Key figures in Sharon's govt

2001-03-07 18:20

Jerusalem - Following are thumbnail sketches of several leading members of the new Israeli national unity government to be presented on Wednesday by right-wing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

  • Foreign Minister and first deputy prime minister Shimon Peres

    The 77-year-old elder statesman and peacemaker, who has never won a national election, re-emerged as a political force after rallying the Labour party to join Sharon's national unity government.

    Peres has remained on the political scene for four decades, serving twice as prime minister as well as holding the foreign affairs and defence portfolios despite running for office and losing five times.

    As foreign minister he won a Nobel Peace prize, along with slain former premier Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, for his work in forging the 1993 Oslo peace accords that paved the way for limited Palestinian autonomy.

    His comeback follows a humiliating snub last year in his bid to become Israel's president and his failure to muster the support in parliament for a run as prime minister in the February 6 election.

    He was ousted from the leadership of the Labour party by Barak after his defeat by right-winger Benjamin Netanyahu in May 1996 following a string of grisly terror attacks by Palestinian militant groups.

    A consummate politician, he lobbied his Labour colleagues hard to join Sharon's government, despite the fierce opposition of fellow doves.

    "It will be a government in the spirit of peace," he said.

  • Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer

    The former general is a Labour party hawk whose views on national security can be expected to dovetail nicely with Sharon's hardline attitudes, pledging to formulate a clear strategy to "rout terrorism" after more than five months of deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence.

    Ben Eliezer, 64, is a large, thickset, straight-talking career army officer who emigrated as a teenager to Israel from his native Iraq in 1949, the year after the creation of the state of Israel.

    He saw action in the Six Day War that Israel and its Arab neighbours fought in 1967 and again in the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

    In 1982, serving under then defence minister Sharon, Ben Eliezer was one of the architects of Israel's much-criticised invasion of Lebanon. He later commanded Israeli forces in the West Bank, then served as government co-ordinator of activities in the Palestinian territories.

    He entered parliament in 1984 and most recently was minister of communications in Barak's government.

  • Public Security Minister Uzi Landau

    A leading hawk in Sharon's Likud party, the veteran MP is a strong opponent of the Oslo peace process with the Palestinians and has urged Israel to take the offensive in the more than five months of deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence.

    Landau, 53, has been a member of parliament since 1984 but has never before held a ministerial portfolio and the powerful job as public security minister was better than the transport post he had early hoped for. As security minister, he has control over the nation's police and will be a member of the inner security cabinet.

  • Finance Minister and deputy prime minister Deputy Silvan Shalom

    The Tunisian-born Shalom, whose surname means peace in Hebrew, is a journalist by profession who has built up solid economic experience over his 11 years of public service.

    The 42-year-old former deputy defence minister and science minister is considered a rising star within Likud and at one stage considered running for prime minister. He is married to the daughter of the owner of the top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot.

  • Interior Minister and deputy prime minister Eli Yishai

    Yishai took control of the powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish Shas party in June 1999, replacing Arieh Deri, who was imprisoned last year for three years on charges of corruption and bribery. Yishai, 38, a former director of Shas' school system, served as labour and social affairs minister under both Netanyahu and Barak before resigning in July 2000 to protest Barak's decision to hold talks on a final settlement with the Palestinians at Camp David in the United States.

  • Housing Minister and deputy prime minister Nathan Sharansky

    Sharansky, who spent nine years in Soviet prisons for his religious beliefs, has participated in all Israeli governments since he formed Israel B'Aliya, the largest Russian political party in the country, in 1995.

    The 53-year-old Russian quit his post as interior minister last July to protest Barak's decision to attend the Camp David summit with the Palestinians.

    Freed by the Soviets in 1986, he arrived in Israel as a symbol for political and religious freedom. An MP since 1996, he served as trade and industry minister under Netanyahu.

  • Infrastructure Minister Avigdor Lieberman

    The 42-year-old West Bank settler, head of the extreme right-wing Israel Beitenu (Israel Our Home), has since cultivated a reputation as a politically incorrect bully among Israelis.

    Dubbed "Rasputin" in the press due to several run-ins with the law, the burly former nightclub bouncer is facing prosecution for assaulting two teenagers.

    Lieberman, who emigrated to Israel in 1978 from the then-Soviet republic of Moldova, joined the Knesset in 1999 after serving as director general for former Likud party prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has made waves with right-wing pronouncements including a suggestion that Israel attack Egypt and Iran in case of an Arab offensive.

  • Education Minister Limor Livnat

    Known as the Iron Lady of the Likud with party colleagues comparing her to former hard-line British prime minister Margaret Thatcher because of her drive and hard-as-nails exterior.

    Livnat, 49, a political activist with the Likud since her university days, has been a Knesset member since 1992 and served as communications minister under the former right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu - then the only woman in the cabinet.

    A staunch campaigner for women's rights, she used her time at the communications ministry to push for privatising the sector and has said that when the time is right she would consider running for prime minister.

  • Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi

    Ironically nicknamed "Gandhi" due to his ultra-militaristic views, the 74-year-old retired general who leads the far-right National Union, has raised eyebrows in Israel for his comparison of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Adolf Hitler and his support for the expulsion of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

    Zeevi has been a member of Knesset since 1988 and served as a minister without portfolio in 1991-1992 under a right-wing Likud party government.

    Among other appointments, Zeevi has served on the Knesset's foreign affairs and defence and state control committees.

  • Deputy Defence Minister Dalia Rabin-Pelossof

    Rabin-Pelossof, 50, the daughter of assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, will be the first woman to serve in the post.

    A lawyer by profession, Rabin-Pelossof first became an MP with the Centre Party which was formed in 1999 by a group of moderates from Labour and Likud. But last month she and two other MPs who have since resigned from parliament formed a breakaway faction called The New Way.

    Her father Yitzhak Rabin, then Labour premier, was assassinated by a Jewish extremist in November 1995. He had previously served as defence minister.

    When Rabin-Pelossof entered politics however she decided not to follow in her father's footsteps in Labour and instead joined the Centre Party, a decision criticised by her late mother, Leah Rabin.

    Rabin-Pelossof has been outspoken in her criticism of Israel's domestic security service Shin Beth, charged with protecting the nation's leaders, for failing to prevent her father's murder and suggested that its failure may have been the result of a wider assassination conspiracy.

  • Minister without Portfolio Salah Tarif

    Tarif, is a member of the Druze community who is the first Arab to serve in an Israeli cabinet and has spent much of his life promoting the Arab minority in the Jewish state.

    Unlike other Israeli Arabs, the Druze, a small religious sect that numbers 80 000 in Israel, serve in the military, where Tarif became a parachutist commander.

    He joined parliament in 1991 as a member of the left-leaning Labour party and quickly rose to powerful positions, including chairman of the interior committee. He also served as deputy interior minister.

    Full list of Sharon's cabinet, to be presented to parliament on Wednesday. Party affiliations are in brackets.

    Prime Minister: Ariel Sharon (Likud)

    Foreign Affairs: Shimon Peres (Labour)
    Also first deputy prime minister

    Defence: Binyamin Ben Eliezer (Labour)

    Finance: Silvan Shalom (Likud)
    Also deputy prime minister

    Public Security: Uzi Landau (Likud)

    Interior: Eli Yishai (Shas)
    Also deputy prime minister

    Transport: Ephraim Sneh (Labour)

    Education: Limor Livnat (Likud)

    Justice: Meir Sheetrit (Likud)

    Trade and Industry: Dalia Itzik (Labour)

    Labour and Social Affairs: Shlomo Benizri (Shas)

    Agriculture: Shalom Simhon (Labour)

    Infrastructure: Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beiteinu)

    Housing: Natan Sharansky (Israel B'Aliya)
    Also deputy prime minister

    Environment: Tzahi Hanegbi (Likud)

    Communications: Reuven Rivlin (Likud)

    Tourism: Rehavam Zeevi (National Union)

    Health: Nissim Dahan (Shas)

    Religious Affairs: Asher Ohana (Shas)

    Jerusalem Affairs: Eli Suissa (Shas)

    Science, Sport and Culture: Matan Vilnai (Labour)

    Deputy Minister of Absorption: Yuli Edelstein (Israel B'Aliya)
    (Sharon will keep portfolio, giving Edelstein control of ministry)

    Ministers without portolio:

    Danny Naveh (Likud) - minister without portfolio with responsibility for parliamentary relations

    Salah Tarif (Labour)

    Raanan Cohen (Labour)

    Tzipi Livni (Likud) - Sapa-AFP