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Israel

Yearbook 1997

1997 IsraelIsrael. The support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was increasingly eroded during the year. Several ministers jumped out of the government after conflicts with the prime minister and even the United States rejected him. Almost daily, Israeli press speculated on Netanyahu's departure, but he kept his post nonetheless.

According to Countryaah, the first of this year's scandals involving the prime minister involved the government's appointment of the relatively unmarried lawyer Roni Bar-On as new state prosecutor. Israeli TV reported that Bar-On had been given the job after promising to pardon Arye Deri, the anti-corruption leader of the Shas Orthodox Party. Shas had threatened to withdraw its support for Netanyahu on certain issues in the Knesset unless Bar-On was named. The evidence against Netanyahu was not enough to prosecute, but investigators criticized him for lack of skills.

1997 Israel

In October, it was discovered that Netanyahu had sent two agents from the Mossad security service to Jordan to murder one of Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) leaders. The assassination attempt failed and the agents were arrested. To free them, Netanyahu forced Hamas' founder, Ahmed Yassin, out of Israeli prison, as well as some 50 other Palestinian prisoners whom Jordan wanted to be released. Assessors strongly questioned Netanyahu's judgment.

Another problem for Netanyahu was the Israeli occupation of the so-called security zone in southern Lebanon. During the first nine months of the year, the Shiite guerrilla Hizbullah (God's party) killed at least 34 Israeli soldiers there. That was more than in any other year since the occupation began in 1985. In addition, 73 people died when two helicopters collided in the air near the Lebanon border in February. A group of soldier mothers launched a campaign for a retreat from Lebanon. Several ministers also demanded a withdrawal.

In November, Netanyahu increased his power in the Likud Conservative party as he changed the process for how the candidates for parliament should be elected. Previously, they were voted on by the party members in the primary election, but Netanyahu made the party congress decide that the candidates should be elected by the party's central committee, which is entirely dominated by Netanyahu's supporters.

The change brought sharp criticism within Likud and it was speculated whether the party would crack.

Likud's rival, Labor Party Israel Labor Party, in June elected former commander Ehud Barak as new party leader after Shimon Peres. Barak, who has been Minister of the Interior and Foreign Affairs, was described as a man who can compete for political power with Netanyahu. Both were born in Israel and belonged to the army's counterterrorism force, where Barak was Netanyahu's commander.

No solution to the current deadlock in the peace process with the Palestinians was reached during the year. Hamas, which has not carried out any suicide attacks since Netanyahu took office in 1996, resumed its terrorist activities. A total of 24 Israelis were killed in three blast attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in March, July and September.

While Netanyahu called for a stop to the terror, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat called for a stop for Jewish settlements on the West Bank, which has become an increasingly important symbolic issue for both parties.

Violent confrontations erupted on two occasions: in the spring when the settlement of Hom Homa began to be built in eastern Jerusalem and in the autumn around another settlement in the same part of the city, Ras al-Amud. Later in the autumn, peace talks started again, but no breakthrough was achieved.

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