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Israel Political Parties: Yisrael Beiteinu

Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home in Hebrew) is a right-wing nationalist party established in 1999 by Avigdor Lieberman, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union. In 2012, the party merged with the ruling Likud party and Lieberman took moved to the second spot on the party list behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The party describes itself as "a national movement with the clear vision to follow in the brave path of Zev Jabotinsky", the founder of Revisionist Zionism. Though its main electorate is Israel's large Russian immigrant population, the party does hold favor among the more veteran Israeli public as well.

Yisrael Beiteinu is in favor of a peace settlement with the Palestinians but advocates replacing the land-for-peace approach with a mutual exchange of territories and populations under the principle of peace for peace, land for land. The party's manifesto states that "The end result [of a peace settlement with the Palestinians] must not be a state and a half for Palestinians and half a state for the Jews… It would be unjustifiable to create a Palestinian state that would exclude Jews while Israel became a bi-national state with an Arab minority of more than 20 percent of its citizens." The party states that Jerusalem must remain the undivided capital of Israel.

Yisrael Beiteinu supports the advancement of free-market economic policies and favors financial incentives, tax discounts and the reduction of bureaucracy, along with governmental assistance in the setting up of factories and research-and-development programs to attract foreign investment. Regarding religious issues in Israel, the party does not call for the separation of religion and state. Yisrael Beiteinu's manifesto states that the party will "strive to establish a modern society based on Jewish tradition and Zionism – a society that respects the religious and halakhic aspects of Jewish life and is also tolerant of different religious outlooks."

Following the 2006 elections, Yisrael Beiteinu became the fifth-largest parliamentary faction in the Knesset and it joined Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition, where Lieberman was named Minister of Strategic Affairs. The party withdrew from the coalition in January 2008, however, in protest against what the party viewed as unacceptable concessions during negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

In the 2009 elections, the party won 15 seats, becoming the third largest behind Kadima and Likud. It soon joined the coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Lieberman became Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, whilst the party received four other ministerial portfolios, and one deputy minister post.

In October 2012, Lieberman and Netanyahu announced that Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu would merge ahead of the elections.  “In view of the challenges we’re facing, we need responsibility on a national level ... We’re providing a true alternative, and an opportunity for the citizens to stabilize leadership and government.,” Lieberman said. In the January 2013 elections, Likud-Beiteinu won 31 seats in the Knesset.

Yisrael Beiteinu disolved their two year union with Likud in July 2014, likely due to disagreements about the events surrounding Operation Protective Edge between Likud leader Prime Minister Netanyahu and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.  Even while serving as Foreign Minister, it was no secret that Lieberman aspired to be Prime Minister.  His position was temporarily damaged when he had to withdraw from his position in the government to face charges of money laundering, witness tampering, breach of trust, fraud, and corruption, but he returned to the Foreign Ministry once he was aquitted of the charges during a trial. 

Leading up to the 2015 elections, in December 2014, many public figures associated with the Yisrael Beiteinu Party were detained and questioned, amidst accusations ranging from bribe-taking and embezzelment to nepotism.  These accusations, in addition to Lieberman's personal legal troubles, landed Yisrael Beiteinu in hot water and negatively affected the party's public image.  Polls conducted in the week leading up to the election indicated that Lieberman's party might not receive enough votes to make the 3.25% threshold.

Yisrael Beiteinu made it over the election threshold in 2015, but not by much. They came in second to last place, securing six seats in the 20th Knesset.

Sources: Arutz Sheva; The Israel Project; Jerusalem Post; Wikipedia; Haaretz (February 5, 2015);