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Glossary of Terms

Election Terminology Political Terminology

Election Terminology

Blocs - Groups of political parties that hold similar views on issues of primary importance such as the fate of the territories captured by Israel in 1967. Blocs play a critical role in Israeli politics where forming a stable coalition from among a number of political parties is the key to successful rule.

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Knesset - Literally, "place of gathering" the Knesset is the name of Israel's parliament. The Knesset has 120 seats and political parties vie for these seats in national elections. After elections, the largest party has the right to form a ruling coalition of at least 61 seats with smaller parties. The largest parties try to form as wide a coalition as possible in order to mitigate the influence that the smaller coalition partners have in directing policy or toppling the government by pulling out of the coalition over policy disputes. For more information, visit the Knesset web site: www.knesset.gov.il.

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Lists - The bodies which participate in the Knesset elections are called "lists." A list must consist of at least one registered party, but it could also contain several parties. (For example, in these elections the National Union (made up of Moledet & Tekuma) and the National Religious party are running together). A list can also include individuals and movements that are not registered as parties. Such was the case in the elections for the Fourteenth Knesset in the United Arab List which consisted of the Arab Democratic Party (a registered party) and individuals from the Islamic Movement, which is not registered as a party.

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Movements - The law does not recognize movements as distinct legal entities. However, a movement may register as a party, a non-profit organization, a company, or as any other legally recognized body. In other words, "movement" is simply a word also used as part of a name ("youth movement," "Herut Movement"), but by itself has no legal standing.

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National Camp - The bloc of conservative political parties who view negotiations with the Palestinians during a period of continuous violence as dangerous concession to terror. Many in this camp reject outright the notion of a Palestinian state on security grounds arguing that it will only further destabilize the region and ultimately lead to a regional conflict. Members support the settlements in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), and the Gaza Strip prior to Disengagement, and believe that unilateral withdrawal by Israel is a policy that will invite increased terror and violence.

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National Unity Government - A coalition formed by the two largest political parties, Labor and Likud. National Unity coalitions are usually formed during times of national economic or security crises. Advantages of a national unity government include the ability to grapple with serious issues with a united front. For example, in 2001, Ariel Sharon sought and formed a national unity government with the Labor party in order to fight the Palestinian war of terror. Disadvantages of unity governments include discord in the coalition on many non-security issues. Such dissension can ultimately destroy the partnership as happened in late October 2002 when Labor pulled out of Sharon's national unity coalition over a budget dispute and in 2005 when Labor pulled out of Sharon's 'Disengagement' government bringing Israel to the current elections.

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Parliamentary Groups - Once a list (see above) is elected to the Knesset, it becomes a Parliamentary Group, even if the distinct parties in it continue to function individually on the outside. According to the Parties Financing Law (1973), the Knesset Committee may, after the elections, recognize a new parliamentary group in any of the following situations: One which broke off from an existing parliamentary group (such as in 1984, Mapam broke off from the Alignment); a new parliamentary group which is made up of Knesset members who were originally part of other groups (such as the new Kadima party, which is made up of Knesset members from Labor and the Likud); or a new parliamentary group which is created through the unification of two existing parliamentary groups (which occurred in the Twelfth Knesset when Meretz was formed from Ratz, Mapam, and Shinui).

The law also fixes limitations on the recognition of new parliamentary groups. Usually, before upcoming elections, there is intensified activity setting up new parliamentary groups because the financing of parties depends partly on the number of seats belonging to the corresponding parliamentary groups in the current Knesset.

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Parties - According to the Parties Law (1992), a party is defined as a group of people who have come together in order to pursue legal political or social goals, and to bring about their representation in the Knesset. Since the passing of this law, there are clear regulations regarding the establishment of parties, their registration with the Parties Registrar, their institutions, assets, activities and finances. The law also determines the limitations on a party's potential registration. The following prohibitions are included in these limitations:

  • Any rejection (in the party's goals or activities) of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.
  • Any incitement to racism.
  • Any hint of a cover for illegal activity.

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Peace Camp - The bloc of left-leaning Israeli political parties that views negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, generous territorial compromise, the uprooting of most Israeli settlements and vigorous international intervention as the only way to achieve peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.

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Threshold - the percent of the total vote that a party needs to win in the election to win election to the Knesset. The outgoing 16th Knesset, raised the threshold from 1.5% to 2.0% in order to minimize the number of small parties able to win Knesset seats. 2.0% equals approximately 80,000 votes. A party receiving the minimum number of necessary votes to enter the Knesset will receive 3 seats (mandates) in the 17th Knesset.

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Political Terminology

Camp David Accords - The landmark 1978 agreement between Israel and Egypt that paved the way for peace between the two countries. Named after the Camp David retreat where US President Carter, Israeli

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Camp David Summit - The ill-fated July 2000 summit meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat convened at Camp David by President Bill Clinton. At the summit, Barak offered a far-reaching proposal that was rejected by Arafat.

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Disengagement-The common name of Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria, which saw Israel withdraw from 25 communities. Israelis had high-hopes that the Disengagement would jump start the peace process, but in the six months since Disengagement was completed mortars and rockets have increased at an alarming rate and Hamas won victory in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council partly on a platform based on its 'victory which drove Israel out of Gaza'.

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Gaza Strip - A 360 square kilometer strip of land at the southwest border of Israel adjacent to the Sinai Peninsula that is home to approximately 1.2 million Palestinians, and until last summer's Disengagement, approximately 7000 Israelis. As a part of the Oslo Accords, the responsibility for Gaza's administration was transferred to the Palestinian Authority in May of 1994. Since the Disengagement, the area has served as a launching ground for countless rocket attacks on the Israeli communities of the western Negev and southern Ashkelon.

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Golan Heights - A portion of strategic highland at the northwestern tip of Israel captured from Syria in the Six Day War. Due to the significant strategic value of the Heights, and since Syrians used the Heights to attack Israeli communities in the valley below, Israel is loath to exchange the territory for promises of peace from the Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. Over 20,000 Israelis live in the area along with thousands of Druze citizens of Israel.

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Green Line - The 1949 armistice line agreed to between Israel and Jordan at the end of Israel's War of Independence. The Green Line is significant since it was the border between Israel and Jordan from 1948 - 1967. From 1967 - 1993, the area between the Green Line and the Jordan River (Judea and Samaria or the West Bank) was administered by Israel. In 1994, the Oslo Accords granted the Palestinian Authority limited self-rule over large tracts of the West Bank.

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Haram Al-Sharif - Literally "the Noble Sanctuary," Haram Al-Sharif is the Arabic name for the Temple Mount (see below).

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Intifada (I & II) - Arabic for "shaking off" referring to the violent uprisings against Israel by Palestinians. The first Intifada started in December of 1987 in the Gaza Strip. Israeli soldiers and civilians in Gaza and the West Bank faced firebombs, stones and occasional "live fire" by Palestinians wishing to rid themselves of Israeli rule. The first Intifada ended at the outbreak of the Gulf War in January 1991. Ironically, the second Intifada started in late September 2000 - at which time the Palestinian Authority ruled 98% of the Arab population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - after Arafat rejected an offer of Palestinian sovereignty from Israel. For over five years, the Palestinians have targeted Israeli civilians and soldiers in terror attacks and battles and have employed high-powered military rifles, hand grenades, suicide bombings, car bombs, roadside explosives and increasingly Palestinian manufactured mortars and rockets. The violence has resulted in over 1000 Israeli deaths - the majority, casualties of terror attacks directed at civilians.

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Israeli Arabs - Israeli citizens of Arab or Bedouin descent. Israeli Arabs make up about 15% of Israel's population and enjoy full rights as witnessed by their representation in all areas of society including elected members of the Knesset, a Supreme Court justice and officers in the IDF.

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Judea and Samaria - Also known as the "West Bank" of the Jordan River. Areas captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. Approximately 2.1 million Palestinians and approximately 235,000 Israelis live in Judea and Samaria which measures 5860 square kilometers. Many voters on Israel's political right, along with many religious Jews, view these areas as the heart of ancient Israel and therefore wish to maintain control over the area based on historic and security rationales. This is the area discussed when speaking about future unilateral withdrawals.

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Law of Return - Legislation in Israel that allows Jews throughout the world to return to their ancient homeland - Israel - and receive full citizenship. The law's definition of "who is a Jew" is controversial inasmuch as it is not in accordance with Jewish religious law (halacha) - a fact that exacerbates religious/secular tensions in Israel. Additionally, the law has come under attack by detractors who call into question the historic need for a state for the Jewish people.

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Oslo Accords - The 1993 agreement of mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO and the ensuing peace process that led to the transfer of land from Israel to the Palestinian Authority. For more information, click here.

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Partition Plan - The 1947 United Nations' plan to divide the western portion of British Mandatory Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The plan - formally adopted by the United Nations on November 29, 1947 - was accepted by representatives of the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine, paving the way for the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. The Arab side rejected the proposal, opting instead to fight the nascent Jewish state.

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Pre-1967 Borders - The borders of Israel from the 1948 War of Independence until the 1967 Six Day War. Arab and far left political parties feel that Israel's return to the "pre-1967 borders" is a prerequisite for achieving comprehensive peace. The Kadima, Labor and Likud parties as well as the right-wing parties view return to these highly indefensible borders as suicidal and advocate maintaining Israeli control over some large settlement blocks and portions of the Jordan Valley. Also, see Green Line above.

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Reciprocity - The principle on which Benjamin Netanyahu based his policy towards the Palestinian Authority during his 1996-1999 premiership. Reciprocity called on the Palestinians to uphold their commitments under the Oslo agreements before Israel would agree to further territorial concessions to the Palestinian Authority.

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Right of Return - The notion that millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli Independence War should have the right to return to houses and land inside Israel. Arab parties notwithstanding, all Israeli political parties - including the far-left parties - reject this "right" as the undoing of the State of Israel. Israeli governments have allowed return of some 100,000 refugees under a family reunification program (although this policy is coming under increased scrutiny as there have been cases of terrorists who have gained entry into Israel via this program). It was due to Arafat's insistence on this "right" - along with issue of Jerusalem - that the Camp David summit of July 2000 failed.

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Road Map Peace Plan - The performance based, Road Map, sponsored by the Quartet (the US, the UN, the EU and Russia) was hailed as the last step that would lead to peace between Israel and the Arabs by 2005-clearly a time-line that has not been met. The basic premise is that a two-state solution to the conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and committed to creating a functioning democracy. The three phases of the plan are:

  1. Fighting Terrorism
  2. Palestinian State with Provisional Borders
  3. International Conference with negotiation of permanent status issues

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Security Fence - A hotly debated proposal in the elections of 2003, PM Ariel Sharon won a landslide victory on a platform opposed to the Fence. Months later he changed course and started construction of the barrier whose goal is to prevent terrorist infiltrations into Israel. The Fence runs largely along the border of the Green Line with some diversions meant to incorporate large Israeli populations on the 'Israel side' of the fence and/or to account for security concerns. Right wing parties see this as an expensive, shortsighted solution of negligible efficacy (especially in the face of the introduction of rockets and mortars by the Palestinians, something which the Fence cannot defend against) that will establish a de-facto border between Israel and the Palestinians. Liberal parties view this as an important defensive strategy in the fight against terror. The Fence is currently largely complete in the Samaria area with the 'Jerusalem envelope' and the southern route of the fence scheduled for full completion in 2007.

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Settlements - Also known as Israeli communities in Judea, Samaria, the Golan (and formerly in the Gaza Strip). These are communities that were established after Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six-Day War. In general, there are two types of communities - security and ideological. Security related communities are those that have been created in areas of strategic defense importance to Israel. Examples include communities in the Jordan Valley, along the Jordan River. These communities are traditionally seen as an obstacle to invading Arab armies from the East. Other security settlements are located on high peaks of the Judea and Samaria - places from which hostile forces could control or seriously disrupt life in Israel's major populations centers. Ideological communities are those in locations where the Jewish People have a historic or spiritual affinity. Examples include Hebron, communities in the area of Shechem and - according to the US State Department - neighborhoods of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. For more information and a map, click here.

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Settlers - Term widely used for those Israelis who choose to live in a community/settlement located in Judea, Samaria, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.

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State of all its Citizens - A term used by some Israeli Arabs who would like Israel define itself less by its Jewish character and more by the ethnic make-up of the citizens that live in the state. Those who use the term often promote the idea of jettisoning the outwardly Jewish symbols of Israel such as the Israeli flag and the Hatikva national anthem. Azmi Bishara - currently an Arab Knesset Member noted for his support of Hizbullah and praise of Israel's arch-enemy Syria - calls for a two-state solution in which the State of Palestine would exist side-by-side with a de-Judaized Israel that would be a "state of all its citizens."

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Temple Mount - The Temple Mount is the massive stone platform built by King Herod to support the second Jewish Temple (the Beit HaMiKdash) in Jerusalem. Not long after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple one thousand nine hundred and thirty-six years ago in 70 CE, they erected on its site a pagan house of worship. When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, the Temple Mount was left desolate as a reminder to Jews that God had forsaken them. Shortly after the Moslem conquest of the area in 638 CE, the Caliph Omar cleared the Temple Mount of debris and re-dedicated it as a place of Moslem worship. In 691 CE, Omar's son Abdel-Malik, enshrined the memory of his father by building the Dome of the Rock on the site of the ancient Jewish Temples. A few years later in 701 CE, the Al Aksa Mosque was built on the southern portion of the Temple Mount and became Islam's third holiest site after Mecca and Medina. Although the Temple Mount is still the Jewish People's holiest site, Jewish religious law and current political sensitivities restrict access to the area. Therefore, Jewish worshipers pray at the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, known commonly as the "Western Wall" or Kotel in Hebrew.

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Territories - The politically neutral term for describing the areas Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War. The terms "Judea" and "Samaria" have taken on a right-wing connotation in Israeli political discourse, as they are the biblical names to the area. Left-wing parties who wish to downplay the area's historic meaning to the Jewish People use the terms "West Bank" or "occupied territories."

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UN Resolutions 242 & 338 - United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 was adopted in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War and established the "land-for-peace" formulation. It called for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East that would include: Israeli withdrawal from territories captured; cessation of states of belligerency between Israel and Arab nations; freedom of navigation in international waterways; just settlement to the refugee problem; and territorial inviolability and political independence of every state in the area. UN Resolution 338, adopted after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, re-affirmed resolution 242 and called for end of warfare between Egypt and Israel. Israelis are quick to point out that 242 calls for Israeli withdrawal from "territories" not "all the territories" captured. This exegesis means that the comprehensiveness of the withdrawal is contingent upon the quality of the peace granted in return.

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Unilateral Withdrawal - A policy originally advocated by former Labor party leader, Amram Mitzna, and other left-wing parties which proposed unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and major parts of the West Bank. After winning a landslide victory over Mitzna, largely on the strength of his opposition to unilateral withdrawal and the security fence, PM Ariel Sharon later endorsed the plan and embarked on what he called 'Disengagement'. In the summer of 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the entire Gaza Strip and a portion of Northern Samaria (including 25 settlements and approximately 8,000 Israeli citizens). Proponents of the plan, of of further unilateral withdrawals, see it as a way to extricate Israel from a sticky political and security situation and safeguard Israel's Jewish and democratic character. Critics view unilateral withdrawal as a mistaken policy of mammoth proportions that will convey to Israel's enemies a message that military pressure leads to complete Israeli capitulation. Worse still, unilateral withdrawal makes no demands on the Palestinian side. Such freedom of action would allow the Palestinians to establish a state as well as establish mutual defense pacts against Israel with hostile neighbors. In such a scenario, by fighting terror emanating from a Palestinian state, Israel could trigger a regional conflict.

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West Bank - Western bank of the Jordan River captured from Jordan by Israeli in 1967, also known as Judea and Samaria. Approximately 2.1 million Palestinians and nearly 200,000 Israelis live in Judea and Samaria which measures 5860 square kilometers. Many voters on Israel's political right, along with many religious Jews, view these areas as the heart of ancient Israel and therefore wish to maintain control over the area based on historic and security rationales.