Fifteenth Knesset  
June 07, 1999   February 17, 2003
  Results of Elections
  Factional Make-up
  Speaker: Avraham Burg
  Knesset Members
Elected Officials:
President: Moshe Katsav
Government 28
Under Ehud Barak

Government 29
Under Ariel Sharon
Prime Minster Ariel Sharon addresses the Knesset in memory of Minister Rechavam Ze'evi
Prime Minster Ariel Sharon addresses the Knesset in memory of Minister Rechavam Ze'evi

Selected Events:
14.9.1999 The Knesset debated the beginning of negotiations to settle the peace process agreements between Israel and the Palestinians. Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat had signed the Sharm el Sheikh Memorandum on September 4th, in which both parties agreed to begin negotiations while executing the interim agreements.
13.10.1999 A motion for the agenda was raised on the Supreme Court’s decision for equal support to Reform and Conservative institutions.
20.10.1999 A motion for the agenda was raised on the Supreme Court’s authority to dismiss laws which are in contradiction to the Basic Laws.
25.10.1999 The Knesset decided on the establishement of the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee for Lessons to be Learned from the Maccabiah Bridge Disaster. The Disaster occurred two years earlier, on July 14th 1997, at the opening ceremony of the 15th Maccabiah, when a temporary bridge collapsed into the Yarkon River. The Bridge was built to enable the passage of the delegations into the ceremonies. As a result of its collapse, four members of the Australian delegation were killed and 69 participants injured.
22.12.1999 The Speaker of the Knesset extended holiday wishes to Christians in Israel and around the world in honor of Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and the upcoming turn of the millennium.

12.1.2000 Motions for the agenda n the negotiation with Syria were raised. Talks between Israel and Syria began in Shepardstown, United States on January 3rd, held by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa and President of the United States Bill Clinton.
24.1.2000 A special plenum sitting was held on the subject of “Is it time for a constitution?” marking the Knesset’s 51st anniversary.
1.3.2000 A motion for the agenda was raised regarding the visit of the Pope and its implications. Pope John Paul II was to visit Israel on March 20th as a part of the millennium festivities.
13.3.2000 The Likud faction presented a no-confidence motion in the Prime Minister for the initiative of Education Minister Yossi Sarid to include Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s poems in the education program.
25.5.2000 The Knesset held its sitting in Rosh Pina, the day after Israel unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon. The sitting expressed the identification of the Knesset with the settlements at the Northern border and with IDF soldiers.
31.5.2000 A motion for the agenda was raised on the Supreme Court’s ruling to allow the listing of two mothers for a child.
17.7.2000 A debate was held on a motion for the agenda on the matter of Israel’s risk at the Camp David Summit. Negotiations at Camp David between Prime Minister Barak and PLO Chairman Arafat were held on July 11th, sponsored by US President Bill Clinton. The Summit was held with the intent to bring about a permanent agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it ended unsuccessfully on July 25th.
30.10.2000 The Speaker of the Knesset spoke on the recent violent acts of terror in Israel, while Prime Minister Barak announced on the Government’s future policy. The Al Aqsa Intifada broke out a short time after Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount on September 28th. The Intifada began as basic acts of protest, and evolved into terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. Violent demonstrations of Israeli Arabs were held in early October, during which 13 of them were killed. Two IDF soldiers were lynched in Ramallah on October 12th and in subsequent months, the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem came under fire from shootings from Beit Jala. On October 7th, Hezbollah organization kidnapped three IDF soldiers who patrolled the border near Shebaa Farms. A summit at Sharm el Sheikh was held at that time and brought about a mutual respite.
13.11.2000 The Knesset debated on a motion for the agenda on the findings of the investigative committee on Joseph’s Tomb and Mount Ebal. The Committee was established by the IDF to investigate the events in Joseph’s Tomb at Nablus which led to the death of a border policeman. It found that the IDF commanders at the premises acted properly. On the matter of the settlers touring Mount Ebal at Samaria, a tour in which Rabbi Binyamin Herling was killed, the Committee found the tour organizers to have misled the authorities who had approved their route.
The Dalai Lama speaks in the Chagall State Hall, 19.4.1999
The Dalai Lama speaks in the Chagall State Hall, 19.4.1999

21.1.2001 Prime Minister Barak and PLO Chairman Arafat met in Taba in an attempt to form an agreement based on the proposals of President Clinton. Negotiations came to a halt after six days, and a mutual statement was made, without reaching an agreement. The Intifada meanwhile continued to spread.
6.2.2001 Elections for the Prime Minister were held.
13.2.2001 A debate was held on the state of Ethiopian Jewry remaining in Ethiopia.
19.2.2001 A debate was held on road accidents and on the establishment of an aid center for casualties and their families.
21.2.2001 The Knesset debated matters related to children and youth in distress: Children of alcoholic parents; the increase in drug abuse among teenagers and the possible closure of “Al-Sam Anti Drug Abuse Association”; and a 70% increase of drug trade felonies committed by teenagers.
30.5.2001 The Knesset discussed the Versailles wedding hall disaster in Jerusalem. The hall’s floor collapsed during a wedding held on May 24th, killing 24 and injuring approximately 380.
4.6.2001 The Speaker of the Knesset spoke on the terrorist attack at a club in Tel Aviv. The attack occurred on Saturday night, May 1st, when a Palestinian terrorist ran towards the waiting crowds at the entrance to the club. 21 were killed and 120 injured.
25.7.2001 The Parliamentary Inquiry Committee on Social Gaps in Israel was established.
16.9.2001 A special Knesset recess sitting was held for sympathizing with the grief of the American people following the terrorist attack on the United States. Terrorists of “Al Qaeda” organization hijacked four aircrafts on the morning of September 11th, crashing two of them into the World Trade Center in New York, one into the Pentagon near Washington DC, and another into an open field in Pennsylvania. Approximately 3,000 citizens were killed in the attacks.
24.10.2001 A memorial plenum sitting was held in honor of MK Rechavam Ze’evi, who was murdered on October 17th by three Palestinian terrorists of the “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.”
14.11.2001 A debate was held over the announcement of the IDF’s Head of Manpower Directorate on the status of the three kidnapped soldiers. The IDF had reported in October that the soldiers, who were kidnapped on October 7th 2000 by Hezbollah, were killed during their kidnapping.

A Selection of Enacted Laws

The Fifteenth Knesset officiated for about three and a half years, during which two governments presided – the 28th Government, headed by Ehud Barak, and the 29th Government, headed by Ariel Sharon. Barak and Sharon were both elected in direct elections for Prime Minister, and Barak resigned after his Government lost its majority in the Knesset.

The Speaker of the Knesset was, for the first time, elected to the post without the support of the Prime Minister. The Speaker, Avraham Burg, insisted on maintaining an independent foreign policy, separate from that promoted by the Government. It was evident at the visits to the Knesset of Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and the Speaker of the Palestinian Parliament Abu Alaa, against the formal position held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Barak’s Government oversaw the one-sided withdrawal from Southern Lebanon and was willing to make far-reaching political and territorial concessions. Its concessions towards an agreement with the Palestinians included more than 90% of the territories of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and part of Jerusalem, in exchange for establishment of a Palestinian state in peace with Israel. These moves, of which only the withdrawal from Lebanon was completed, were highly controversial and this was noticed in Knesset debates.

The Second Intifada, more violent than the previous one, was triggered by the visit of Ariel Sharon to Temple Mount on September 28th 2000. Shortly thereafter, Israeli Arabs began a series of violent demonstrations and riots, during which 13 Arab citizens were killed by the security forces. These events raised many questions and were debated by the Knesset, in connection with the fate of the peace process and the status of Israeli Arabs within the country.

The breakout of the Intifada, in addition to the global economic crisis and fallout of the hi-tech sector, undermined the stability of the Israeli economy and were additional factors in the weakening of Barak’s Government. The Government’s proposal for a reform in taxation – in favor of taxation on profits of savings accounts, stock investments and inheritance – was fiercely opposed within the Knesset and in the public.

Ultimately, the Government lost its majority in the Knesset, mainly due to the core differences regarding negotiations with the Palestinians. Barak decided to call for elections for Prime Minister.

The direct elections for Prime Minister were held in February 2001, and Ariel Sharon was elected by an absolute majority. The size of his government was larger than the number of seats found at the government table in the plenum, and an extra table was installed to fit them all. The number of ministers (29) and deputy ministers (16) left only 80 Members of the Knesset available for active parliamentary work (some ministers were not MKs).

Following the elections, the Knesset made arrangements to ratify the 2001 Budget Law, which was passed with a considerable delay on March 28th 2001. At the Prime Minister’s initiative, the direct elections for prime minister were annulled and the Basic Law: the Government was mostly restored to its former composition. Another law debated on after Sharon’s election was the “Tal Law,” dealing with the recruitment of yeshiva students to military service. The discussion on the bill was quite poignant, as it aroused different positions on the integration of the Haredi public in Israeli society.

Minister of Tourism Rechavam Ze’evi was murdered during the Intifada by terrorists at the Hyatt Hotel in Jerusalem. The continuation of the Intifada and the increase in terrorist attacks by Palestinian terrorists led to Operation “Defensive Shield,” in which the IDF acted against terrorist infrastructures in the West Bank. These subjects were debated in the Knesset, as well as the economic crisis and the growth in social gaps. Two other subjects, raised for the first time, were the increasing numbers of foreign workers and the public protests of the disabled. The increase in foreign workers, amounting to roughly 260,000, coexisted with unemployment of about 200,000 citizens in Israel; about two thirds of the foreign workers were illegal at the time. The protests of the disabled were brought, physically, to the Knesset: In early 2002 they besieged the Knesset building.

Politically, the 15th Knesset was one of the less stable Knessets in the history of the State of Israel. The main reasons for it were the political and economic state, but other factors were involved. The weakening of the two larger parties – the Labor Party and the Likud, who together held 46 seats alone – with the rise of the third largest party, Shas, to 17 seats (only two less than the Likud) – was one factor. The strength of Israeli parliamentary system was also shaken by the resignation of both leaders of the Likud and the Labor Party, with Benjamin Netanyahu resigning after his defeat in the elections to the 15th Knesset, and Barak following his defeat in the prime ministerial elections. Splitting of factions and the movement of Knesset Members between factions increased the instability, evident with the resignation of 19 MKs – the highest number in history, only second to the number of resignations in the following (16th) Knesset. This Knesset was the second one to officiate during the tenure of two governments headed by different parties. Unlike the rotation made in the Eleventh Knesset, this Knesset continued to hold office while direct elections for prime minister were conducted and the factional makeup of each government was different.

The political instability was also noticed in the parliamentary work at the Knesset. A record number of private member’s bills were presented – 4,236 – only 239 of which were passed. On the other hand, only 162 government bills and 39 committee bills became laws. Since the cost of private legislation exceeded the state budget, an amendment to the Basic Law: The State Economy was passed in July 2002, concluding that a private member’s bill which costs more than 5 million NIS for its execution and is not supported by the government, must pass with the support of at least 50 MKs.

During its tenure, the 15th Knesset succeeded, for the first time since the introduction of the Arrangements Law, to improve its authority on its legislation. The Arrangements Law was, by definition, a law for amendments concerning the budget. Since it became concerned with various interests, the Knesset established that its process of revision will be distributed to committees other than to the Finance Committee.

To further improve the parliamentary work, two new departments were established in the Knesset - the Research and Information Center (2000) and the Commission for Future Generations (2001). The construction of a new wing in the Knesset also began, aimed to improve the physical conditions of the building.

President of the United States Bill Clinton hosts Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat at Camp David, July 11th 2000
President of the United States Bill Clinton hosts Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat at Camp David, July 11th 2000

9.1.2002 Motions for the agenda were presented on the capturing of the “Karine A” weapons carrier. The IDF took control of the carrier, intended for the Palestinian authority, on January 2nd.
22.1.2002 The Knesset debated over the fierce terrorist attacks across the country: In Hadera, Binyamina, near Dugit, and the shooting and stabbing incidents in the West Bank.
28.1.2002 A festive plenum sitting on “Democracy at a Time of War” was held in honor of the Knesset’s 53rd anniversary.
4.2.2002 A second Parliamentary Inquiry Committee on Traffic Accidents was established.
4.3.2002 The Knesset marked the 60th anniversary of the murder of Lehi founder and Commander, Avraham Stern.
4.4.2002 A special plenum sitting was held for a debate on Operation Defensive Shield. This IDF operation took place between March 29th and May 10th, and was intended to destroy the terrorist infrastructure within Palestinian cities in Judea and Samaria and to stop the ongoing wave of terrorist attacks.
17.6.2002 A special plenum sitting was held to mark the 100th anniversary of Zionist Religious Education.
28.6.2002 Motions for the agenda were raised regarding the political address of the President of the United States. President George Bush spoke on June 24th and presented his plan for the renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The plan, entitled the “Road Map,” set the establishment of a Palestinian state as its final goal. Prior to its establishment, alongside Israel, an end must be brought to Palestinian violence and terror.

<TABLE class=CaptionsOrange width=660 align=center border=0>
        <TR vAlign=top>
            <TD align=middle width=210>The signing of the Sharm-el-Sheikh Memorandum</TD>
            <TD align=middle width=240>The Prime and Foreign Ministers</TD>
            <TD align=middle width=210>Ministers in Barak’s government</TD>
The signing of the Sharm-el-Sheikh Memorandum The Prime and Foreign Ministers Ministers in Barak’s government

12.1.2003 An award ceremony was held, hosted by the Deputy Minister of Immigrant Absorption, in honor of excelling volunteers.
28.1.2003 Elections were held for the 16th Knesset. (Back in March 2001, the Knesset passed the new version of the Basic Law: The Government, which canceled direct elections of the Prime Minister. The elections for the 16th Knesset were the first in which the electoral system reverted back to that prior to 1996.)  

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