Elections 2015

From annexation to right of return: What the parties say about the Palestinians

Bennett wants Greater Israel, Liberman wants to redraw the borders, Lapid wants a divorce, Kahlon wants a two-state reality. And what does Netanyahu want?

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas casts his ballot in the last elections to take place in the PA in 2006 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Mahmoud Abbas casts his ballot in the last elections to take place in the PA in 2006 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Zionist Union has a plan. Yisrael Beytenu has a plan. Jewish Home has a plan. Meretz has a plan. Even the centrist Yesh Atid has a plan. But the Likud party, which has ruled Israel for more than half a decade, has no clear-cut program on how to deal with the Palestinian question.

On foreign policy, the various parties that make up Israel’s political landscape are by and large on the same page: the Iranian nuclear threat must be averted and ties with the United States and the European Union strengthened. And wouldn’t it be great to reverse Israel’s international isolation and rein in efforts to boycott it?

When it comes to the Palestinians, however, the parties likely to make up the 20th Knesset differ sharply in their world views and platforms, although the peace process, or rather lack thereof, has not been a dominant theme of the campaign season.

Here is an overview of the various positions, presented in order of the parties’ projected election result.

Zionist Union

Led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni — the latter of whom headed Israel’s negotiating team in the most recent effort to reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians — this center-left list wholeheartedly endorses a two-state solution. “The Zionist Union will seek to renew negotiations, in bilateral, regional and international frameworks, with the goal of a final settlement with the Palestinians, based on the principle of two states for two peoples,” its platform states. The party vows to cease construction outside the settlement blocs, arguing that it not only damages Israel’s international standing but also would cause “substantial harm to the possibility” of a peace deal.

However, Herzog said repeatedly that he is unsure what kind of partner he will find in Ramallah after the elections, damping hopes that an accord is imminent. “There could be a leadership that’s so much in love with unilateral steps, including threatening our sons and daughters in the International [Criminal Court] — something totally unacceptable to me — that they may not opt to go back to bilateral negotiations,” he said. Indeed, Herzog has avoided uttering the word “peace” on the campaign trail, explaining that he doesn’t want to raise false hopes.

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog (center), Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni (right) and the new 'defense candidate' on their joint Zionist Camp list, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, during a press conference in Tel Aviv, January 19, 2015 (photo credit: Flash90)
Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog (center), Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni (right) and the new ‘defense candidate’ on their joint Zionist Union list, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin, during a press conference in Tel Aviv, January 19, 2015 (photo credit: Flash90)

While the party endorses the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps, some of the other core issues would appear to make the successful conclusion of negotiations unlikely. Herzog wants the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Livni refuses to absorb in Israel even a symbolic number of Palestinian refugees, and the party’s candidate for defense minister, Amos Yadlin, said Israel will insist on controlling the Jordan Valley — all positions anathema to the Palestinians.


In his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, party chairman Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared he was willing to accept, in principle, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes Israel as a the national home of the Jewish people. He repeatedly stated that he fears Israel becoming a binational state and has fought legislative attempts, including from Likud MKs, to annex parts of the West Bank.

However, critics have since argued that Netanyahu has done very little to implement a two-state solution and even tried to obstruct a possible agreement. In recent days, there was some confusion as to his commitment to Palestinian statehood, as Likud issued a statement that declared the idea “simply not relevant,” but later retracted it. While Netanyahu subsequently denied that he has walked back his Bar-Ilan speech, he reiterated that he is not planning to withdraw from anywhere any time soon, since in the current situation in the Middle East any territory Israel vacates would be grabbed by extremist Islamic elements.

In a way, a source close to the prime minister said, Netanyahu’s wishy-washy position on the Palestinian issue reflects the view of the Israeli public: while generally committed to a two-state solution, most Israelis do not believe that peace is possible at this time.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a peace conference in Washington, D.C. on September 2, 2010. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a peace conference in Washington, DC, September 2, 2010. (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO/Flash90)

Within Netanyahu’s faction, it needs to be stressed, the prime minister holds a minority opinion by even entertaining theoretically the notion of a Palestinian state. The vast majority of current and future Likud MKs are adamantly opposed to the idea, instead suggesting the indefinite continuation of the status quo or calling for a full or partial annexation of the West Bank. These conflicting views are likely behind the party’s decision not to publish an official platform — to avoid having to delineate a position on that question that would either contradict the head of the party or antagonize the rest of its senior leadership.

Jewish Home

The former National Religious Party, led by Naftali Bennett, was the only list in the outgoing Knesset that explicitly opposed Palestinian statehood. Its members resolutely reject any territorial concessions. “I pledge to do everything in my power to prevent giving away even one inch of Israeli soil to the Arabs,” Bennett vows on his Facebook page.

But Bennett does not advocate the annexation of the entire West Bank. Rather, his so-called stability plan calls merely for the application of Israeli sovereignty in Area C, which covers some 60% of the West Bank where about 350,000 Jews and 80,000 Palestinians reside.

However, since Bennett vows never to relinquish any territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, the ultimate goal indeed appears to be Greater Israel. Indeed, some more hawkish members of the Jewish Home — a faction made up of various parties, such as Uri Ariel’s Tekuma — are adamant about their desire to annex the entire West Bank.

Joint (Arab) List

This consortium of two Arab parties and one Arab-Jewish list (which includes Israel’s Communist Party) calls unequivocally for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital. Interestingly, the party platform does not mention mutually agreed land swaps. In fact, it calls for an “end of the occupation of all territories conquered in 1967” — this would include East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, areas Israel formally annexed decades ago.

Arab-Israeli parliament member Hanin Zoabi accompanied by Ayman Odeh (L) and MK Jamal Zahalka seen in the Supreme Court in Jerusalem where she appealed a decision by the Central Election Committee to disqualify her from running in the upcoming Israeli elections, February 17, 2015 (photo credit: David Vaaknin/Flash90)
MK Hanin Zoabi, center, with Joint List chairman Ayman Oudeh (L) and MK Jamal Zahalka, February 17, 2015 (photo credit: David Vaaknin/Flash90)

The Joint List’s platform further requires a “just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem that would guarantee the right of return according to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.” This resolution, from 1948, resolved that Palestinian refugees “wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.”

The Joint List, headed by Ayman Odeh, further demands Israel dismantle the settlements and the “racist separation wall” and release Palestinian political prisoners.

Yesh Atid

This centrist party calls for a “divorce” with the Palestinians — the implementation of the two-state solution. An agreement would entail “long-term strict security measures” including the demilitarization of the West Bank and the “disarmament of Hamas from its strategic weaponry,” according to the party’s platform. A united Jerusalem and major settlement blocs (including Ariel) would remain under Israeli sovereignty.

“This is not peace I’m talking about. Peace we can start talking about within ten years,” party chairman Yair Lapid told The Times of Israel this week. “Right now there’s no peace on the table. Only an agreement. On their side, what they want is a state. I’m willing to give them one. On our side, what we want is security measures and we need to make them sign on to the security measures we want.”

The Palestinians alone, however, will be unable to make the necessary concessions for a peace deal, Lapid argues. Therefore, the Arab League will have to play a dominant role in any negotiations.


“What’s a more burning issue for you, the end of the conflict or the end of the month?” a Kulanu campaign clip asks, indicating that this centrist party places socioeconomic issues ahead of diplomatic problems. Hence, party founder and chairman Moshe Kahlon — who has his eye on the Finance Ministry — doesn’t talk much about the Palestinian issue, arguing that currently there’s no partner in Ramallah with whom serious peace negotiations would be possible.

A former Likud minister, Kahlon used to oppose territorial concessions but today seems to embrace the two-state solution, as long as Israel’s interests are secured.

Former ambassador to the US Michael Oren announces he's running for the Knesset with his new Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon, December 24, 2014. (Photo credit: Ben Kelmer/Flash90)
Michael Oren and Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon, December 24, 2014. (Photo credit: Ben Kelmer/Flash90)

“We always have to say that we will be at the table and we are always ready to enter into final status talks,” said Michael Oren, the party’s point man for diplomatic matters. “We have to lay the groundwork for a future final status agreement.”

In the meantime, the government must start creating a “two-state reality” on the ground, by restricting settlement construction to major blocs and East Jerusalem while improving the living conditions of Palestinians, Oren said.


In the current campaign, the political home of Ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Jews chose to focus on socioeconomic topics and not to weigh in on diplomatic matters. Party chairman Aryeh Deri declared that he would back Netanyahu for prime minister and indicated that currently there’s no partner on the Palestinian side, yet he is known to be less hawkish than his rival, former Shas chair and current Yahad leader Eli Yishai.

Adina Bar-Shalom, the daughter of the movement’s late spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef, said this week that Deri would forcefully urge a peace deal with the Palestinians if Shas were to join the coalition. “We do not want a binational state,” she said. “A lot of blood has been spilled and every few years we have another war. The only alternative is two states for two nations.” Yosef famously ruled that it was permitted to return land for peace and authorized Deri to vote in favor of the Oslo Accords.

Yisrael Beytenu

Despite his ultra-hawkish image and ceaseless agitation against Israeli Arabs and the Palestinian Authority, party leader and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman is actually a staunch supporter of the two-state solution. But in sharp contrast to the left and center-left parties, Yisrael Beytenu doesn’t see the 1967 lines as the basis for negotiations. Rather, he insists on re-drawing the border between the two states so as to retain as many Jews and as few Arabs as possible within Israel’s borders.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on November 10, 2014 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on November 10, 2014 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu’s platform calls on Israel to annex major settlement blocs in the West Bank and in turn cede areas of sovereign Israeli territory predominantly inhabited by Arab citizens to a future Palestine state. The plan is at the center of the party’s electoral platform, as evidenced by its campaign slogan: “Ariel to Israel, Umm el-Fahm to Palestine.” Ariel is a Jewish city in the West Bank; Umm el-Fahm is an Arab city in the area of Israel known as the “triangle.”

As opposed to the other right-wing parties, Yisrael Beytenu is opposed to annexing the West Bank. Such a move would pave the way to a “classical binational state,” Liberman said recently, accusing the Jewish Home of a scheme that would lead to “an apartheid state.”

United Torah Judaism

This Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox niche faction, which comprises the Hasidic Agudat Yisrael and the non-Hasidic (so-called Lithuanian) Degel Hatorah, focuses exclusively on socioeconomic issues, especially those that directly affect its constituency, such as child allowances.

United Torah Judaism lawmakers during a vote to dissolve the 19th Knesset, December 8, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
United Torah Judaism lawmakers during a vote to dissolve the 19th Knesset, December 8, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Based on their belief that Jews must not claim sovereignty over the Holy Land before the messiah’s arrival, many ultra-Orthodox don’t actually recognize Israel’s Zionist government. Hence, this list, led by Yaakov Litzman, a follower of the Gerer Rebbe, has no unified position on issues such as the peace process, though most MKs tend to lean toward the right on the Palestinian question, having voted against the Oslo Accords and Gaza Disengagement.


Led by Zehava Gal-On, Meretz is the only Zionist party that proudly calls itself left wing. Recognizing that bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians have failed to produce results over the last two decades, its platform says “a new approach is required” — referring to a comprehensive regional peace deal under the umbrella of the wider Arab world.

Meretz hence calls for an agreement based on the Arab Peace Initiative, which it says would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines and mutually agreed land swaps and a secure Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state.” According to the party’s platform, there will be two capitals for two states in Jerusalem — “a unified urban space with divided political sovereignties.” The party further advocates an immediate and unconditional freeze of all settlement construction, including in the blocs and East Jerusalem, “which violates international law.”


This new party, targeting ultra-Orthodox and national-religious Jews, is arguably the most hawkish list likely to enter the 20th Knesset. The two top spots are occupied by its founder, Eli Yishai, and Jewish Home refugee MK Yoni Chetboun, who both vehemently reject any territorial concessions to the Palestinians. “We will continue to act to arrange the legal status of all territories in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] on the way toward sovereignty, because it’s ours. No stuttering, no doubts,” Chetboun said last week about Yahad’s platform.

Jewish Home MK Yoni Chetboun (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Jewish Home MK Yoni Chetboun (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Furthermore, the inclusion of firebrand Baruch Marzel places the party firmly on the extreme right fringe of the political map. (Marzel belongs to the ultra-nationalist Orthodox Otzmah Yehudit party, which entered a technical agreement with Yahad meant to help the two parties pass the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent. After the elections the two parties are widely expected to split up into separate factions.)

Marzel is a declared follower of the slain Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose political movement was outlawed due to its extremist anti-Arab views. The Boston-born Marzel endorses an idea known in Israel as “transfer” — kicking out everyone considered an “enemy” of the Jewish people’s rule over the Land of Israel. “On the day we internalize and tell the world that this land belongs to the Jewish people, we start applying sovereignty everywhere and begin building everywhere,” he told The Times of Israel last month. “That’s it. That’s my diplomatic platform.”

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