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Legislators Take Oath of Office As 15th Knesset Holds First Session

With a record 15 parties in attendance and all but guaranteed to provide fireworks in the weeks and months to come, Israel’s 15th Knesset convened this week for its inaugural session.

The incoming Knesset, whose members were sworn in Monday, is expected to operate on a limited basis until Prime Minister-elect Ehud Barak forms his government.

President Ezer Weizman opened the session and then turned the podium over to former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who as the most senior legislator, presided over the session as acting speaker.

Peres and other legislators were slated to meet this week to discuss what limited forms of business should come before the Knesset until Barak’s government is approved.

After being sworn in, Peres swore in the other 119 Knesset members, each of whom took the pledge of office separately.

Among them was Barak, who soon left the house to continue coalition negotiations. He has another month before presenting his government for legislative approval.

Outgoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also took the oath. He had previously announced he was resigning his Knesset seat, but he subsequently postponed his departure until Barak presents his Cabinet.

In an address before swearing in the legislators, Peres said the peace process is irreversible.

“I believe that the dream of peace will be like the dream of independence, a dream that became a reality,” he said.

Peres recalled the legacy of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, “under whose leadership we began a revolutionary process of making peace in the Middle East.”

Rabin’s daughter, Dalia Rabin-Philosof, one of 37 newcomers to the Knesset, later welcomed the reference to Rabin’s achievement as “overdue.”

During his address, Peres also made an appeal for unity among legislators and the Israeli public as a whole.

“Democracy is not just a matter of respect for the rule of law, but also of respect for minorities,” he said.

But this advice apparently went unheeded when hard-line legislators heckled Dr. Ahmed Tibi, who formerly served as Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s adviser on Israeli affairs, when he took the oath of office for his first Knesset term.

Rehavam Ze’evi, a member of the far-right National Unity bloc, shouted at Tibi, “Do you indeed intend to stand by this oath?”

Tibi later made a show of not singing Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, with the other legislators.

“I’m not a Jew. It speaks of a ‘Jewish heart beating,'” Tibi explained later. “It’s a pretty melody, but the words mean nothing to me.”

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