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The 2006 Israeli Elections: A Primer

Posted: March 16, 2006

On Tuesday, March 28, Israelis will vote in the 2006 general elections. The elections are being held in the aftermath of many transformative developments for Israeli politics and security: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke and incapacitation shortly after he created a new centrist party, the Kadima Party; the August 2005 disengagement from Gaza and part of the northern West Bank; and the Hamas victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in January.

In the 2003 elections, 68.9 percent of the Israeli electorate voted. Despite the challenges Israel continues to confront, analysts predict a lower voter turnout this election, particularly among younger voters.  The official election results will be published on April 5, 2006.

The Election System

Israel's electoral system is based on nation-wide proportional representation, and the number of seats which every Party receives in the Knesset is proportional to the number of voters who voted for it. However, a party must receive at least 2% of the votes in order to be elected to the Knesset. According to this system, the voters vote for the party and not for a particular candidate.

Each political party prepares a list of candidates, with those listed higher more likely to receive a Knesset seat than those ranked lower on the list. The highest ranking person on the list is the party leader. Some parties choose their lists via a primary system, with party members directly voting for their choices for Knesset candidates.  Some of the parties elect their candidates through central committees. In the ultra-religious parties, candidates are chosen by the party's spiritual leaders.

After the election, Israeli President Moshe Katsav will consult with the new Knesset factions and assign the task of forming a Government to the Knesset Member who leads the party that has a the best chance of assembly a coalition of more than 60 seats in the 120-seat parliament. That party leader becomes the new Prime Minister.

The Knesset elections take place once every four years, but the Knesset or the Prime Minister can decide to hold early elections, and under certain circumstances can serve for more than four years. The elections to the second (1951), fifth (1961), tenth (1981), eleventh (1984), thirteenth (1992), fourteenth (1996), fifteenth (1999) and seventeenth (2006) Knessets were all held before the due date by a Knesset vote to dissolve the government.  The elections for the sixteenth Knesset were brought forward by the initiative of the Prime Minister and agreed to in a Knesset vote.

The Knesset can also decide, by a special majority, to prolong its term beyond four years. This happened in the case of the elections to the eighth Knesset (1973) which were delayed because of the Yom Kippur War. In either case of delayed or early elections, the newly formed Knesset is still meant to serve a full four-year term from the date of elections as determined by the law, regardless of the election date.

The Three Largest Parties and their Candidates for Prime Minister

KADIMA – Ehud Olmert

Kadima is a new centrist party that was created in November 2005 under the leadership of Ariel Sharon. The party is mainly composed of members who came to Kadima from Likud and the Labor Party, including Shimon Peres. After Mr. Sharon's incapacitation by a stroke, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took over the leadership of the party (in addition to becoming Acting Prime Minister, Minister of Finance and as Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor, as well as Minister responsible for the Israel Lands Administration). Mr. Olmert, born in Israel in 1945, was first elected to the Knesset in 1973, was re-elected seven consecutive times and served as Minister of Minorities as well as Minister of Health. From 1993 to 2003, Mr. Olmert served for two terms of office as Mayor of Jerusalem.


Kadima believes that there is no genuine peace partner on the Palestinian side and Israel must move unilaterally to establish defensible borders.

  • Jerusalem – Kadima is opposed to concessions on Jerusalem, declaring that a united Jerusalem will remain under Israeli sovereignty.
  • Permanent Borders And Settlement Blocks – In a peace settlement the borders will be determined according to three rules: inclusion of areas necessary for Israel's security; inclusion of places sacred to the Jewish religion, and first and foremost united Jerusalem; inclusion of a maximum number of settlers, with a stress on settlement blocks.
  • Unilateral Withdrawal – There is no reference to further unilateral withdrawals in Kadima's official election platform. However, in interviews with Israeli newspapers in mid-March, Mr. Olmert said that if he is elected prime minister, and should bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians be unfeasible, Israel will set down permanent borders within four years, separating itself from the decisive majority of the Palestinian population of the West Bank.
  • Illegal Settlement Outposts – There is no reference in the platform to the illegal settlement outposts. However Ehud Olmert has stated that he will dismantle them.
  • Refugees – The basic principle of two national states. Therefore, the Palestinian state is the solution for the problem of the refugees.
  • Social Issues – Kadima proposes education reform, a focus on increasing immigration and improving absorption, providing a safety net for the elderly and disabled as well as fighting violence while strengthening law enforcement.
  • Economic Issues – With the economic crisis over, Kadima plans to reduce the gaps between rich and poor. The party intends to change the State budget priorities, working to reduce the size of the government sector and improve investments and consumption while providing efficient services at reasonable prices. Parallel, the platform offers the protection of fair wages for workers, while providing incentives to go out and work and aid only for those unable to work.

LABOR-MEIMAD – Amir Peretz

The Labor-Meimad Party ruled for the first 29 years of Israe's existence. The party is currently led by Amir Peretz, 53, the former head of the Histadrut trade union federation. Peretz was born in Morocco, came to Israel at age four and became a Knesset member in 1988 after serving as mayor of the southern border town of Sderot. Peretz became chairman after a party leadership vote unseated longtime leader Shimon Peres, who promptly left Labor for Kadima.  Through the campaign, Peretz has focused on social issues. 


Labor promises to put economic and social issues at the top of the agenda, declaring to roll back economic reforms implemented by former Finance Minister BenjaminNetanyahu.

  • JerusalemLabor's platform declares that Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel, however with a "Jewish character." In the permanent settlement Labor intends to hand over to the Palestinian state neighborhoods with an Arab majority.
  •  Permanent Borders And Settlement Blocks – The borders will be determined in the framework of the permanent settlement. Labor will be in favor of leaving the settlement blocs in place, and in the case of unilateral disengagement, the blocs and other settlement will be left in place.
  • Unilateral Withdrawal – Labor supports renewal of political negotiations, but should the peace process be frozen, the Labor government will initiate a plan for separation from the Palestinians, which will in effect be a second disengagement in Judea and Samaria, and will include evacuation of settlements.
  • Illegal Settlement Outposts – Labor promises to take immediate action to remove the illegal settlement outposts.
  • Refugees – Labor is opposed to any return of refugees to the Israel. They may return only to a Palestinian state.
  • Social Issues – The platform proposes a fairer distribution of national resources that will narrow the gap between the rich and poor. Moreover, it wants to guarantee mandatory pensions for all citizens and provide free public education up to and including the university level.
  • Economic Issues – While rolling back previous economic reforms, Labor promises investment in infrastructure and development. The party intends to increase the minimum wage.
LIKUD – Benjamin Netanyahu

The Likud was founded by Menachem Begin on the principles of Ze'ev Jabotinsky's philosophy of Revisionist Zionism. In 1977, the party came to power. Ariel Sharon led the party from 1999 until late 2005, when right-wing opposition to his Gaza disengagement policy led him to form Kadima. A number of key centrist Likud members joined Sharon.  The party leadership race was subsequently won by Sharon's rival, Benjamin Netanyahu, former Prime Minster in the 1990s and Israel's immediate past Finance Minister. Netanyahu, 56, was born in Jerusalem but spent his formative years in the United States, where he attained a degree in business administration from MIT. He has served as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, foreign minister, finance minister and prime minister.  As Finance Minister under Sharon, Netanyahu takes credit for reviving Israel's economy, while other blame him for having done so at the expense of Israel's poor.


Likud is skeptical of a willingness on the Palestinian side to make peace. The party is opposed to further territorial withdrawals.

  • Jerusalem – The party will oppose any concession in Jerusalem.
  • Permanent Borders And Settlement Blocks – The Likud platform envisages that the permanent borders will include the Jordan Valley, the Judean Desert, greater Jerusalem, and the settlement blocs, The large settlement blocs will remain in Israeli territory in any future permanent settlement.
  • Unilateral Withdrawal – The Likud rejects the idea of a unilateral withdrawal to the 1967 borders and rules out any further withdrawal without reciprocal concessions and without security arrangements.
  • Illegal Settlement Outposts – Unauthorized settlements will be dismantled.
  • Refugees – The Likud is opposed to the return of Palestinian refugees.
  • Social Issues –The platform proposes plans intended to reduce poverty, including assistance to the elderly.
  • Economic Issues – Likud intends to continue the free market reforms instituted by Benjamin Netanyahu as Finance Minister and reduce taxes.

Government Websites*

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Election Update

Government Website: Israeli Knesset Election Homepage

Media Websites

Ha'aretz Election Special

Jerusalem Post Election Special

* External websites are not endorsed by ADL


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