CountryAAH, Israel was given a new government during a year
marked by a 34-day war against Lebanon and a multi-month
offensive in Gaza. The ceasefire was announced at the end of
November in Gaza, which raised some hopes even though it did
not include the West Bank.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a severe brain
haemorrhage on January 4. Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
was appointed acting leader of Sharon's newly formed party
Kadima. He pledged to continue pursuing Sharon's policy and
to conduct the parliamentary elections scheduled for March
28. During the election movement, Olmert described the
election as a referendum on his plan to set Israel's limits,
unilaterally if required, by 2010. It could also include
withdrawal from parts of the occupied West Bank. Equal
leader Benjamin Netanyahu criticized this, including with
reference to the fact that Hamas terrorist-stamped won the
Israel frozen in February the transfer of tax and customs
duties to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), citing
that it was under Hamas control.
I's election was carried out under great security
precautions. Kadima became the largest party with 29 of the
120 seats in the parliament, the Knesset. The Labor Party
got nineteen seats, while ultra-Orthodox Shas got twelve.
The election's surprise became the Pensioners Party with
seven mandates. Likud declined sharply and received twelve
seats compared to 38 after the 2003 election, but Netanyahu
remained. The extreme right-wing party Yisrael Beitenu,
which has its political base among immigrants from the
former Soviet Union, received eleven seats. Turnout was low
at 63%. One third of Parliament's 120 seats went to small
Sharon's condition remained serious and he never woke up
from his coma. He was declared unable to exercise his
position on April 11 and Olmert formally took over. Olmert
negotiated a coalition government in April and reached
agreement with the Labor Party, Shas and the Pensioners'
Party. Knesset accepted the proposal on May 4. Olmert became
Prime Minister and his party mate Tzipi Livni Foreign
Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. The Labor Party's Amir
Peretz got the post of defense minister despite lacking
military credentials. Veteran politician Shimon Peres, who
previously joined Kadima, also became a minister.
Olmert visited the United States in late May. President
Bush expressed support for the plan for withdrawal from
parts of the West Bank and called for talks with Palestinian
President Mahmud Abbas. Olmert and Abbas met very briefly in
neighboring Jordan in June.
On June 25, militant Palestinians captured an Israeli
soldier, Gilad Shalit, and killed two other soldiers at an
army post near Gaza. Israel responded with a major offensive
three days later. Bridges, a power plant and the Palestinian
Ministry of the Interior and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail
Haniya's office were bombed. The groups that removed Shalit
demanded the release of 1,000 prisoners and an end to the
offensive, which Israel rejected. On June 29, Israel arrested some
60 Hamas members, many of whom are MPs and eight ministers.
The Shiite Muslim Hizbullah guerrillas in Lebanon
conducted a raid on July 12 on the northern border of Israel Two
Israeli soldiers were abducted and eight were killed. Israel
responded by bombing targets in southern Lebanon and ground
troops entered the neighboring country for the first time
since 2000. Hizbullah fired rockets Haifa, which required
eight lives. During the 34-day war, nearly 1,200 lives in
Lebanon and 157 Israeli lives were claimed. The fighting
ended on August 14 following a UN decision to deploy a
UNIFIL force of 15,000 soldiers in southern Lebanon.
While the Lebanese war was raging, I continued its raids
in Gaza with the aim of killing militant groups that fired
Israeli border towns with rockets. The offensive was
estimated to have claimed at least 400 dead during the year.
Olmert's position weakened after the Lebanon war.
Criticism was also directed at the army for underestimating
Hizbullah's strength. In late October, Olmert took in
ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu in the government and its
disputed leader Avigdor Lieberman was given responsibility
to review strategic threats against Israel One of the Labor
Party ministers left the government in protest.
In the fall, rockets continued to fire at southern Israel
from the Gaza Strip. In early November, Israel stepped up his
offensive. Eighteen civilians were killed on November 8 when
Israeli grenades hit several homes instead of a rocket
strike. Israel regretted this. The outside world condemned the
incident but the US stopped a critical UN resolution.
At the end of November, Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza
after Olmert and Abbas agreed to stop the rocket fire
against Israel ending their offensive. In a speech on November
27, Olmert said that Israel was prepared to release Palestinian
prisoners and pay frozen customs and tax charges but
demanded the release of the abducted soldier Shalit and that
the Palestinian government would recognize Israel Olmert and
Abbas met again in December
Justice Minister Haim Ramon resigned on August 20 on
suspicion of forcing a kiss by a female conscription officer
in July. Israel's President Moshe Katsav's position was also
questioned after being accused of multiple rape and sexual
assault. Katsav denied the charges but the matter ended up
with the prosecutor. Katsav did not appear from Knesset's
autumn opening in mid-October. The President has
prosecutorial immunity and can only be deposed by the