Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

Israeli election: Where they stand

There was little to choose between the main candidates in the Israeli election of 10 February on some key questions. In addition, their stances are not always clear, particularly on issues involving talks with the Palestinians - partly because candidates do not want to jeopardise potential negotiations by revealing their exact positions, and partly because concessions do not win votes, despite the fact that many believe they will ultimately be necessary.

The BBC News website outlines the candidates' positions on key issues.


Tzipi Livni, of the centrist Kadima party, and Labour leader Ehud Barak both say they are believers in the creation of a Palestinian state, seeing it as a necessity if Israel is to remain both democratic and Jewish in character in the face of Palestinian population growth.

Ms Livni has been the chief negotiator under the US-backed Annapolis process. Details of what she and outgoing PM Ehud Olmert have offered the Palestinians remain secret and there has been no concrete evidence of progress after a year of talks. She favours an agreement that solves all final status issues, not a phased one.

The Labour party says it sees the so-called Saudi initiative - which calls for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 border in exchange for relations with Arab countries - as the basis for a peace deal and would aim for a full agreement "within two years".

Some analysts say Likud is keeping its platform intentionally vague.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the right-of-centre Likud party, says he does not want Israel to rule the Palestinians, but says they should not be allowed things he considers a threat to Israeli security, such as an army, control of airspace or the Jordan Valley. This is in line with Likud's 1999 charter, which "flatly rejects" a sovereign Palestinian state, but backs Palestinian self rule.

He opposed the US-backed peace talks launched in Annapolis in November 2007, saying he did not believe there was a suitable partner on the Palestinian side, and stresses the need for economic development for the Palestinians before serious negotiations can take place.

Critics fear he plans to create a serious of disconnected, semi-autonomous "economic zones" in the West Bank that are a far cry from the contiguous, sovereign state Palestinians want.

After the election of Barack Obama as US president, Mr Netanyahu began saying he would continue talks and wanted to draw in regional partners such as Egypt and Jordan.

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, says he is opposed to the principle of "land-for-peace", on which the two-state solution is based. He wants a "land-for-land" swap - the transfer of areas in Israel currently populated by Israeli-Arabs to the control of the Palestinian Authority, in exchange for Israeli control of major Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank.


The status of Jerusalem, and particularly the key religious sites in its Old City, is one of the most hotly contested issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides want to locate their capitals in the city. The international community regards predominanly Palestinian East Jerusalem as occupied territory.

Ms Livni says she will not "concede Jerusalem", but it is not clear exactly what she means. She clearly wants to keep it on the negotiating table because talks would be meaningless without it. It is widely assumed she would cede sections of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians, but it is not clear which parts and to what level of Palestinian control.

As prime minister, Mr Barak negotiated on the status of Jerusalem at the 2000 Camp David summit, although there is still disagreement over exactly which parts of East Jerusalem and the Old City - and what level of control - he offered the Palestinians. He says he is the leader who has gone furthest in terms of a peace proposal to the Palestinians, but says he sees "no point" in detailing his current exact position on the Holy City.

Mr Netanyahu's vehement opposition to "dividing Jerusalem" is a central part of his platform, and he frequently accuses his opponents - particularly Ms Livni - of trying to "give up" Jerusalem. But some Israelis point to territorial concessions he made as prime minister in the late 1990s and wonder if this is a permanent position.

Although described as "far right", Mr Lieberman has backed giving some predominantly Arab areas of East Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority as part of a land swap deal, but says he is opposed to any sharing of the holy sites in the Old City.

For all four, it should be noted that there is potential linguistic wriggle-room in terms of what exactly is meant by "dividing" the city.


Mr Netanyahu has been a strong proponent of the settlement movement. He says if he becomes prime minister he will permit continued growth within existing settlements - which is in contravention of Israel's commitments under the Annapolis peace process and before it the road map.

Under Kadima, building has continued in settlements, particularly around Jerusalem, with approvals for new construction authorised by Mr Barak as defence minister.

However, Kadima's founding premise - which Labour backed - was a policy of unilateral withdrawals from West Bank settlements in the wake of the removal of settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

It has since abandoned this as a policy. The assumption remains, however, that the deal Ms Livni has been negotiating would involve pulling Israelis out of settlements deep in the West Bank, but keeping the settlement blocs nearer Jerusalem. She has distanced herself from reports that outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has offered to withdraw 60,000 settlers from the West Bank as part of a deal.

Mr Lieberman lives in a settlement himself. His land swap plan would also involve Israel relinquishing parts of the West Bank - presumably including the settlers on them - but it is assumed this would be less than under Ms Livni or Mr Barak's two-state solution, as some areas would be kept in exchange for Israeli-Arab areas of Israel.


Ms Livni, Mr Netanyhu and Mr Lieberman say they aim to topple Hamas through political, economic and military means. Mr Netanyahu and Mr Lieberman maintain the military campaign in Gaza in early 2009 did not go far enough, while Ms Livni and Mr Barak were members of the troika that launched the operation and chose when and how to end it.

Mr Barak stops short of seeking the overthrow of the militant group's control in Gaza, saying his strategic goal is to end rocket fire into Israel.

Mr Lieberman advocates totally severing links with Gaza - for example tightening the blockade by closing all the crossings in and out of the Strip and ending the transfer of humanitarian goods through Israeli ports and territory.

All four promise harsh responses to rocket attacks and rule out negotiations with Hamas, except indirect talks on the return of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.


Ms Livni and Mr Barak support negotiations aimed at reaching a deal under which Israel would return the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria, including an end to its support for the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

Mr Netanyahu rules out any Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights, but some Israelis wonder whether this is a permanent position. According to the Israeli media, he has denied claims in former US President Bill Clinton's autobiography that he was willing to withdraw from the entire Golan during talks when he was prime minister in the late 1990s, but he has said he made "concessions".

As Mr Lieberman is opposed to the concept of "land-for-peace", he objects to the type of deal Ms Livni and Mr Barak would pursue. He says Israel should hit back at Syria if it is attacked from Lebanon, and backs what he describes as a "peace-for-peace" deal where Syria would gain recognition and economic aid from the international community in exchange for accepting an Israeli presence in the Golan on a renewable 99-year lease.


All four candidates say "all options" are on the table for dealing with Iran, meaning they do not rule out a military strike if diplomacy fails to halt Iran's alleged progress towards developing a nuclear bomb.

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