Israel’s March 28 national elections saw a setback for parties opposing withdrawal from the occupied territories and evacuation of the settlements, as well as stepped-up criticism of the government’s neoliberal social and economic policies. At the same time, parties with racist and extreme nationalist platforms gained ground.

Thirty-three parties participated, with 12 winning representation in the 120-seat parliament, the Knesset. The elections, held in the context of last summer’s “disengagement” from Gaza, also revealed significant changes in the political landscape.

The recently founded Kadima (“Forward”) Party, formed by former Likud leader Ariel Sharon as a supposedly centrist force, won 29 seats. Since Sharon’s stroke in January, Kadima has been led by the less popular former mayor of Jerusalem and ex-Likud member Ehud Olmert.

Immediately behind Kadima was the vote tally for Amir Peretz’s Labor Party, which campaigned largely on social issues and won 19 seats.

Likud, the biggest party in the past Knesset with 38 seats, won only 12, becoming the third largest party, on a par with Shas, an ultra-orthodox party appealing to ultra-orthodox Jews and working-class Jews of Sephardic descent. Likud opposed leaving the territories and evacuating the settlers.

At the same time, the parties to the right of Kadima turned further to the extreme. The fifth largest party with 11 seats, Israel Baytenu (“Israel is our home”), promotes the forced transfer of Palestinian citizens of Israel to a Palestinian state.

Only 17 women were elected to the Knesset, a drop of one from the last parliament.

According to Israeli law, the leader of the biggest faction in the Knesset must try to form a majority coalition of at least 61 members of the Knesset. On April 4 Olmert announced his intent to form a coalition with the Labor Party. Should he fail to form a coalition (not very likely), then leaders of other parties would be given a chance to form a majority and become prime minister.

In a post-election statement, the Communist Party of Israel predicted that a coalition led by Olmert would continue Sharon’s policies “in all fields,” including annexing settlement areas in the West Bank in which most settlers live, thus blocking the way to peace. The CPI predicted an Olmert-led coalition “will continue with the brutal oppression of the Palestinian people and with unilateral actions which ignore the role of the Palestinian people in reaching a solution,” turning the fate of the occupied territories into an “internal Israeli matter.” Such a coalition, the party said, would also “continue the conservative policy of privatization, slashing social expenditure and increasing polarization.”

“We warn in advance of the disasters the Olmert government is likely to inflict both on the Israelis and the Palestinians,” the CPI said.

Hadash, the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, led by the Communist Party of Israel, won three seats — one more than in the past Knesset — and maintained its position as the largest single party in the Palestinian street in Israel. Notably, Hadash’s vote increased dramatically in universities and colleges across the country.

“Encouraged by this important achievement in the Knesset elections,” the CPI said, “the Israeli Communist Party will make special efforts to establish a wide Jewish-Arab front for the defense of democracy in Israel and against the policy of racism and discrimination; to widen its activity in defense of the day-to-day interests of the workers, women and young people” and to strengthen the party’s organization and widen its public base.

Among other noteworthy election results, none of the leaders of the four largest parties is an ex-general (though 22 other Knesset members come from different high-ranking security forces positions), and the majority of Knesset members were elected with the promise to withdraw from the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

D. Ba’al is a member of the Young Communist League of Israel.