The Rise of the 15th Knesset

The 15th Israeli Knesset serves as a good case study for how Israeli Parliamentary politics work, because during its term, 1999-2002, two different Israeli governments, under prime ministers from competing political parties, were dissolved. It is a tale of three retired generals at the summit of Israeli public life, where egos, ideology, power-struggles, and the fast pace of current events all played important roles in determining the fate of governments and policies. 

Barak’s Election

The elections for the 15th Knesset and the prime minister of Israel were conducted on May 17, 1999, resulting in one of the most politically fractioned parliaments in Israel’s history. But the main attention that night was cast on the convincing victory of challenger Ehud Barak of the Labor Party over the incumbent prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud, who immediately announced his resignation from public life.

As word of the results spread in the wee hours of May 18, an immense gathering of Barak supporters formed in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, the symbolism-laden site where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995. The crowd, impatiently demanding an appearance by Barak himself, as if he were a pop star, spilled over into the surrounding streets, imperceptibly mingling with revelers in the trendy pubs on Ibn Gvirol Street. This was a young, hip, and relatively affluent metropolis celebrating what it considered a victory for forward-looking rational progress. They exhibited no doubt that Barak would very shortly extricate the Israeli army from Lebanon, where it had been bogged down in a demoralizing and seemingly endless fight against Hezbollah; sign peace agreements with Syria and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, finally putting an end to decades of conflict; and then turn his analytical skills towards dealing with a host of domestic policies that had been put on the back-burner for too long due to the amount of attention required to deal with the Israeli-Arab conflict.

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Ziv Hellman is a Jerusalem-based writer and mathematician. A former editor at the Jerusalem Post, Ziv was a founding member of Peace Watch--the watchdog group reporting on the implementation of the Oslo Agreements. He also led the Israeli elections observer team evaluating the Palestinian Authority elections.

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