History, Maps, Glossary
Political Parties

Israeli Political Parties, July 2009
From: Middle East Progress at the Center for American Progress


The party historically supported the right of the Jewish people to settle between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and highlighted the strategic importance of the land for Israel. Two Likud prime ministers, Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, played pivotal roles in the establishment of settlements, but also were the only prime ministers to uproot entire settlements (though Sharon had to leave the party and establish Kadima in order to do so). During his first tenure as prime minister, from 1996-1999, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government supported settlement activity while signing the Wye River Accord, a land-for-peace deal exchanging portions of the West Bank. In the 2009 elections, the Likud platform discounted future unilateral withdrawals but supported the possibility of concessions for peace as part of an agreement. Since taking office in March, Netanyahu has committed to stopping construction of new settlements while approving construction for “natural growth.” The recent discussion of the possibility of a settlement freeze has highlighted divisions within the party, with ministers Benny Begin and Moshe Ya’alon opposing even a temporary settlement freeze.

Yisrael Beiteinu
Former Likud member Avigdor Lieberman, who lives in a settlement, founded the party in 1999. Unlike other right-wing parties, Yisrael Beiteinu supports a two-state solution and is not focused on religious or strategic qualities of the West Bank. Instead, it proposes a land swap that would maintain Israel’s Jewish demography. This swap would annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank in return for ceding Arab majority areas in Israel to the Palestinian Authority. Many experts contend this move would be illegal. Sharon fired Lieberman from his cabinet in 2004 for opposing the disengagement plan from Gaza and four West Bank settlements.

The party supports the incorporation of large settlement blocs into Israel, the cessation of construction in West Bank settlements and the removal of isolated settlements and unauthorized outposts. However, settlement growth historically began and grew during periods when Labor led the government. At the end of June, Labor Party leader and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that he had legalized ex post facto 60 apartments initially built without government approval. There is division within the party as four party Knesset members object to Labor joining Netanyahu’s right-wing government and his settlement policies.

Comprised mostly of ultra-Orthodox Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, Shas’ platform is primarily concerned with defining the state as Jewish and safeguarding Jewish principles within the government. The party’s platform permits compromise on territorial issues when life is threatened or if the exchange is reciprocal. Shas strongly opposed disengagement from settlements in Gaza and the West Bank in 2005, but helped facilitate the Oslo Accords. In response to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for a freeze on new settlement construction in June, Interior Minister and Shas Chairman Eli Yishai instructed ministry officials to find loopholes to continue construction within the major settlement blocs.

Habayit Hayehudi
Habayit Hayehudi grew primarily from the National Religious Party (NRP), a key proponent of the settler movement that attached religious significance to the existence of settlements. Like its predecessor, the party’s platform states that only Israel should exist between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea with Jordan as the state of the Palestinians. It supports a peace settlement with the Arab world that gives Israel control of the West Bank and the Golan Heights and thus argues that Israeli settlements should continue to be built with governmental support and should not be given up in an agreement.

Formed by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005 to promote a policy of unilateral disengagement from the settlements in Gaza, Kadima incorporated members from various parties, including Likud and Labor. Kadima’s platform seeks to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel through territorial concessions, while preserving Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and most Jewish settlers, particularly those in the major Jewish settlement blocs. Settlement activity continued under the previous Kadima-led Olmert government. The party has recently held meetings to determine its stances on issues related to peace process, but there are differing opinions within the party on the question of natural growth in settlements.

Palestinian Political Parties

Fatah is a major Palestinian political party and the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a multi-party confederation, previously led by Yasser Arafat. In Palestinian politics it is on the left-wing of the spectrum; it is mainly nationalist, although not predominantly socialist. Its main goal, as stated in Article 12 of the official Fatah constitution is the "complete liberation of Palestine."
Fatah is generally considered to have had an involvement in revolutionary struggle in the past and has maintained militant or terrorist groups. Unlike its rival, the Islamist faction Hamas, Fatah is not currently regarded as a terrorist organization by any government; it has supported extensive peace negotiations with Israel.
In the January 25, 2006 parliamentary election, the party lost its majority in the Palestinian parliament to Hamas, and resigned all cabinet positions, instead of assuming the role as the main opposition party.

Leader: Mahmoud Abbas;  Founded: 1958;  Headquarters: Ramallah, Palestinian Territories; Ideology: Palestinian nationalism, Secularism.


More on Fatah
From a BBC article, May 14, 2007, titled "Palestinian Rivals: Fatah & Hamas:"

"Full name: Reverse acronym of Harakat al-Tahrir al-Filistiniya (Palestinian Liberation Movement - HATAF) meaning 'conquest' in Arabic.

Origins and development: Founded by Yasser Arafat in the 1950s to promote the armed struggle to liberate all Palestine from Israeli control.

It developed into the largest Palestinian political faction and, after recognising Israel's right to exist, led efforts towards a two-state solution with Israel under the 1990s Oslo peace accords.

Fatah members formed the backbone of the Oslo-inspired administration, the Palestinian Authority (PA), especially its bureaucrats and security forces. The party lost power in the 2006 parliamentary elections to Hamas, after Fatah officials came to be perceived as corrupt and incompetent. The shift in power heralded a period of violence on the streets of Gaza.

Attitude to Israel: PA President Mahmoud Abbas advocates restarting the peace process and is strong critic of armed 'resistance' and attacks on Israeli civilians. His goal is to establish a Palestinian state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as capital.

The Fatah-affiliated al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades has participated, along with Hamas, in an informal militant ceasefire since 2005, but conducts what it calls retaliatory attacks against Israel.

Current status: The 2006 election defeat put Fatah on the defensive and subsequent events raised fears it would try using its political influence and military power to maintain predominance. The PA's 70,000 police and security forces are mainly Fatah loyalists. After months of factional street fighting in which hundreds of Palestinians were killed, Fatah struck a deal with Hamas to join a unity government as a junior partner."

[UMHLTF Web editor's note: that attempt at unity has since dissolved and Hamas is the party in control of the government in Gaza, with Fatah ruling in the West Bank.]


>> read an article that provides another perspective on the history and current status of Hamas
The Islamic Resistance Movement, tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, calling for the creation of an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine. Elected into the leadership of the Palestinian legislature in January 2006, Hamas has since shown signs of altering its stance to accept the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders.


Full name: Acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement) and means "zeal" in Arabic.

Origins and development: Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, committed to establishing an Islamic state in the whole of what it terms Palestine (post-1948 Israel, the West Bank and Gaza).

Since its formation 1987 it has pursued a dual function: social welfare and what it calls armed resistance. This earned respect and gratitude among Palestinians suffering under Israeli occupation, but a string of suicide bombings against Israeli civilians meant it was designated a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the European Union.

Its 2006 landslide win thrust on Hamas the responsibility of power and international scrutiny for the first time, but the government was not recognised by Israel or the main international mediators.

Attitude to Israel: Hamas's charter uncompromisingly seeks Israel's destruction. However, Hamas's Ismail Haniya, the prime minister of the unity government until it was dissolved in June 2007, has spoken of a long-term truce with Israel if Israel withdraws from territory occupied in 1967.

The Hamas armed wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam brigades, has participated in an informal ceasefire since 2005, but claims the right to retaliate against what it calls Israeli attacks.

Current status: Designated a terrorist group by donors to the Palestinian Authority, outside funds to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority dried up. Banks refused to handle emergency donations fearing US penalties.

After months of wrangling with Fatah, Hamas became the senior partner in a national unity government in March 2007.

But separately, it deployed a 3,000-strong shadow security force including its supporters to tackle lawlessness in Gaza. The move exacerbated tensions with pro-Fatah security agencies sparking a major show-down with Fatah.


The Council on Foreign Relations, in a June 14, 2006 online posting titled "Hamas" provided the following description:

"Hamas is the largest and most influential Palestinian militant movement. In January 2006, the group won the Palestinian Authority's (PA) general legislative elections, defeating Fatah, the party of the PA's president, Mahmoud Abbas, and setting the stage for a power struggle. Since attaining power, Hamas has continued its refusal to recognize the state of Israel, leading to crippling economic sanctions. Hamas maintained a cease-fire brokered in March 2005 until June 9, 2006, when it ended the truce after reports that errant Israeli shell killed several civilians on a Gaza beach. The Israeli Defense Forces later denied responsibility for the deaths.

Historically, Hamas has sponsored an extensive social service network. More notoriously, the group has also operated a terrorist wing carrying out suicide bombings and attacks using mortars and short-range rockets. The group has launched attacks both in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and inside the pre-1967 boundaries of Israel. In Arabic, the word 'hamas' means zeal. It is also an Arabic acronym for 'Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya,' or Islamic Resistance Movement."


>> read an article that provides another perspective on the history and current status of Hamas