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Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 18:28 GMT
Spotlight on Israeli cabinet
Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon
Coming and going: Ehud Barak (left) and Ariel Sharon
Graphic
Israel's new prime minister Ariel Sharon has put together a potentially fractious coalition government that brings in politicians from the left and right as well as ultra-nationalist and religious parties. BBC News Online's Tarik Kafala spotlights the main players.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Sharon may have deeply hidden diplomatic skills
If his record is anything to go by, he will make no concessions to the Palestinians on Jerusalem, keep all the settlements under Israeli sovereignty and come down hard on the Palestinian uprising using the full force of the Israeli army.

Many analysts are saying this would be a recipe for disaster - driving the region closer to a wider conflict and probably ripping Mr Sharon's government apart.

On the other hand, the prime minister's success at pulling together the largest government in Israeli history suggests that he may have diplomatic skills he has in the past chosen to hide from the world.

Mr Sharon has promised to pursue the peace process, when the Palestinian uprising ends, but has so far refused to outline a vision of the peace process that might interest the Palestinians.

  • Click here for a profile of Ariel Sharon

    Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres:

    Foreign Minister Shimon Peres
    Peres risked deep and lasting splits in Labour by joining the government
    Within the Labour Party Shimon Peres was the chief advocate of joining the Sharon coalition. In an impassioned speech he argued: "The time has come to listen to the people. We suffered a defeat because we did not listen to the people."

    Party members opposed to the move complained that the party was losing its soul and betraying the legacy of past leaders. Observers have said that Mr Peres's choice may cause deep and lasting splits in the Labour Party.

    By joining the government as foreign minister, Mr Peres is hoping to influence the peace process. Whether he will be able to agree with Mr Sharon on anything to do with pursuing peace, and whether there will be a peace process to influence, are open questions.

  • Click here for a profile of Shimon Peres

    Shas:

    Eli Yishai (left) and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
    Party leader Eli Yishai (left) and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the real power in Shas
    As the only religious party in Israel with any real infleunce, Shas has been a crucial and highly disruptive element in the last two Israeli governments.

    The party is only indirectly concerned with the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Shas's main aim in politics seems to be to secure financial backing and autonomy for its schools.

    The party schools about 40,000 children a year in the Shas brand of Jewish fundamentalism.

    With 17 seats in the parliament, the party holds the balance of power between Likud and Labour in the Knesset.

    The ultra-nationalists:

    National Union leader Rehavam Ze'evi
    Rehavam Ze'evi: Ironically known as "Gandhi" for his militaristic views
    The Israeli far-right are represented in the Sharon coalition by Israel Beitenu (Israel Our Home) and the National Union.

    Israeli Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman, a Russian immigrant, gained notoriety after calling for Israel to attack Egypt and Iran in the event of a regional war.

    National Union leader Rehavam Ze'evi has likened Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Adolf Hitler, and argues that the best way to deal with the Palestinian uprising is to re-occupy areas under Palestinian Authority control.

    Mr Ze'evi, a former army general, is mockingly nicknamed "Gandhi" because of his strongly militaristic views.

    Both parties propose the "transfer", or expulsion, of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

    The cabinet extremists may not in the end have that much say in government policy.

    However, the fact that Mr Sharon is happy to have the ultra-nationalists in the cabinet worries many Israelis, and they will certainly keep the government leaning to the right.


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