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FOCUS: ISRAEL VOTES
Profile: The Israeli Labour party
Since 1968 it has included leaders such as Golda Meir, David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Rabin.
Last Modified: 15 Feb 2009 14:09 GMT

Labor has been losing support among Israelis frustrated with the peace process [GALLO/GETTY]

 
The Labor party is trying to convince Israeli voters, that Ehud Barak, the current minister of defence and a former prime minister, is the man to lead the country.

Barak's biggest selling point is his military experience. The Gaza war came at a good time for him, boosting his popularity among Israelis just before the election. 

The Labor party wants to appear both moderate and tough. In his campaign ad, Barak says he will never stop striving for peace – but he will never hesitate to strike with military force when it is necessary. 

The main problem facing the Labor party, however, is that Israelis have lost faith in the peace process. 

The Labor party needs to offer new ideas and prove to the electorate that a vote for them is not a wasted vote. 

David Horowitz, the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, said: "I do not think anyone seriously thinks that Barak is going to be prime minister. But Labor it seems is going to have a fairly stable place in parliament. It might even keep the number of seats it has now.

"And if it does, that will have been a real achievement for a party that was in a terrible situation a few weeks back."

Party politics

The Labor party was founded in 1968 when a number of centrist and leftist parties entered into a political alliance.

The centre-left movement was for years seen as Israel's natural party of government, supplying seven out of 12 premiers.

In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin led the party to win 44 votes in the 120-member parliament. Rabin quickly banked on his substantial win at the polls to push for a peace deal with the Palestinians.

His policies of "land-for-peace" with the Palestinians angered many in Israel's right-wing movements. Rabin was assassinated in October 1995 and the party leadership passed on to Shimon Peres.

Peres called for early elections and lost his office to up-and-coming Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Losing ground

In 2003, Labor suffered another poll defeat when Amram Mitzna, the then party leader, won only 19 seats.

Labor maintained that number in March 2006 under Moroccan-born Amir Peretz, who assumed chairmanship of the party by ousting Peres in a leadership contest.
  
Barak took the helm in June 2007, coming out of the political retirement he took after the breakdown of the Camp David peace talks in 2000.
  
Traditionally the main left-wing party, Labor's leadership was previously drawn exclusively from the relatively well-off ranks of European Jews.
  
Before the Gaza war, Labour languished at the single-digit end of opinion polls.

After supporting the war, it is expected to get between 14 to 17 seats, which would still be a new low for the veteran party.

Negotiations with the Palestinians

The Labor party was in power when Israel fought major wars with the Arabs in 1956, 1967 and 1973.

However, in the past two decades it has pushed for peace negotiations with the Palestinians and called for the dismantling of most Israeli settlements.

In 2000, Barak and Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian president, came close to signing a final status agreement over Jerusalem's future and the creation of a Palestinian state.

However, the talks, held in Camp David under the auspices of Bill Clinton, the former US president, broke down when both sides accused each other of reneging on promises.

In 2009, Barak signalled that Israel may consider the Arab Peace Initiative, the Saudi-sponsored peace plan first announced in 2002 and reiterated in 2008, which called on Israel to return to the 1967 demarcation line in exchange for full diplomatic ties with the Arab world.

On the economic front, the Labofr party has pursued a free-market system and ensured minimal government interference in the economy. 

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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