Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Announces New Elections
(November 5, 2002 )
The elections to Israel's 16th Knesset are expected to be held on January 28, 2003. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined the government as foreign minister after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to call early elections. Later in the month, the Likud central committee will convene to vote on which of the two - Sharon or Netanyahu - will lead the party in the upcoming elections. On November 19, 2002, the Labor Party held its primary and selected Haifa Mayor Amram Mitznaa as its leader and candidate for prime minister. After the primaries for the party leadership in both the Likud and Labor, the remainder of the party's candidates for the Knesset will be chosen. In the Likud, the central committee of 2,750 people will elect the prospective MKs. In Labor, there is still discussion about the system to be employed in electing the members of the Knesset list. There are those who prefer not to hold primaries and to give the job over to a committee but many of the senior party members are opposed to this. The issue will be determined after the election of the party's leader.
Yesterday, a murderous terrorist attack occurred. A suicide bomber blew himself up in the center of a Kfar Saba shopping mall, with the intention of killing as many innocent civilians as possible. Infants, women and children - whose only sin is being Jewish. I take this opportunity to send my condolences to the families of the victims and my best wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded.
The State of Israel is currently facing difficult and complex challenges - perhaps the most complex we have ever known. Since the establishment of the National Unity Government under my leadership, I have done everything in my power to lead this country and tackle the challenges with the most comprehensive national consensus as possible. It was not easy, but national responsibility demanded it.
Unity was vital then and it remains imperative today.
Last week, the Labor Party decided to dissolve the Unity Government over a political whim. This irresponsible behavior lead to the unnecessary collapse of a government which reflected - and continues to reflect - the people's will for unity.
I have said this before and I say it again today - an election at this time is not what the country needs.
I asked all members of this government to demonstrate responsibility and good judgment in managing the affairs of the country and its citizens. This call was also made in my speech to the Knesset last Wednesday, and was directed at each and every public representative, from the coalition and opposition alike.
I said that leadership is tested and judged by its ability to always favor the national interest over any other political interest.
Since the irresponsible departure of the Labor Party, I turned to various factions and personalities to stand with the government in the upcoming challenges.
Unfortunately, demands and conditions were made, to which I could not concede:
Yesterday we all heard the statements made in the Knesset by the Chairman of the Ihud Leumi-Israel Beitenu party. We heard him state clearly that his faction would not join the government. We heard him make a long list of demands, expressing absolute objection to the establishment of a national unity government - today and in the future.
From my first day as Prime Minister, I established a rule for myself. I will not surrender to political blackmail from any party. This is how I have acted in the past and it is how I will continue to act in the future.
I wanted this government to complete its full term. I wanted it also because I made a promise to my partners in the coalition that I would do my utmost to ensure that that happens.
However, the objection to the continuation of this government, which found expression in the unacceptable demands made by various political elements, together with the necessity to prepare for the difficult challenges ahead, brought me to the decision to favor the most responsible, and least objectionable, option - to dissolve the 15th Knesset.
This morning I met with the President and asked for his consent, in accordance with Article 22 to the Basic Law: the Government, to dissolve the Knesset and hold general elections within 90 days. The President, after due consideration, gave his consent and he will address the public shortly on this matter. This morning I also briefed the government ministers and heads of the factions about my decision, and a notification was also delivered to the Chairman of the Knesset.
Source: Ha'aretz, (November 7, 2002); Israeli Foreign Ministry