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A Short Political History of Israel

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Since Israel was founded in 1948, 11 people have served as prime minister.

Power has shifted back and forth between the Labor and Likud parties, traditionally the country’s largest, on seven different occasions. After his announcement Monday that he is bolting Likud to form a new faction, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is hoping power changes hands yet again — this time to his new centrist party, National Responsibility.

Israeli politics are rarely dull, and Sharon’s breakaway has pundits, politicos and the general populace chattering animatedly about the nation’s future. A quick glance at our timeline of Israeli political rule offers a glimpse into the two parties’ shifting fortunes throughout Israel’s short but tumultuous history.

During Israel’s first three decades, politics was dominated by the largely Eastern European elite that controlled Mapai and its descendant, the Labor Alignment, which became the Labor Party.

Labor was led by luminaries such as David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin during these years.

In 1977, just four years after the party’s founding, Likud leader Menachem Begin rode his populist appeal — along with support from North African and Middle Eastern Jews — to the prime ministership. He resigned in 1983 and was succeeded by another Likudnik, Yitzhak Shamir.

In 1984 power shifted briefly back into Labor’s hands as Shimon Peres, under rules brokered in a Labor-Likud coalition agreement, became prime minister for two years. Under the terms of the rotation agreement, the prime ministership rotated back to Shamir in 1986.

In the 1988 election, Likud won enough mandates to lead without Labor as its partner. That lasted until 1992, when Labor’s Rabin reclaimed the top job he had held briefly in the 1970s. He held the position until his assassination in 1995.

Peres again took over the prime minister’s office after Rabin was killed until elections could be held six months later. Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu then defeated Peres in a closely contested election in May 1996, holding power for three years until he was defeated by Labor under Ehud Barak, a former military chief of staff.

Barak’s government collapsed after the Palestinians rejected his peace offer at Camp David in the summer of 2000 and then launched their violent intifada. Sharon, a Likud founder and stalwart, was elected as Israel’s 11th prime minister in February 2001, pledging to restore security to Israel.

Sharon won re-election in a landslide in 2003. Now he is preparing to run for a third term, this time at the head of a new ticket. Elections are expected in March 2006.

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