Israel. According to CountryAAH, major public holidays in Israel include Independence Day (April 14) and New Year (January 1). 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 Palestinian elections.
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 parties.
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 Knesset.