History, Sharon Becomes Prime Minister
cabinet positions, Shimon Peres, lethality, final settlement, Barak
In the February 2001 election, voters were presented with a choice between Barak and Ariel Sharon of Likud for the post of prime minister. Leading up to the election, Sharon’s campaign stressed two factors: first, that the security of Israelis would be his administration’s paramount concern; and second, that the peace process initiated in Oslo in 1993 was “dead.” Sharon stated unequivocally that the violence must stop before the negotiations could continue, and that negotiations should then not be restricted by the agreements reached in Oslo. Sharon won the election by an overwhelming margin, reflecting the growing pessimism among Israelis regarding the peace process and Arafat’s power to curtail violence.
Sharon assembled a broad-based government that included people with differing views on the peace process. Several noted Labor figures were appointed to cabinet positions, including Shimon Peres as foreign minister. The government’s clear first objective was to stop the violence and restore security to the average Israeli. However, violence continued across the country. Israeli-Palestinian relations were further soured in January 2002 when Israeli forces seized a large shipment of weaponry allegedly purchased by a high-ranking Palestinian official. The peace process seemed to be moving in reverse as Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, and Israeli military responses to these attacks, continued to grow in severity and lethality. In response to mounting Israeli death tolls from Palestinian suicide bombings, in the spring of 2002 Israeli forces swept into the West Bank and occupied key urban centers for a three-week period. During the operation, which was vehemently denounced by Palestinian leaders, Israeli forces arrested hundreds of alleged terrorists and seized or destroyed large quantities of weapons. Many observers believed that achieving an end to the violence and restoring confidence between Israel and Palestinians were critical preconditions for serious peace negotiations leading to a final settlement.
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