Israel politics: Platforms for the politically perplexed

A guide to where the parties stand on diplomacy and economics.

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
February 28, 2015 17:58
Elections in Israel

Elections in Israel. (photo credit: REUTERS/BAZ RATNER)

 
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First it was called a “Seinfeld election” – an election about nothing.

Then both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political opponents agreed that the election was about him, and whether he should stay in power.

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Since then, every party has tried to take the election in a different direction, based on their own political strengths and weaknesses. The factions have pushed between agendas of housing crises and expenditures at Netanyahu’s residence, between threats from Iran and threats from legal authorities. But ultimately, every voter must individually decide what their priorities are when they enter their polling site.

Publishing political platforms is an integral part of elections in other Western countries; but in Israel, platforms cannot be taken for granted. It is hard to remember the last time the Likud, for instance, published one.

The Zionist Union’s youth organization went as far as purchasing the domain name Likudparty.co.il and publishing a fake platform for its adversary.

That “Likud” platform calls for isolating Israel internationally, keeping every third child poor, raising the number of pupils per class, and going to war every year and a half but calling it an “operation.”

It is even more rare that parties make the effort to publish platforms in English or even bother building an English website, as many have. Bayit Yehudi’s Hebrew spokesman Itamar Fleischmann, for instance, decided it was not important and that party leader Naftali Bennett’s Facebook page would suffice; so when parties publish websites with English platforms, it must be noted.

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When The Jerusalem Post published its last “Guide to the Politically Perplexed” about the election four weeks ago, it promised that in the next installment, it would focus on platforms. Meanwhile, the non-partisan, Tel Aviv-based social movement Kol Oleh used a team of determined volunteers to track down, translate and publish all the party platforms for immigrants from English-speaking countries.

The following are excerpts from the parties’ diplomatic and socioeconomic platforms, compiled from party spokesmen, the English party websites provided, below and Kololeh.com.


The Zionist Union
Position in the polls: 23-25
English website: hamahanehazioni.co.il/zionist/? lang=en

Diplomatic platform: Pledges to rescue Israel from its international isolation, restore relations with the US and Europe, and unite the world in its war against terrorism and aggression. Co-leader Isaac Herzog promised this week to “reignite a process with our Palestinian neighbors based on a regional platform, and foster our unique and special relationship with Washington.” He won’t say what concessions he would make, but does say the Jordan Valley must be Israel’s eastern security border.

Socioeconomic platform: Supports planning for 300,000 available apartments, released to the market at the rate of 50,000-60,000 per year, and subsidizing land value in housing while providing an opportunity for partial ownership through rent payments. Promises to lower the costs of healthcare, education and basic goods for every family in Israel, allocate NIS 2 billion to create a basic aid package for senior citizens in need and launch a national savings program for children.


Likud
Position in the polls: 22-27
English website: onlythelikud.org.il/home/

Diplomatic platform: Party leader Netanyahu says the next government’s priority must be preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear capability, by turning world opinion in favor of maintaining and expanding economic and diplomatic sanctions against Tehran. The Likud is willing to make compromises for peace – concessions accompanied by real and dependable diplomatic arrangements. But Netanyahu has spoken out against further withdrawals from land, further releases of terrorists from prisons or dividing Jerusalem in any way.

Socioeconomic platform: Calls for a “free market economy with social sensitivity.” Says that to remain competitive in a global market, there is a need for budgetary discipline, lowering taxes, an effectively managed stock market and growth of the private sector. Netanyahu promised on Wednesday that in his next term, he would implement State Comptroller Joseph Shapira’s recommendations for ending the housing crisis and improve benefits for the self-employed.


Bayit Yehudi
Position in the polls: 11-14
English website: None

Diplomatic platform: The only incumbent party in Israel that opposes any type of Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. Also opposes a one-state solution, because it sees Israel annexing all of Judea and Samaria with all its Arab residents as infeasible and dangerous. Instead backs annexing Area C, where all Jews in Judea and Samaria live, while giving Palestinians in Areas A and B self-governance. Advocates working from the bottom up, improving the economy and quality of life for all residents of Judea and Samaria.

Socioeconomic platform: Committed to increasing competition, breaking up monopolies and cutting taxes to the middle class whenever possible, because the party believes the government must encourage new ventures by maintaining a business-friendly climate through favorable economic policies and cutting red tape. Backs doubling the incentive package given to small businesses, allowing them to borrow up to 85 percent of set-up costs.


Joint (Arab) List
Position in the polls: 12-13
English website: None

Diplomatic platform: While the four parties comprising the list have different opinions, their joint platform calls for a just peace based on UN resolutions, ending the occupation of all land Israel captured in 1967, dismantling all settlements and the security barrier, releasing all “political prisoners” and forming a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Calls for a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, which guarantees a right of return and self-rule for Israeli-Arab citizens on educational, cultural and religious issues. Supports a nuclear-free Israel and Middle East.

Socioeconomic platform: Calls for full equality in state budgeting for Jewish and Arab municipalities and institutions, as well as affirmative action to help the poor – who are disproportionately Arab. Wants the minimum wage raised to 60% of the average salary.


Yesh Atid
Position in the polls: 8-12
English website: www.yeshatid.org.il/?languagecode= en

Diplomatic platform: Maintains that Israel was founded as the nation-state of the Jewish people and must remain a state with a Jewish majority, with defensible borders. Believes that only through a regional framework, including with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, can we reach an agreement that will allow us to separate from the Palestinians and ensure our longterm security. Contends there are a range of security threats facing Israel today, first among them the Iranian nuclear program. Says Israel cannot allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state and must do everything to prevent that scenario, in conjunction with the international community if possible and unilaterally if necessary.

Socioeconomic platform: The 2015 budget proposed by party leader and then-finance minister Yair Lapid, which would have increased investment in social services by more than NIS 10 billion without incurring any increase in taxes, is Yesh Atid’s plan for the socioeconomic future of Israel. Believes in a fair economic policy that directs budgetary investments to the middle class and the weakest in society, closing social gaps while strengthening the market and encouraging growth. Maintains that by expanding investment in education, health and welfare, the overall expenses of each household decreases, leaving more disposable income in the hands of the public. For such a model to succeed, the party says policies must encourage growth and investment in industry, assist small and medium businesses, promote innovation in the market, fight the black market and strive to put public funds back in the hands of the public.


Koolanu
Position in the polls: 7-10
English website: go-kahlon.co.il/kahlon_ lang/en/homepage/

Diplomatic platform: Promises to advance a solution that can be implemented in a collaborative fashion by regional and international actors, which would keep a united Jerusalem as the capital along with the main settlement blocs, while not permitting the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. Would work to strengthen Israel’s relationship with the Obama administration, US Joint Chiefs of Staff and both houses of Congress, and double the budget for public diplomacy.

Socioeconomic platform: Wants to reduce construction time for apartments from 13 to seven years, taking over all aspects of the construction process from planning, marketing, development and licensing. Pledges to remove barriers, in order to release for immediate construction approximately 250,000 apartments currently at advanced stages of planning. Call for reducing the cost of living by encouraging greater competition within the Israeli food industry, reducing bureaucratic costs involved in food production and removing obstacles to competition with large supermarket chains. Would also lower the costs of everyday banking for households, and make it easier for small businesses to obtain the necessary credit to start up – by creating regulations to increase competition in the banking sector, encouraging the entrance of new banks and removing obstacles to transferring accounts from one bank to another.


United Torah Judaism
Position in the polls: 7-8
English website: None

Diplomatic platform: The party’s guiding principle is that the Land of Israel was given to the Jewish people by God, and belongs to them forever. When faced with practical questions, leading rabbis will also consider pikuach nefesh, the Jewish legalistic principle of saving life taking priority over all else. Committed to true peace in the Middle East and putting an end to the bloodshed.

Socioeconomic platform: Demands a solution to the haredi housing shortage and will work to change housing policies to enable young couples to comfortably purchase or rent a suitable home. Insists that state land be allocated free of charge to those eligible for state housing, and will work to construct a program to populate these units with homeless from the ultra-Orthodox community. To increase economic growth, UTJ would work toward decreasing government involvement and developing the private sector; would also strive to educate Israelis in Jewish values regarding economic stability and managing family economics.


Shas
Position in the polls: 4-7
English website: None

Diplomatic platform: Leader Arye Deri says there is currently no negotiating partner on the Palestinian side, so the basis of the next government should be socioeconomic.

Socioeconomic platform: Deri’s plan calls for a NIS 30 an hour minimum wage, lowering value-added tax on basic household items and requiring 7.5% of every building plan to be devoted to public housing – believing this would lead to families having an average of NIS 1,500 more per month, which would take many of them out of poverty. Shas would insist that construction for different income levels be integrated across the country rather than segregating rich and poor neighborhoods. Deri will expand on the plan, which was drafted with the help of a new council of socioeconomic experts, next week.


Meretz
Position in the polls: 4-6
English website: meretz.org.il/en/ (mostly in Hebrew)

Diplomatic platform: Leader Zehava Gal- On said this week that any solution must be based on two states for two peoples, with a border based on pre-1967 lines with agreed-upon land swaps, and include an end to the conflict through a regional solution hinged on the Arab Peace Plan. The party sees UN recognition of a Palestinian state as a pathway toward negotiations, and calls for the following immediate steps to be taken: Stopping settlement construction, paying Israeli residents of the West Bank to leave willingly and removing the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip in a gradual and coordinated way.

Socioeconomic platform: Seeks to create a welfare state with broad-reaching social services that are effectively regulated and monitored. The party’s vision is for strong organized labor, increased power to employees and reduced power and influence of tycoons. Believes in macroeconomic policy whose primary goal is to create an egalitarian society. Would work towards: reforming taxation policy in order to reduce inequality in the market, a revolution in the labor market and restoration of state responsibility for the services it should provide, and halting disproportionate investment in settlements and the security budget.


Yisrael Beytenu
Position in the polls: 4-7
English website: www.beytenu.org/

Diplomatic platform: Favors a package deal involving moderate Arab countries, Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Backs a populated- territories exchange that would allow Israeli Arabs who identify with the Palestinians and not Israel to become part of a Palestinian state. Israeli Arabs in the Triangle and Wadi Ara region adjacent to the Palestinian Authority would be able to become citizens of a Palestinian state without having to leave their homes, allowing Arabs from other places in Israel who fully identify with the Palestinian people to end the duality from which they suffer; they would be able to decide if they want to be part of the State of Israel or Palestine. Those who decide that their identity is Palestinian would be able to give up their Israeli citizenship, move and be citizens of a future Palestinian state. The State of Israel can also encourage them to do so through a system of economic incentives.

Socioeconomic platform: Would enable couples in which both partners work, and served in the army or did national service, to receive a bank loan for a 90% mortgage for the purchase of a first apartment. Says state should provide after-school activities until 5 p.m. for children aged from six months to six years.


Yahad
Position in the polls: 4-5

English website:
Under construction

Diplomatic platform: Party chairman Eli Yishai told the Post’s Jeremy Sharon that he is against giving away any territory from the Land of Israel, and would not agree to any future settlement freeze.

Socioeconomic platform: Would focus on bridging the gap between rich and poor. Opposes economic sanctions against haredi draft-dodgers.

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