Yisrael Beytenu / Israel Our Home
Yisrael Beytenu [Yisrael Beitenu] is a nationalist list, made up of new immigrants and old-timers and headed by MK Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman is an ardent Jewish nationalist who profoundly distrusts Israel's Arab neighbors (and many Israeli Arabs). He is single-mindedly focused on the end game -- assuring the security of Israel as a Jewish state -- with little concern for how Israel gets there. That is why he can champion a hawkish platform on negotiations with the Palestinians, while also declaring openly that he is prepared to uproot his own family from their home in a West Bank settlement if Israel can reach a satisfactory agreement with the Palestinians. Lieberman, unlike some of Netanyahu's other coalition partners, is not ideologically or religiously driven to hold on to the West Bank as part of Israel's God-given patrimony.
Lieberman's rise to the top echelon of Israeli politics has been remarkable. Born in present-day Moldova, Lieberman immigrated to Israel in 1978 and became involved in rightwing politics while a student at Hebrew University. He worked his way up the ranks of the Likud party and served as the Director General of the Prime Minister's Office during Netanyahu's first term as premier during 1996-99. Lieberman then served in former Prime Minister Sharon's governments from 2001 to 2006, all the while working to broaden his political base beyond the Russian community in Israel. His hardline security posture and focus on the Iranian threat resonated with the Israeli electorate, helping his YB party garner 11 seats in the 2006 elections.
Yisrael Beiteinu was formed in 1999 by former Likud member, Avigdor Lieberman, just a year after he quit the post of Prime Minister Netanyahu's bureau chief, in a bid to attract mostly Russian immigrant votes, which supported a harder line in negotiations with the Palestinians. The party won four Knesset seats in the 1999 general elections and in 2000 merged with the National Union faction. In the course of the Fifteenth Knesset, Yisrael Beitenu merged with the Ichud Hale'umi, forming the Ichud-Hale'umi -Yisrael Beitenu parliamentary group. In the elections for the Sixteenth Knesset, Yisrael Beitenu was part of the Ichud Haleumi list.
In the 2005 elections for the Seventeenth Knesset, Yisrael Beitenu ended the merger with the National Union and ran as an independent list and won 11 Knesset seats. The party joined the coalition in October 2005, as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert named Avigdor Lieberman minister of strategic affairs. The party resigned the coalition in January 2008 over Israel's negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
On February 19, 2009 Yisrael Beiteinu chairman MK Avigdor Lieberman recommended that Likud chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu form the next government, but only as part of a national unity government comprising of Kadima, Likud, and Yisrael Beiteinu. Lieberman told President Shimon Peres, "The situation demands a national unity government in view of the challenges, the economic situation, and the threats from Iran and Gaza. Everything demands the establishment of a broad government. Each of us will have to rise above their petty considerations."
According to Yisrael Beytenu, "The Western world and its values are in a direct clash with extremist Islam. Israel as a representative of the Western World is situated on the front line of this conflict. The premise that the Israeli-Arab conflict is the root cause of the instability in the Middle East is false and misleading. This conflict is but one manifestation of the multifarious drive of the fundamentalist world against every worldview that contradicts the spirit of Islam. ... The longing for peace and yearning to bring all war to an end has led to serious distortions in Israeli foreign policy and security. So too, attempts to simultaneously achieve peace and security have failed, revealing themselves as false hopes that lead only to disappointment.
"In many circles, credence is given to the well-worn assumption that the root cause of the Israeli-Arab conflict is of a territorial nature - hence the (false) hope that through territorial concession, we will usher in an age of peace.... The two most recent examples of territorial cession prove that not only does it fail to establish peace but rather leads directly to the intensification of terror. With the retreat from Lebanon and the Gaza strip, respectively, we did not achieve peace but instead saw the rise of the Hezbollah and Hamas.... Israel must explain that the anti-Israel position of extremist Muslim leaders, which can also be found in many circles in the West, is a direct product of classical anti-Semitism and that demands for the establishment of a Palestinian state and the right of return are but a subterfuge, concealing the ultimate goal of the destruction of the State of Israel.
"The only territorial compromise that can safeguard Israel's Jewish character and nourish its desire to be a safe haven for all Jews comprises two principles: 1. the notion of mutual exchange - peace for peace, land for land. This is in contradistinction to the unilateral approach of land in exchange for peace. 2. The notion of unity - any territorial concession must meet with the broad consensus of the Jewish nation. ... the only possible solution is the exchange of territory and populations, with the goal of the separation of the Jewish and Arab nations, respectively. Only this solution can guarantee the Jewish character of the State, assure a clear Jewish majority in the short and long term.
"A vital aspect of our vision is the belief that Israel must separate Gaza from the West Bank and cease to treat these territories as one unit - both in political and practical terms. Israel must relate to each of these territories as separate entities that require different policies... Israel would be willing to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank while simultaneously treating Gaza as a hostile independent political entity... Gaza should receive the same treatment as the Sinai Peninsula. Just as Israel ceased to supply anything to Sinai after ceding the territory to Egypt, so should Israel act towards Gaza, especially considering Hamas's dominance there."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said 15 November 2009 that a return to 1967 borders, with a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria, would bring the conflict into Israel's borders. Establishing a Palestinian state will not bring and end to the conflict, Lieberman said. If a Palestinian state were established in Judea and Samaria, the minister added, Israeli Arabs would demand autonomy in the Galilee and Negev and would build stronger bonds with the Palestinian Authority.
In December 2009 Lieberman cast doubt on the ability of the Palestinian leadership to ever reach an end of the conflict with Israel. "We think that if we make more concessions everything will work out," he said at a speech to the country's 140 ambassadors and consul-generals participating in a conference in Jerusalem. "Even if we return the last grain of sand, and divide Jerusalem, and agree to all the demands, nothing will change and we will be in the same situation." Lieberman pointed to former prime minister Ehud Olmert who had agreed to give the Palestinians "everything, including Jerusalem, refugees and a return to the 1967 borders - and nothing happened." The foreign minister said Netanyahu went a long distance toward the Palestinians by delivering his Bar-Ilan University speech on June 14, in which he spoke of a demilitarized Palestinian state, removed numerous roadblocks throughout the West Bank, and declared a 10-month moratorium on housing starts.
In late October 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dropped a political bombshell when he announced that his Likud Party would merge with the ultra-right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Israeli political experts have been scratching their heads over the significance of the merger. A secular immigrant from the former Soviet republic of Moldova, Lieberman opposes special privileges such as draft exemptions given to the haredi, or Orthodox Jews. He takes a hard line against Iran, favors keeping Israeli settlements on West Bank and has proposed a two-state peace plan with the Palestinians based along ethnic lines - including a proposal to expel Israeli Arabs to any newly created Palestinian state.
The question confounding many Israeli political analysts was why Prime Minister Netanyahu went ahead with the merger. Does Netanyahuís new alliance mean he has embraced Liebermanís harder line policies, or was the merger just pragmatic politics in preparation for the next Israeli election? In January 2013, the alliance between Netanyahu's center-right Likud Party and the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman won 31 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, 11 fewer than they had after the 2009 elections, but the most of any bloc.
Michael Philippov noted in 2015: "According to some published studies, there are about 720,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union now living in Israel. The wave of immigration that began in the late 1980s was very old, with an average age of 50. Almost 130,000 of them have since died; others left Israel, starting mainly in the early 2000s. That means that the number of Russians living in Israel is much smaller than people think. This dwindling process has unquestionably dealt a blow to Avigdor Libermanís electoral potential."
Lieberman does not hide that his goal is the Prime Minister's slot, but his secular orientation offends the religious parties, and his controversial rhetoric and possible criminal activities could block his ascent.
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