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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 9:30 pm

Key parties in Israeli elections

By The Associated Press

Summary of the main political parties competing in Israel's parliamentary elections. Exit polls show a small majority for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hawkish allies. Final results expected early Wednesday.

-Likud: Led by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Likud holds tough positions in stalled talks with the Palestinians and advocates strong international action - possibly including a last-resort military strike - against arch-enemy Iran's nuclear facilities. Netanyahu has grudgingly accepted the idea of a Palestinian state, though his party traditionally claimed the West Bank and east Jerusalem for Israel. Likud teamed up on a joint list with former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu for Tuesday's election, but the two parties have not merged.

-Yisrael Beitenu: The far-right secular party is the most hawkish in Netanyahu's current coalition and placed third in the last election in 2009. Its leader, Lieberman, has been indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust, and the future of his party and his political career could hinge on how the case unfolds.

According to exit polls, the two lists took 31 seats together in the 120-seat parliament. Running separately, the two parties won 42 seats in the outgoing house.

-Yesh Atid: Founded by former TV personality Yair Lapid, the party represents secular, middle-class interests and says less money should be spent on settlements and stipends for the ultra-Orthodox. According to exit polls, Yesh Atid took far more than polls projected, 19 seats, which could make it the second-largest party in parliament.

-Labor: A centrist party led by former broadcast journalist Shelly Yachimovich. Labor hopes to gain votes with an emphasis on closing Israel's economic gaps and a moderate approach to negotiations with the Palestinians. Labor held second place in pre-eleciton polls after the joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list. The party governed the country from its founding in 1948 until 1977, and twice since. According to exit polls, Labor won 15 seats.

-Jewish Home: Representing modern Orthodox Jews, the party has surged in the polls on the back of a strong pro-settlement message and the appeal of its charismatic leader, high-tech millionaire Naftali Bennett, to secular Jews. According to exit polls, Jewish Home won 11 seats.

-Shas: Founded in the early 1980s by ultra-Orthodox Jews of Middle Eastern origin who felt marginalized. Its followers tend to be hawkish and the party traditionally has been a Likud ally, even though two decades ago, its spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, ruled that saving lives is more important than keeping territory. The party emphasizes social welfare for its low-income constituency. According to exit polls, Shas won about 12 seats.

- Hatnua: The party of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was formed less than two months ago expressly to present an alternative to voters distressed by the stalemate in peacemaking throughout Netanyahu's four-year tenure. Livni has promised an aggressive push for peace with the Palestinians. According to exit polls, the party took six seats.