Shocking the nation, Ehud
Barak tendered his resignation as Prime
Minister of Israel on Sunday December 10, 2000. Earlier in the
day, at a press conference, Barak stated "I will officially
advise the president of my resignation (and) in 60 days ... go to
special elections for prime minister... Due to the emergency
situation the country is in ... and the need to continue reducing the
violence and moving forward the chances of peace negotiations, I have
decided to ask again for the mandate of the people of Israel."
Barak's decision came after it became clear the
Knesset would soon vote to call new elections and was viewed as a
shrewd political move to prevent his principal rival from having the
opportunity to challenge him. According to the Basic
Law: the government, after a resignation is filed, an election is
held 60 days later for the prime minister position only. By holding
an election for the prime minister and not a new Knesset too, only current members of the Parliament, whose party has at least
10 seats, are allowed to run.
Polls have shown that Barak would win an election
against Ariel Sharon, current
head of the Likud Party,
but would lose an election against Benjamin
Netanyahu, the former Prime Minister of Israel whom Barak defeated
in 1999. Netanyahu was preparing to announce his decision to run
against Barak when it appeared a general election would be called in
the Spring. Since Netanyahu is not a member of the current Knesset,
however, he cannot run for prime minister in the special election.
Now, either a change in the basic law to allow non-Parliamentarians
to run, or a new election for the Knesset is needed for his candidacy
to be accepted. Bills have been proposed to do both, dissolve the
Knesset and to amend the basic law to allow Netanyahu to run. At
least 61 members of the Knesset must vote for the Knesset to be
dissolved for new Knesset elections to be held.
Netanyahu is not the only Likud member with his
eyes on the premiership. Both Ariel Sharon and Meir Sheetrit plan to
challenge for leadership of the Likud and then represent the party in
the race for the prime minister.
Barak has also reaffirmed his position as head of
the Labor party, thereby
allowing him to run for prime minister. Avraham
Burg, speaker of the Knesset and Haim
Ramon were considered two of Baraks main challengers; however,
the Labor Party voted to back Barak as its candidate for prime
minister. Barak will remain the head of the government in a caretaker
capacity until the election.
The outcome of the election could hinge on the
behavior of the Palestinians in the next two months. If violence
continues, Barak's chances are considered dim; however, a calming of
tensions would likely work in his favor. The expectation is that no
progress toward a new peace agreement can be reached with the
Palestinians until after the election, which Barak hopes will give
him a new mandate to pursue his vision of peace in negotiations with Palestinian
Authority Chairman Yasser
Arafat. The opposition is equally hopeful that its candidate will
win public support to pursue negotiations in a different fashion,
notably with a greater emphasis on security concerns and less
willingness to offer concessions, particularly on core issues such as
the final status of Jerusalem, settlements, borders and refugees.