gap year in israel

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This month sees elections taking place in Israel. Israeli politics are incredibly hard to follow; the fact that there are 41 parties standing in the elections tells you all that you need to know. People vote for the parties and the more votes a party gets, the more seats it has in Israel’s 120-seat parliament. Theoretically, a government is then formed by the party that has more than 60 seats.

The problem is, in the history of Israel, no party has ever won 61 seats, meaning that all of the governments to date have been coalitions. In the last election Likud, Netanyahu’s party, won 30 seats and the joined with a number of smaller parties to form the government.

This was not the most stable of governments and it was derailed last year when the Israel Beiteinu party left the coalition due to a disagreement over a ceasefire with Gaza militants. This left Netanyahu with 61 seats, and ultimately resulted in him calling these elections.

As mentioned, there are 41 parties taking part in the elections. However, many of these are so minor that they can be discounted. Rather, around ten to fifteen parties are likely to win seats and the number each party wins could make a big difference to the next coalition government (assuming that no party wins an outright majority).

The main parties in this election are Likud, and Blue and White. Likud is Israel’s leading right-wing party headed by Netanyahu. In broad terms, it opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, it supports the settlements and it also has conservative economic values, in other words, it is for privatisation in regards to the economy.

Blue and White have emerged from nowhere to become the first credible opposition to Likud in a long time. Founded by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz, it is a coalition party with Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party. It is not always clear what the new coalition party’s policies are, Yesh Atid was very much a centrist party in regards to social and civic issues, while Gantz brings a strong security background with him. The party platform calls for global collaboration on security issues, a true Israeli democracy that recognizes Israeli Arabs as equal citizens, and calls for religious Jews to have mandatory army service.

These are the main parties, but some others are sure to win some seats. On the left are parties such as Labour, which in recent years has faded almost into obscurity, and Meretz, which calls for a two-state solution and religious pluralism in Israel. On the right are parties such as The New Right, which is a new party let by Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked and is almost an extreme version of Likud, and Israel Beiteinu, which has a defence policy that is particularly harsh on terrorists.

Added into all of this are the various religious parties, such as United Torah Judaism, the Ashkenazi haredi party, and Shas, the Sephardi haredi party. There are also a couple of Arab Israeli parties, Hadash Taal and Balad Raam.

Israel’s political scene is notoriously hard to follow, very often full of surprises, and this election promises to be no different.