The 1999 Israeli Elections: A Primer
Rule

On May 17, Israelis go to the polls to elect a Prime Minister and the members of the 15th Knesset, Israeli Parliament. Already the 1999 elections are remarkable for the unprecedented number of parties running for Knesset - 32 - up from 21 in 1996. There are also five candidates vying for the prime ministership, including the first Israeli Arab candidate, compared with only two candidates running for Prime Minister in 1996. If all the candidates stay in the race for the May 17 ballot, a run-off vote for Prime Minister is expected to be held for the first time. If necessary, this second round of voting will be held on June 1. Finally, this campaign is significant for the emphasis the parties are placing on attracting the Russian vote. Each of the major parties and prime ministerial candidates is wooing Russian voters with a greater intensity than ever before, changing the message and tenor of the campaign.

  1. Election Procedure
  2. Prime Ministerial Elections
  3. Knesset Elections
  4. The Issues
  5. Online Election Information

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Rule
Election Procedure

As in the 1996 election, voters will have two ballots on May 17 - one for the direct election of the Prime Minister, and the other for the Knesset. This system is the result of the 1992 election law that created a hybrid parliamentary/ presidential structure.

The authors of the new election law intended to reduce the power of the small political parties who had previously wielded extraordinary influence over larger parties seeking to build governing coalitions. It was believed that the direct election of the Prime Minister would mitigate this situation. Ironically, 1996 elections revealed that the new law had exactly the opposite effect. Having voted for a Prime Minister from a major party, voters felt free to choose Knesset representation from the smaller parties with more narrow agendas. In fact, the new election law served to increase the influence of the smaller parties as the Prime Minister sought to woo them into his coalition in the weeks after the May 1996 election.

Technically, these elections are being held eighteen months early. In January 1999, Prime Minister Netanyahu initiated a dissolution of the 14th Knesset and early general elections.

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Rule
Prime Ministerial Elections

Procedure:

Israelis will vote directly for Prime Minister on a ballot which lists only the candidate's name, not his party affiliation. Any party may nominate a candidate for Prime Minister if it currently holds at least 10 seats in the Knesset or if the candidate is nominated by a petition of 50,000 eligible voters.

The Prime Minister must be elected by over 50 percent of the popular vote. If no candidate wins over half of the vote, within 14 days a run-off election must be held between the two candidates who received the most votes. In this second round, whoever gets the most votes becomes Prime Minister.

Within 45 days of the election, the Prime Minister-elect must form a coalition of at least 61 Members of Knesset, a list of cabinet ministers and a policy platform and submit it to the Knesset. The Prime Minister may appoint between eight and 18 ministers, of which at least half are Knesset members. The Prime Minister's new government must then pass a vote of confidence by the Knesset. Should the Knesset not approve the government, new elections for both Knesset and Prime Minister must be held.

The Candidates:

In 1999, five candidates are running for Prime Minister. The key challengers to incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are Labor Party chief Ehud Barak, running for the coalition One Israel list, and Yitzhak Mordechai, the leader of the newly established Center Party and Netanyahu's former Defense Minister. The two long-shot candidates are Benny Begin, former Likud member and Netanyahu government Minister of Science, who heads the newly formed rightist Herut Party and who is running for the coalition National Union list, and Azmi Bishara of the Balad Party (Arab National-Liberal), a former lecturer at the Department of Philosophy in Bir-Zeit University. There is great speculation that Mordechai and Begin may withdraw their candidacy for Prime Minister shortly before May 17.

It is expected that if each of the five candidates remains in the race until election day, none will reach the necessary 50 percent mark. If so, a second round of voting will be held on June 1 - the first such run-off in Israeli electoral history. There is much discussion on how voters will react to a second round: Will they turn out to vote for the second time in two weeks? Will voters for the candidates who did not make it to the second round be influenced by their candidate's endorsement for the run-off?

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Rule
Knesset Elections

Procedure:

Israeli voters vote for the party list, not for particular candidates for the Knesset. Parties represented in the current Knesset can automatically run for re-election. Other parties become eligible through a petition of 2,500 eligible voters. A party cannot register if it rejects the Jewish and democratic nature of the State of Israel, incites racism, or there is reason to believe it will function as a cover for illegal activities. Each political party presents a list with a rank of candidates for the Knesset determined through their own internal procedure.

Following the election, the allocation of the 120 Knesset seats is determined according to the party's percentage of the vote. A minimum of 1.5 percent of the total vote is required for a party to be allocated one Knesset seat.

The Parties:

An unprecedented 32 parties have registered to participate in the upcoming elections, representing almost every possible sector within Israeli society. Familiar parties such as Likud, the religious-nationalist National Religious Party (NRP), the left-wing Meretz, Aryeh Deri's Orthodox Sephardic, Shas Party, the Communist Hadash Party, the Arab, Balad and United Arab List parties and the ultra-Orthodox, United Torah Judaism are running.

Parties newly formed for the 1996 elections, such as the anti-Golan withdrawal Third Way and Natan Sharansky's pro-Russian immigrant Yisrael B'Aliyah are also running in this campaign.

A number of parties have joined together to run on one ticket. Labor has joined with David Levy's Sephardic, Gesher Party and the moderate modern Orthodox Meimad Party, to run as the One Israel list. Benny Begin's new party, Herut, joined with the established ultra-right Moledet and Tekuma parties as the National Union list.

There are a striking number of new parties running for the 15th Knesset. These include Yitzhak Mordechai's highly touted Center Party and Netanyahu protégé Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu Party (Israel Our Home) which is competing with Natan Sharansky's party for the Russian vote. Model-turned-business woman Pnina Rosenblum is heading her eponymous party.

A variety of new, single-issue parties round out the Knesset challengers. These include parties championing secular rights, the environment, men's rights, pensioners, Romanian immigrants, gambling and the protection of the Negev.

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Rule
The Issues*

*Issue information from party platforms (where available), candidate statements and traditional parties' positions.
LIKUD/NETANYAHU ONE ISRAEL/BARAK CENTER/MORDECHAI
Peace Process:
Continue peace process with Palestinians including final status negotiations based on principle of reciprocity. No implementation if lack of Palestinian compliance. Pursue renewed negotiations with Syria based on principle of "no preconditions." Territorial compromise on the Golan Heights.
Peace Process:
Israel faces great danger with stalled peace process. Pursue negotiations. Implement Wye Agree-ment. Move forward on final status negotiations. Any final status agreement must first be approved by the Israeli public in a referendum. Vigorously pursue renewed negotiations with Syria. Territorial compromise on the Golan Heights.
Peace Process:
Israel faces great danger with stalled peace process. Pursue negotiations. Implement Wye Agree-ment. Move forward on final status negotiations. Vigorously pursue renewed negotiations with Syria. Territorial compromise on the Golan Heights.
Jerusalem:
Jerusalem shall remain the eternal and undivided capital of Israel.
Jerusalem:
Jerusalem shall remain the eternal and undivided capital of Israel.
Jerusalem:
Jerusalem shall remain the eternal and undivided capital of Israel.
Lebanon:
Consultation on withdrawal from Southern Lebanon.
Lebanon:
Phased withdrawal from Southern Lebanon within one year.
Lebanon:
Initiate negotiations with Syria for full withdrawal from Southern Lebanon.
Religion and State:
Support for status quo agreement. Any government must include religious parties.
Religion and State:
Create new relationship between religious and secular. Mandatory military service for all Israeli citizens, including ultra-Orthodox.
Religion and State:
Maintain status quo while bringing together all elements of Israeli society. Seek consensus solutions to difficult issues.
Social Policy:
Education from age 3. Promote full employment. Basic social service for all.
Social Policy:
Education from age 3. Creation of new jobs to reduce unemployment.
Social Policy:
Provide health care, education from age 3 and social services for all.
Economic Policy:
Free market economy. Privatization. Expand foreign trade.

Economic Policy:
Privatization. Normalize foreign relations to promote greater foreign trade and investment.

Economic Policy:
Promote modern market economy with less government involvement.

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Rule
Online Election Information

Background articles, profiles, links and election-day results are accessible on the following Web sites:

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ADL is not responsible for the content of these sites.

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