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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 April 2006, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Israeli political parties

Thirty parties contested Israel's 28 March general election, which saw the lowest-ever turnout in Israeli history. The BBC News website takes a look at those who took part.

Kadima

Kadima leader and Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

Kadima was founded by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in November 2005. The party, which had been tipped for a landslide win, snatched a narrow election victory taking 29 Knesset seats despite the absence of Mr Sharon, who has been in a coma after suffering a massive stroke on 4 January.

It is the latest in a series of so far unsuccessful attempts to create a centrist party to unite moderates from the right-wing Likud party and centre-left Labour.

The party has a programme based on a partial disengagement from the occupied territories, a free-market economy with adequate welfare support, reform of the party-based parliamentary system, and a reduction of the influence of Jewish Orthodox religious groups.

The last such attempt, Shinnui (Change), performed well in the 2003 parliamentary elections, but failed to appeal beyond its middle-class core constituency and has since fragmented.

Kadima, on the other hand, is also able to appeal to the working class through its former Labour connections and to the disadvantaged Mizrachi (North African) Jewish community through its Likud roots.

The core of the party, and that of its electoral support, comes from the centrist wing of Likud and personal Sharon loyalists.

Prominent among these are Finance Minister and acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

Labour

Labour party leader Shimon Peres

The centre-left Labour Party, which has been one of Israel's two dominant parties since the founding of the state in 1948, came runner up in the election with 19 seats, making it almost certainly a partner in the new governing coalition.

The result was seen as a minor triumph for the party, which suffered its worst-ever electoral defeat in the 2003 elections.

Frustration with the leadership of Shimon Peres, who largely backed Mr Sharon's economic austerity programme and unilateral approach to security issues, saw the election of left-wing trade unionist Amir Peretz to the party leadership in November 2005.

Mr Peretz, the first Mizrachi Jew to lead a major party, has put social and economic issues at the head of Labour's agenda and advocates a social democratic policy of increases in the minimum wage and welfare payments.

Labour, which is keen to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians, is largely expected to support Mr Olmert's plans for further withdrawals from the occupied West Bank.

Likud

The Likud party

The right-wing Likud (Consolidation) suffered an unmitigated disaster during the elections, which saw the former ruling party taking only 12 of the 120 Knesset seats.

It also dealt a humiliating blow to its hawkish leader, the former premier Benjamin Netanyahu, who had sought to take the party back to its roots by basing its campaign on a hardline approach to security issues and a free-market economy.

Mr Netanyahu's popularity also suffered among the party's core voters, who resented his austerity programme while serving as finance minister under Mr Sharon. The settler movement also views him warily.

His strategy focused on portraying the victory of the militant group Hamas in January's Palestinian legislative elections as a result of Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. He also listed the rise of Hamas as a reason not to carry out any further withdrawals from the West Bank or consider a Palestinian state.

Shas

The Association of Torah-Observant Sephardis (Shas)

Shas (the Association of Torah-Observant Sephardis) was set up in 1984 by the former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Ovadia Yosef, primarily to promote the interests of his Mizrachi ultra-Orthodox constituency.

The ultra-Orthodox party came joint third in the general election, also taking 12 seats after running an aggressive campaign that targeted the neo-conservative economic policies of the previous government.

National Union-National Religious Party

The National Union, which won nine parliamentary seats, is on the far-right of Israeli politics.

Its programme calls for the "voluntary transfer" of Palestinians to Jordan prior to full Israeli annexation of the West Bank, but this is generally regarded as little more than rhetoric.

In practice, it is the political wing of the settler movement. In February, it formed an electoral alliance with the National Religious Party.

The National Religious Party, once the voice of mainstream religious Zionism, has recently become the Orthodox Jewish mirror of the National Union among settlers.

Israel Beitenu

Israel Beitenu (Israel is Our Home) has a constituency among the overwhelmingly secular, largely unassimilated and generally hawkish Russian-speaking population.

It became the fifth-largest parliamentary faction following the general elections, winning 11 seats after more than half of the country's Russian immigrants voted for it.

It used to operate as part of the National Union, but split over the latter's brief role in one of Mr Sharon's coalition governments and decided to contest the 2006 elections separately.

Its programme differs from that of the National Union in that it has been prepared since 2005 to transfer parts of Israel with large Arab populations to the Palestinian Authority in return for the Israeli annexation of large parts of the occupied territories.

Despite its hawkish stance, party leader Avigdor Lieberman has not ruled out negotiations to enter a coalition government with the centrist Kadima party.

Meretz-Yachad

Meretz-Yachad (Vitality-Together) is the main party of the radical left, and is largely regarded as the political wing of the once-influential Peace Now movement.

Its platform calls for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 cease-fire line and a revival of the defunct Oslo peace accord. It follows a broadly social-democratic economic agenda.

It was formed in December 2003 as a merger of several other left-wing parties, most prominent among which was Merits.

Public support for the disengagement strategy has pressed Meretz-Yachad from one side, and Labour's new-found social-democratic agenda is pushing it from the other.

Following a steady poll rating of 5-6 seats, the party, which has a core constituency of idealistic middle-class liberals, secured five seats in the election.

Shinnui

Shinnui (Change) had been the standard-bearer of liberal economic policy and secular values for 30 years, in various forms and combinations.

It achieved electoral breakthrough at the 2003 elections thanks to the strident campaigning of its new leader, TV political host Yosef "Tommy" Lapid, winning 15 seats and becoming the third largest party as well as Mr Sharon's main coalition partner.

But the formation of Kadima robbed Shinnui of its natural constituency, and in January the party split into small factions, none of which managed to overcome the 2% threshold needed to enter the Knesset.

United Torah Judaism

Formed in 1992 as an alliance between two Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox groups, United Torah Judaism split in 2004 over the question of joining Mr Sharon's coalition government.

But the two former constituent factions - Flag of the Torah and Union of Israel - were reunited this time round and ran on a single ticket, winning six parliamentary seats.

They generally act in concert with Shas in defence of ultra-orthodox educational institutions and state benefits.

Pensioners' List

The newly-formed Pensioners' List, (or Gil in Hebrew, meaning "Israeli pensioners for parliament") was catapulted to the centre-stage of Israel politics after winning a shock seven seats in the election.

Set up just weeks before the election, the party is led by Rafi Eitan, a 79-year-old former spy who won notoriety for masterminding the capture of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in 1960. He was also the handler of Jonathan Pollard, an Israeli spy jailed for life in the United States on charges of espionage.

The party's surprise win came after it campaigned on a single-issue platform of radical improvements for the state's 750,000 pensioners, including a guaranteed pension for all as well as subsidised medical costs for the elderly.

Although the Pensioners' political outlook is not clear, its core constituency is made up of former Labour supporters, meaning the faction may well be a likely coalition partner for Kadima, as it would be prepared to back its plans to evacuate thousands of Jewish settlers from the West Bank.

Arab parties

Arab Israelis make up almost 20% of Israel's population. They vote both for mainstream Israeli parties, including Labour, Likud and Meretz-Yachad, and for specifically Arab and/or anti-Zionist parties like the left-wing Hadash, the nationalist Balad and the United Arab List.

Support for the Arab factions has remained steady, with the parties winning 10 Knesset seats in the election, almost the same number at in the 2003 ballot.

Other parties
The following parties also contested the elections but none passed the threshold to win parliamentary seats:

Brit Olam: aims to create dialogue between all cultures in Israeli society

Da-am: Arab-Jewish workers' party

Green Leaf: wants the legalisation of marijuana

The Greens: environmentalists

Halev: Hebrew acronym for "Party for the Struggle with the Banks"

Herut: Hebrew for freedom; right-wing, opposed to any territorial concessions

Hetz: Breakaway secular party formed by former Shinnui members favouring the separation of religion and state

LEHEM: Hebrew acronym for "United Fighters for Society", promotes rights of disabled, homeless, single parent families

Lev la'olim: focuses on immigrant issues

Lider: Hebrew acronym for Liberal Democratic Party

National Jewish Front: right-wing

New Zionism: socioeconomic agenda for rights of self-employed, Holocaust survivors

One Future: focuses on Ethiopian immigrant issues

Strength for the Poor: social justice agenda

Tafnit: Hebrew for turning point; set up by former deputy chief of staff Uzi Dayan on an anti-corruption platform

Tzedeq Lakol: means "Justice for All" in English

Tzomet: right wing, secular

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.





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