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Israeli Electoral History: Barak Resigns, New Elections to Follow

(December 10, 2000)/Rebecca Weiner

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 Barak’s 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.

Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry