The Main Events and Issues During the Fifteenth Knesset
Fifteen factions were elected to the 15th Knesset - the same number as were elected
to the 11th and 12th Knessets. The major difference, however, was the number of seats won
by the two largest factions in the previous Knessets. In the previous Knessets, the
number of members that constituted the two largest factions was 85 and 79 respectively.
In the 15th Knesset, that number declined to only 45. Two centrist parties received
6 seats each: Shinui and the Central Parties. By the end of the
fifteenth Knesset's term, the Central Party, for all intents and purposes ceased to exist,
while Shinui increased its power in the 16th Knesset to 15 seats.
PM Barak with Knesset Speaker Burg and coalition MKs on the swearing-in
day of his Government, 6.7.1999.
Ministers in the Barak Government: Cohen, Benizri, Ben-Ami 6.7.1999
As with all of its predecessors from the 11th Knesset on, the 15th Knesset reigned for less
than four years - three years and eight months.
The 15th Knesset was the second since the establishment of the State during which two
governments, headed by Prime Ministers from two different parties, held power. The first
time this occurred was during the 11th Knesset, when Shimon Peres from the Labor Party and
Yitzhak Shamir from the Likud Party held power in rotation within a National Unity Government.
During the term of office of the 15th Knesset two separate Prime Ministers were elected by
direct personal vote (instead of being elected as head of a party list, which had previously
been the case): Edud Barak from the One Israel Party (an alliance of the Labor, Gesher and
Meimad Parties) on May 17, 1999, and Ariel Sharon from the Likud on February 6, 2001. The
coalition that each established was constituted from different factions. The major
difference between the two was that under Barak, Meretz was One Israel's chief partner while
under Sharon, Labor-Maimad was the Likud's chief partner. Immediately upon the formation of
the Sharon government, the Knesset at the initiative of the Government, revoked the direct
personal election of the Prime Minister. The old system of voting for one list was reinstated
and took effect in time for the election of the 16th Knesset.
Since the Sharon Government was composed of 29 Ministers, an additional small table had to
be placed in the in the middle of the old government table in the Knesset Hall in order to
accommodate all of the government members.
Installing the additional table for the 29th Government in the Knesset Plenum -
PM Sharon and his government in the Knesset's Government Meeting Room
on the day of its investiture, 7.3.01.
MK Avraham Burg of the Labor Party was elected Chairperson of the 15th Knesset, despite his
not being the nominee of Prime Minister Barak. He continued in this position even after
Sharon was elected PM and even though he opposed Labor taking part in the National Unity
Government. Burg initiated the establishment of "The Research and Information Center" in
the Knesset in 2000 as well as "The Commissioner for Future Generations" in March of 2001,
whose purpose is to evaluate the impact of current legislation on future generations.
Burg advocated the right of the Knesset to direct its own independent external relations.
This policy became manifest when he invited the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama,
and the Chairperson of the Palestinian Parliament Abu Ala to visit the Knesset in spite
of the Foreign Ministry's objections.
At the beginning of the 15th Knesset there was optimism regarding the potential progress
of the Peace Process. This, despite fierce disagreements concerning the concessions it
appeared Barak was willing to make on the Palestinian front at Camp David,
as well as on the Syrian front.
Terrorist attack on Israeli bus in the Pat neighborhood of Jerusalem. 18.6.02
U.S. President Clinton hosts PM Barak & Chairman Arafat at Camp David, 11.7.00
These disagreements were frequently expressed in Knesset debates. A year after the
establishment of the Barak Government, the IDF unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon.
This was also a subject of dispute between the various factions of the Knesset.
In September 2000 the Second Intifada broke out, destroying any hopes for a permanent
peace in the near term. In October, riots broke out in the Israeli Arab sector, in the
course of which 13 Israeli Arabs were killed. The Northern Border remained relatively
quiet despite the IDF withdrawal from Lebanon. Corresponding to the outbreak of the
Intifada, three Israeli soldiers were kidnapped from within Israel and murdered by the
Hizballah, and an Israeli citizen was kidnapped while on an overseas visit.
As the Intifada continued, Palestinian terror acts against Israel increased, as did
Palestinian terrorist suicide bombings.
On October 23, 2000, Revhavam Ze'evi, a Minister in the Israeli Government, was murdered at
the Hyatt Hotel in Jerusalem by Palestinian terrorists. At the end of March 2002 Operation
Defensive Shield was initiated. All these events were subject to extensive Knesset debate.
Handicapped protesting in the anteroom of the Knesset, 6.2.02.
PM Sharon pays tribute to the memory of Minister Rechavam Ze'evi, 6.11.02.
At the beginning of the 15th Knesset's term of office the state of the Israeli economy
appeared robust. The Intifada, however, negatively influenced the economy. The global
economic crisis and the worldwide Hi-Tech bust also contributed to the deep recession that
had beset the Israeli economy. The Knesset dealt extensively with Finance Ministry proposals
the economic crisis. Severe budget cuts for 2001 (approved only in March 2001) were the end
result. There were also difficulties in passing the 2002 budget (approved only in February
2002). There was also massive opposition to Government proposals for a radical tax reform
that included, among other things: A tax on capital gains, savings accounts and stock
market investments as well as an inheritance tax. The Knesset voted down these proposals.
The Second Intifada increased the demand for foreign workers. Their number increased to
260,000 by the end of the 15th Knesset, two thirds of which were in Israel without work
permits. Parallel to the increase in foreign workers there was also an increase in
unemployment. The number of unemployed reached 200,000. The 15th Knesset created a specific
committee to handle matters regarding foreign workers. It also dealt extensively
unemployment problem as well with the growing social/economic gap. The Knesset was also
witness to protests by members of the handicapped community.
A record number of private members' laws were proposed in the 15th Knesset - 4,236 in all.
Of these, 239 were passed into law, in comparison to 162 governmental proposals and 39
There was a realization that many of the private members' laws required a large financial
expenditure that was not covered in the budget. Consequently, on July 15, 2002 an
important amendment to the Basic Law: The State Economy was adopted: Legislative proposals
and reservations whose adoption entails budgetary expenditure. This amendment made it
mandatory that private member legislative proposals requiring five million NIS
or more per year to implement and that were not supported by the Government receive the
support of at least 50 Members of Knesset to pass.
One of the most important pieces of legislation that was passed by the 15th Knesset had to
do with sorting out the terms of military service of ultra-orthodox Yeshiva students
according to the proposals of the Tal Committee.
Other important pieces of legislation dealt in the following areas: The employment of workers by
labor subcontractors, the amending the social security law that doubled the birth
allowance from the fourth child on and increased the child allowance from the
fifth child on, and a law that delineated the activities of the internal intelligence
service - the "Shabak".
While the 14th Knesset did not institute even one Parliamentary Inquiry
Committee, the 15th Knesset instituted nine such committees. Among
the most important of these committees were those that dealt in the slave
trade of women, the social gap, and road accidents. Six committees published
On July 31, 2000 the 15th Knesset elected Moshe Katzav to be the eighth
President of the State of Israel.
The newly elected president,
Moshe Katzav, passing the Knesset Honor Guard
on his inauguration day, 1.8.2000.
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