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Israel after the 2003-elections
Article added on June 2, 2003
  
Israeli voters decided at the end of January 2003 that the Likud would become Israel's leading party with a share of 29.4% of the votes. The Likud doubled its number of seats in the Knesset from 19 to 38. Labour lost 7 of its 26 members in parliament. The populist and anti-Orthodox Shinui party rose from 6 to 15 seats. The Orthodox Shas party lost 6 of its 17 seats. The political landscape changed dramatically and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ended up in February 2003 with what had been considered impossible prior to the elections: a center-right to right-wing coalition consisting of the Likud, the hawkish National Religious Party (NRP), the anti-Orthodox Shinui and others.
 
The big loser was Labour. The opportunistic move by Minister of Defense Benjamin Ben-Eliezer to leave the coalition was not rewarded by the voters. Labour had for too long supported the government led by Sharon, and Ben-Eliezer had acted as Sharon's willing executioner and even instigator of doubtful policies.

Labour's new and credible leader Amram Mitzna - a former general as many other leading Israeli politicians - had formulated an alternative policy regarding the "occupied territories". But voters punished him severely with the party's worst electoral result ever. Despite this fact, Mitzna stood by his word after the election and firmly refused a new coalition with the Likud. But he could not maintain himself at the head of his party for long. He came from nowhere and was never accepted by the old Labour leaders who resented the loss of (ministerial) power. In early May 2003, Mitzna stepped down as party leader.

The "irony" of history may make Ariel Sharon the man who (like Rabin before) reaches out his hand to the Palestinians. US President George W. Bush made it clear that he was serious about bringing peace to the Middle East. Sharon, who at first seemed to think that he could ignore the "roadmap", was forced to take it seriously too.

After Mahmoud Abbas alias Abu Mazen, the PLO secretary general and a founding member of Fatah, became the Palestinian Authority's prime minister, Sharon had no excuse anymore to refuse talks with the Palestinians. Abbas fully accepted the roadmap, adopted in December 2002, but only published on April 30, after Abbas and his government were sworn in; the US had insisted on the reform of the Palestinian leadership beforehand. On May 17, 2003 Sharon and Abbas met for the first time. Early the following morning, suicide attackers killed several Israelis.

On May 13, 2003, Sharon had still dismissed as not "on the horizon" any change of Israel's settlement policy. But in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on May 27, he called the new situation after the war against Iraq "an opportunity with the Palestinians we can't miss". In other words, even suicide attacks by terrorists (who, by definition, are not controllable by the Palestinian or any other prime minister), seem no longer an excuse for serious negotiations. The Israeli leaders still have serious security concerns, but the deadlock is broken. By the way, with the end of Saddam Hussein's regime, families of Palestinian terrorists do not get a $25,000 reward after a "successful" suicide attack anymore.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was not held responsible by his voters for the rise in terror activities against Israel. Nor did the sharpening of the economic crisis erode voter confidence. Israel is in its worst recession in 55 years. In 2002 GDP fell 1.1%. The February deficit was the highest in the country's history. Public spending reached 55% of GDP. Last but not least, unemployment in 2002 was 10.3%. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Sharon stressed that the acceptance of the peace plan would not only bring security, but also economic benefits to Israel.

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The official final results of elections to the 16th Knesset, January 2003
Total number of registered voters: 4,720,074
Total Ballots: 3,200,773
Invalid Ballots: 52,409
Valid Ballots: 3,148,364
Number of votes for qualifying threshold: 44,750
Number of votes per Knesset seat: 23,860

Votes by party list

no. of seats

no. of votes

% of votes
Likud 38 925,279 29.4%
Labor-Meimad 19 455,183 14.5%
Shinui 15 386,535 12.3%
Shas 11 258,879 8.2%
National Union 7 173,973 5.5%
Meretz 6 164,122 5.2%
National Religious Party 6 132,370 4.2%
Torah and Shabbat Judaism 5 135,087 4.3%
Hadash 3 93,819 3.0%
Am Ehad 3 86,808 2.8%
National Democratic Assembly (Balad) 3 71,299 2.3%
Yisrael Ba'aliya 2 67,719 2.2%
United Arab List 2 65,551 2.1%



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The Israeli coalition government 2003
 
Ministers in the governement
- Ariel Sharon: Prime Minister, Minister of Communication, Minister of Religious Affairs
- Ehud Olmert: Vice Prime Minister, Minister of Industry and Trade
- Silvan Shalom: Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Tomy Lapid: Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Justice
- Benjamin Netanyahu: Minister of Finance
- Shaul Mofaz: Minister of Defense (not an MK)
- Effie Eitam: Minister of Housing and Construction
- Benyamin Elon: Minister of Tourism
- Gideon Ezra: Minister in the Prime Minister's Office
- Tzachi Hanegbi: Minister of Internal Security
- Yisrael Katz: Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
- Uzi Landau: Minister in the Prime Minister's Office
- Avigdor Liberman: Minister of Transportation (not an MK)
- Limor Livnat: Minister of Education, Culture, and Sport
- Tzipi Livni: Minister of Immigrant Absorption
- Yehudith Naot: Minister of the Environment
- Dan Naveh: Minister of Health
- Zevulun Orley: Minister of Labor and Social Welfare
- Joseph Paritzky: Minister of Infrastructure
- Avraham Poraz: Minister of Internal Affairs
- Eliezer Sandberg: Minister of Science and Technology
- Natan Sharansky: Minister of Jerusalem Affairs (not an MK)
- Meir Sheetrit: Minister Without Portfolio, in the Finance Ministry
 
Deputy Ministers 
- Ze'ev Boim: Deputy Minister of Defense
- Victor Brailovsky: Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs
- Jacob Edery Deputy: Minister of Internal Security
- Zvi Hendel: Deputy Minister of Education, Culture, and Sport
- Yitzhak Levy: Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Office
- Michael Ratzon: Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade
 

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