Prime Minister of Israel


Prime Minister of Israel

The Prime Minister of Israel is the head of the Israeli government and is the most powerful political officer in Israel (the President of Israel being a titular figurehead). He or she wields executive power in the country, and has an official residence in Jerusalem. The current Prime Minister is Ehud Olmert of Kadima, the twelfth person to hold the position (excluding caretakers).

Following an election, the President nominates a Prime Minister after asking party leaders whom they support for the position, though between 1996 and 2001 the Prime Minister was elected in a separate election to the rest of the Knesset.

In Hebrew the position is called "Rosh HaMemshala" ( _he. ראש הממשלה, literally "Head of Government"), a term also applied to foreign Prime Ministers. Occasionally, the title of "Premier" is used when referring to the Prime Minister.

History

The office of Prime Minister came into existence on 14 May 1948, the date of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, when the provisional government was created. David Ben-Gurion, leader of Mapai and head of the Jewish Agency became Israel's first Prime Minister. The position became permanent on 8 March 1949, when the first government was formed.

Ben-Gurion retained his role until the late 1953, when he resigned in order to settle in the Kibbutz of Sde Boker. He was replaced by Moshe Sharret. However, Ben-Gurion returned in little under two years to reclaim his position.

He resigned for a second time in 1963, annoyed at a lack of support from colleagues, and broke away from Mapai to form Rafi. Levi Eshkol took over as head of Mapai and Prime Minister. He became the first Prime Minister to head the country under the banner of two parties when Mapai formed the Alignment with Ahdut HaAvoda in 1965. In 1968 he also became the only party leader to date to command an absolute majority in the Knesset, after Mapam and Rafi merged into the Alignment, giving it 63 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

On 26 February 1969, Eshkol became the first Prime Minister to die in office, and was temporarily replaced by Yigal Allon. However, Allon's stint as Acting PM lasted less than a month, as the party persuaded Golda Meir to return to political life and become Prime Minister in March 1969. Meir was Israel's first, and so far only female Prime Minister, and only the third female leader in the world (after Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Indira Gandhi).

Meir resigned from the post in 1974 after the Agranat Commission published its findings on the Yom Kippur War, even though it had absolved her of any blame. Yitzhak Rabin took over, though he also resigned towards the end of the eighth Knesset's term after a series of scandals including the suicide of Housing Minister Avraham Ofer after a police investigation began into allegations he used party funds illegally, Asher Yadlin (the governor-designate of the Bank of Israel) being found guilty of accepting bribes and sentenced to five years in prison, and Rabin's wife, Leah, being found to have an overseas bank account, illegal in Israel at the time.

Menachem Begin became the first right-wing Prime Minister when his Likud won the 1977 elections, and retained the post in the 1981 elections. He resigned in 1983 for health reasons, passing the reins of power to Yitzhak Shamir.

After the 1984 elections had proved inconclusive with neither the Alignment or Likud able to form a government, a national unity government was formed with a rotating Prime Ministership - Peres took the first two years, and was replaced by Shamir midway through the Knesset term.

Although the 1988 elections produced another national unity government, Shamir was able to take the role alone. Peres made an abortive bid to form a left-wing government in 1990, but failed, leaving Shamir to rule until 1992.

Rabin became the Prime Minister for the second time when he led Labour to victory in the 1992 elections. After his assassination on 4 November 1995, Peres took over as Prime Minister.

Prime Ministerial elections

During the thirteenth Knesset, (1992–1996,) it was decided to have separate elections for Prime Minister in a style similar to American Presidential elections. This was an attempt to deal with the increasingly fragmented nature of the Knesset, which had 13 parties with six seats or less as a result of the 1988 elections (though ironically the 1992 elections had produced a Knesset with only 10 parties, which alongside the 1973 and 1981 elections was a record low; this was largely as a result of a few parties merging). The aim was to give more power to the head of the government by freeing the position of dependency upon the support of minor parties in the Knesset, which had previously been used to bring down governments over relatively trivial matters.

The first Prime Ministerial election took place in 1996 alongside simultaneous Knesset elections. The result was a surprise win for Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud, after early results suggested Peres would win, prompting the phrase "went to sleep with Peres, woke up with Netanyahu." [ [http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART/977/618.html Prime Minister Netanyahu. Remember?] Maariv, 30 August 2005] However, the Knesset elections produced a win for Labour, meaning that despite his theoretical position of power, Netanyahu had to rely on the support of religious parties to form a viable government.

Ultimately Netanyahu failed to hold the government together, and early elections for both Prime Minister and the Knesset were called in 1999. Although five candidates announced their intention to run, the three representing minor parties (Benny Begin of Herut – The National Movement, Azmi Bishara of Balad and Yitzhak Mordechai of the Centre Party) dropped out before election day, and Ehud Barak beat Netanyahu in the election. However, the new system had failed again, as although Barak's One Israel party (an alliance of Labour, Gesher and Meimad) won the Knesset election, they garnered only 26 seats, the lowest ever by a winning party, meaning that a coalition with six smaller parties was once again necessary.

In early 2001, Barak resigned following the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada. However, the government was not brought down, and only elections for Prime Minister were necessary. In the election itself, Ariel Sharon comfortably beat Barak, taking 62.4% of the vote. However, because Likud only had 21 seats in the Knesset, Sharon had to form a national unity government. Following Sharon's victory, it was decided to scrap separate elections for Prime Minister and return to the previous system.

2003 onwards

The 2003 elections were carried out in the same manner as prior to 1996. Likud won 38 seats, the highest by a party for over a decade, and as party leader Sharon was duly appointed PM. However, towards the end of his term and largely as a result of the deep divisions within Likud over Israel's unilateral disengagement plan, Sharon broke away from his party to form Kadima, managing to maintain his position as Prime Minister and also becoming the first Prime Minister not to be a member of either Labour or Likud (or their predecessors). However, he suffered a stroke in January 2006, leading to Ehud Olmert becoming Israel's third Acting Prime Minister. His position was made permanent after the 2006 elections.

Order of succession

If the Prime Minister dies in office, the Cabinet chooses a new Prime Minister, [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4583928.stm Q&A: Israel's political future] BBC News, 11 January 2006] and in the meantime an Interim Prime Minister runs the government. Yigal Allon served as Interim Prime Minister following Levi Eshkol's death, as did Shimon Peres following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

According to Israeli law, if a Prime Minister is incapacitated rather than dies (as was the case following Ariel Sharon's stroke in early 2006), power is transferred to the Acting Prime Minister until the PM recovers (Ehud Olmert took over from Sharon). If the Prime Minister is declared permanently incapacitated then the Acting Prime Minister remains in office for 100 days. Once that period expires the President of Israel oversees the process of assembling a new governing coalition, and in the meantime the Acting Prime Minister becomes Interim Prime Minister.

In the case of Sharon, elections were already due to occur within 100 days of the beginning of his coma thus the post-election coalition building process pre-empted the emergency provisions for the selection of a new Prime Minister. Nevertheless, Olmert was declared Interim Prime Minister on 16 April 2006, after the elections but before he had formed a government (which he did on 4 May 2006).

Acting, Vice and Deputy Prime Minister

Aside from the position of Acting Prime Minister, there are also Vice Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers.

List of Prime Ministers

A total of twelve people have served as Prime Minister of Israel, four of whom have served on two non-consecutive occasions. Additionally, one person, Yigal Allon has served solely as an acting Prime Minister. The other two who have served as acting Prime Minister have gone on to become elected Prime Minister.

1 In 1965 Mapai merged with Ahdut HaAvoda to form the Labour Alignment, later renamed Alignment.

2 Eshkol died while in office. Yigal Allon briefly served as acting prime minister until he was replaced by Meir.

3 Rabin stepped back after a number of scandals. Legally he could not resign. Peres informally replaced Yitzhak Rabin until the 1977 elections. Yitzhak Rabin took over control again until Begin's first government was formed.

4 After the 1984 elections, Likud and the Alignment reached a coalition agreement by which the role of prime minister would be rotated mid-term between them. Shimon Peres of the Alignment served as prime minister for the first two years, and then the role was passed to Yitzhak Shamir. After the 1988 election Likud was able to govern without the Alignment, and Yitzhak Shamir became prime minister again.

5 Rabin was assassinated while in office. Shimon Peres served as acting PM until 22 November 1995.

6 On 21 November 2005, PM Sharon, along with several other ministers and MKs, split from Likud over the issue of disengagement from the Gaza Strip and negotiations over the final status of the West Bank. Sharon formed a new party, Kadima, which would go on to compete in the following elections of March 2006. Sharon continued as Prime Minister.

7 As the result of Ariel Sharon suffering a severe stroke on 4 January 2006, and being put under general anaesthetic, Ehud Olmert served as the Acting Prime Minister ( _he. ממלא מקום ראש הממשלה) from 4 January [ [http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2003/3/Ehud%20Olmert Ehud Olmert, MK] Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs] to 14 April, according to : "Should the Prime Minister be temporarily unable to discharge his duties, his place will be filled by the Acting Prime Minister. After the passage of 100 days upon which the Prime Minister does not resume his duties, the Prime Minister will be deemed permanently unable to exercise his office." In Sharon's case, this occurred on 14 April 2006, upon which Olmert became Interim Prime Minister. [ [http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2001/3/Basic+Law-+The+Government+-2001-.htm#16b Basic Law: The Government (2001)] Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 7 March 2001]

8 Olmert officially resigned on 21 September 2008. With this his cabinet becomes an interim government, and he accordingly becomes the interim prime minister, until the establishment of a new governing coallition. [cite news |author=Mazal Mualem, Shahar Ilan, Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondents, and The Associated Press |title=Olmert formally submits his resignation to Peres |url=http://haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1023052.html |publisher=Haaretz |date=2008-09-21 |accessdate=2008-09-21 ]

Living former Prime Ministers

As of September 2008, six former Prime Ministers were alive, the oldest being Yitzhak Shamir. Shamir also has the longest life span of any PM. The most recent to die was Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated on 4 November 1995. Ariel Sharon has been in a persistent vegetative state since his stroke on 4 January 2006.

References

External links

* [http://www.pmo.gov.il/PMOEng Official website]
* [http://www.knesset.gov.il/govt/eng/GovtByMinistry_eng.asp All Prime Ministers of Israel] Knesset website


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