insist the existing settlement blocs and Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem remain a part of Israel’s final borders in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians. So no change there.
YISRAEL BEYTENU (Israel Our Home)
This party, led by the Israeli Foreign Secretary Avigdor Liberman, was formed to attract the influx of Russian immigrants in the 1980s. They've been having a rocky time recently. Having seen his senior colleagues indicted for fraud and his vote disappearing, Liberman recently called for Palestinian prisoners to be beheaded.
The only genuinely left-wing party, Meretz want a regional peace plan based on the 2002 Arab League peace initiative, that would include an agreed-upon solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees. It would also be based on the return to the pre-1967 borders with limited territorial swaps that would preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state.
The Gaza Strip would be an integral part of a Palestinian state. Jerusalem would be a unified urban space politically divided into the capitals for the Israeli and Palestinian states. Leader Zehava Gal-On wants the UN Security Council to recognize Palestine as a state and accept it as a member state.
Meretz members are regularly vilified in Israel and labelled “Arab-loving lefty traitors”.
JOINT (Arab) LIST
Standing together for the first time, the Joint List represents 20 per cent of Israeli citizens who are not Jewish. Its leader supports a two-state solution, a return to the pre-1967 borders, removal of all West Bank settlements and the concrete separation wall. Leader Ayman Odeh wants Jerusalem to become the capital of Palestine as well as Israel. The number of seats it expects to win will make it impossible to ignore, however much the established parties will want to.
Whatever the results, the next few days and weeks will see frantic horsetrading and bizarre bazaar-type deals. The Arabs will be ruled out by both main parties as coalition partners but may this time be able to prevent the most extreme right formulations to emerge under Netanyahu.
Even though they seem like a better alternative, hopes of a party that will actually put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people should not rest on a Herzog-led regime: the name Zionist Union suggests otherwise, as the does the prospect of another snap election if a majority coalition cannot be cobbled together.Reuse content