Israel’s fragmented political scene

Arab parties debate whether to participate in Israel’s upcoming elections.

Analysts say Israel’s new government is likely to be a weak coalition of parties [GALLO/GETTY]

Israel’s election may be heading to a straight clash between Likud and Kadima, but smaller parties have proliferated in the country’s 2009 elections.

Thirty-four groups submitted lists of candidates to run in the elections, with some containing surprising alliances such as one between Holocaust survivors and a party campaigning for the legalisation of cannabis.

“About one million Israelis use cannabis for their enjoyment,” a video from the group, “Holocaust Survivors and Grown-Up Green Leaf”, posted on Youtube, says.

“These people contribute to society. For us, the Holocaust survivors, our moral obligation is to legalise it.”

The 2009 election also sees two “green parties” running on platforms stressing ecological concerns, as well as Israel’s usual array of small, religious parties.

Inclusive system

These miniature coalitions, single-issue campaign groups and religious parties can all expect to receive votes from their communities and, because Israel adheres to the principle of proportional representation, a number of them will even get through, taking one, two or three seats in the 120-seat Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

In depth

Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Israel elections

To win a seat, a party needs more than two per cent of the vote.

The system is intended to make Israeli politics highly inclusive and a major debate among Israel’s Palestinian residents, who have a number of small parties representing their interests, is how best to use it.

A survey of Palestinian-Israelis, conducted by Israel’s Institute for Peace Research in 2002, showed that most Arabs citizens were unhappy with the system.

In the 2003 elections, voter turn-out by Palestinian-Israelis was only 62 per cent.

It fell to 56 per cent in 2006 and is projected to be only 50 per cent or below this time round.

Calls for boycott

In the 2001 elections, all Arab parties boycotted the polls.

This year, Abna al-Balad, the “Sons of the Land” movement, is encouraging Palestinian-Israelis to again boycott the vote, arguing that having Arab Knesset members gives legitimacy to Israel’s rule over its Palestinian citizens.

Abna al-Balad, a grassroots movement established in the 1960s, calls for the return of Palestinian refugees and wants Palestinian citizens to vote in elections in a Palestinian state.

But the rise of the right wing in this election has others calling for greater participation from Palestinian-Israelis.

The National Democratic Assembly (known as Balad) and Ual-Taal, two parties representing Palestinian-Israelis, and Hadash, a party with both Palestinian and Israeli candidates, argue that Palestinian-Israelis have a duty to vote.

Being ‘realistic’

Yasmeen Dahar, an election candidate for Balad, told Al Jazeera that participation was important in order to challenge parties such as Yisrael Bietienu and to protect Arab interests.

Palestinian-Israelis have been debating what their role should be in the poll [Reuters]

“We know that in the parliament we’re not going to change the world, we’re very realistic,” she said.

“In the Knesset we work, like other parliamentarians, to advocate our rights and [promote] laws that will serve us.”

Ahead of the elections, right-wing elements, including the Yisrael Beiteinu party, called for Balad and Ta’al to be banned, branding them traitors who would support an offensive against Israel.

A similar move was undertaken in the 2003 election but, though the electoral commission complied, the supreme court over-ruled the decision both times, allowing the Arab parties to run.

Weak coalitions

The Israeli political system also fragments the parliament, and with more than 30 parties running in the 2009 election, no single party could realistically expect to win a majority.

Israel’s government is once again likely to be a weak coalition of parties, while the opposition is a collection of different interest groups.

The coalitions, analysts say, are the reason so few Israeli governments see through their four-year terms.

“One of the biggest problems Israel has is its own electoral system,” Alon Ben-Meir, a professor of international relations and Middle Eastern Studies at New York University, told Al Jazeera.

“You end up with too may parties and they can’t agree on policy … and because Israel has to form these coalitions, hardly any government has lasted the entire four [years] because, somewhere along the line, a disagreement will surface, the party will leave the government and elections will have to be called.”

At which point the small parties can again have their moment in the limelight.

Source: Al Jazeera


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