The prime minister of Israel (Hebrew: רֹאשׁ הַמֶּמְשָׁלָה, romanized: Rosh HaMemshala, lit. 'Head of the Government', Hebrew acronym: רה״מ; Arabic: رئيس الحكومة, Ra'īs al-Ḥukūma) is the head of government and chief executive of the State of Israel.
|Prime Minister of Israel|
|Prime Minister's Office|
|Term length||Four years, renewable indefinitely|
|Inaugural holder||David Ben-Gurion|
|Formation||14 May 1948|
|Deputy||Alternate Prime Minister|
Israel is a republic with a president as head of state. However, the president's powers are largely ceremonial; the prime minister holds the executive power. The official residence of the prime minister, Beit Aghion, is in Jerusalem. Naftali Bennett of Yamina, became the thirteenth prime minister (excluding caretakers) on 13 June 2021.
Following an election, the president nominates a member of the Knesset to become prime minister after asking party leaders whom they support for the position. The first candidate the president nominates has 28 days to put together a viable coalition. He then presents a government platform and must receive a vote of confidence from the Knesset to become prime minister. In practice, the prime minister is usually the leader of the largest party in the governing coalition. Between 1996 and 2001, the prime minister was directly elected, separately from the Knesset.
Unlike most prime ministers in parliamentary republics, the prime minister is both de jure and de facto chief executive. This is because the Basic Laws of Israel explicitly vest executive power in the government, of which the prime minister is the leader.
The office of Prime Minister came into existence on 14 May 1948, the date of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, when the provisional government was created. David Ben-Gurion, leader of Mapai and head of the Jewish Agency, became Israel's first prime minister. The position became permanent on 8 March 1949, when the first government was formed. Ben-Gurion retained his role until late 1953, when he resigned to settle in the Kibbutz of Sde Boker. He was replaced by Moshe Sharett. However, Ben-Gurion returned in a little under two years to reclaim his position. He resigned for a second time in 1963, breaking away from Mapai to form Rafi. Levi Eshkol took over as head of Mapai and prime minister. He became the first prime minister to head the country under the banner of two parties when Mapai formed the Alignment with Ahdut HaAvoda in 1965. In 1968 he also became the only party leader to command an absolute majority in the Knesset, after Mapam and Rafi merged into the Alignment, giving it 63 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
On 26 February 1969, Eshkol became the first prime minister to die in office. He was temporarily replaced by Yigal Allon, whose stint lasted less than a month, as the party persuaded Golda Meir to return to political life and become prime minister in March 1969. Meir was Israel's first woman prime minister, and the third in the world (after Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Indira Gandhi).
Meir resigned in 1974 after the Agranat Commission published its findings on the Yom Kippur War, even though it had absolved her of blame. Yitzhak Rabin took over, though he also resigned towards the end of the eighth Knesset's term following a series of scandals. Those included the suicide of Housing Minister Avraham Ofer after police began investigating allegations that he had used party funds illegally, and the affair involving Asher Yadlin (the governor-designate of the Bank of Israel), who was sentenced to five years in prison for having accepted bribes. Rabin's wife, Leah, was also found to have had an overseas bank account, which was illegal in Israel at the time.
Menachem Begin became the first right-wing prime minister when his Likud won the 1977 elections, and retained the post in the 1981 elections. He resigned in 1983 for health reasons, passing the reins of power to Yitzhak Shamir.
After the 1984 elections had proved inconclusive with neither the Alignment nor Likud able to form a government, a national unity government was formed with a rotating prime ministership – Shimon Peres took the first two years, and was replaced by Shamir midway through the Knesset term. Although the 1988 elections produced another national unity government, Shamir was able to take the role alone. Peres made an abortive bid to form a left-wing government in 1990, but failed, leaving Shamir in power until 1992. Rabin became prime minister for the second time when he led Labour to victory in the 1992 elections. After his assassination on 4 November 1995, Peres took over as prime minister.
During the thirteenth Knesset (1992–1996) it was decided to hold a separate ballot for prime minister modeled after American presidential elections. This system was instituted in part because the Israeli electoral system makes it all but impossible for one party to win a majority. While only two parties—Mapai/Labour and Likud—had ever led governments, the large number of parties or factions in a typical Knesset usually prevents one party from winning the 61 seats needed for a majority.
In 1996, when the first such election took place, the outcome was a surprise win for Benjamin Netanyahu after election polls predicted that Peres was the winner. However, in the Knesset election held at the same time, Labour won more votes than any other party (27%). Thus Netanyahu, despite his theoretical position of power, needed the support of the religious parties to form a viable government.
Ultimately Netanyahu failed to hold the government together, and early elections for both prime minister and the Knesset were called in 1999. Although five candidates intended to run, the three representing minor parties (Benny Begin of Herut – The National Movement, Azmi Bishara of Balad and Yitzhak Mordechai of the Centre Party) dropped out before election day, and Ehud Barak beat Netanyahu in the election. However, the new system again appeared to have failed; although Barak's One Israel alliance (an alliance of Labour, Gesher and Meimad) won more votes than any other party in the Knesset election, they garnered only 26 seats, the lowest ever by a winning party or alliance. Barak needed to form a coalition with six smaller parties to form a government.
In early 2001, Barak resigned following the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada. However, the government was not brought down, and only elections for prime minister were necessary. In the election itself, Ariel Sharon of Likud comfortably beat Barak, taking 62.4% of the vote. However, because Likud only had 21 seats in the Knesset, Sharon had to form a national unity government. Following Sharon's victory, it was decided to do away with separate elections for prime minister and return to the previous system.
The 2003 elections were carried out in the same manner as prior to 1996. Likud won 38 seats, the highest by a party for over a decade, and as party leader Sharon was duly appointed Prime Minister. However, towards the end of his term and largely as a result of the deep divisions within Likud over Israel's unilateral disengagement plan, Sharon broke away from his party to form Kadima, managing to maintain his position as prime minister and also becoming the first prime minister not to be a member of either Labour or Likud (or their predecessors). However, he suffered a stroke in January 2006, in the midst of election season, leading Ehud Olmert to become acting prime minister in the weeks leading to the elections. He was voted by the cabinet to be interim prime minister just after the 2006 elections, when Sharon had reached 100 days of incapacitation. He thus became Israel's third interim prime minister, only days before forming his own new government as the official Prime Minister of Israel.
In 2008, amid accusations of corruption and challenges from his own party, Olmert resigned. However his successor Tzipi Livni was unable to form a coalition government. In the election in the following year, while Kadima won the most seats, it was the Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu who was given the task of forming a government. He was able to do so, thus beginning his second term as Prime Minister of Israel.
In the 2013 election, the Likud Yisrael Beiteinu alliance emerged as the largest faction. After forming a coalition, Netanyahu secured his third prime ministership. In 2015, Netanyahu managed to stay in power. Multiple disagreements with his coalition members led to the 2019–2021 Israeli political crisis.
In 2021, Naftali Bennett became prime minister.
If the prime minister dies in office, the cabinet chooses an interim prime minister to run the government until a new government is placed in power. Yigal Allon served as interim prime minister following Levi Eshkol's death, as did Shimon Peres following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
According to Israeli law, if a prime minister is temporarily incapacitated rather than dies (as was the case following Ariel Sharon's stroke in early 2006), power is transferred to the acting prime minister, until the prime minister recovers (Ehud Olmert took over from Sharon), for up to 100 days. If the prime minister is declared permanently incapacitated, or that period expires, the president of Israel oversees the process of assembling a new governing coalition, and in the meantime the acting prime minister or other incumbent minister is appointed by the cabinet to serve as interim prime minister.
In the case of Sharon, elections were already due to occur within 100 days of the beginning of his coma; thus, the post-election coalition-building process pre-empted the emergency provisions for the selection of a new prime minister. Nevertheless, Olmert was appointed interim prime minister on 16 April 2006, after the elections, just days before he formed a government on 4 May 2006, becoming the official prime minister.
Aside from the position of Acting Prime Minister, there are also vice prime ministers and deputy prime ministers.
The interim prime minister (Hebrew: ראש הממשלה בפועל, Rosh HaMemshala Ba-foal lit. "prime minister de facto") is appointed by the government if the incumbent is dead or permanently incapacitated, or if his tenure was ended due to a criminal conviction.
Israeli law distinguishes the terms acting prime minister (מלא מקום ראש הממשלה), filling in for the incumbent prime minister, temporarily, and acting in the incumbent's office, while the incumbent is in office, and an interim prime minister in office. Only if the incumbent prime minister becomes temporarily incapacitated will the acting prime minister act in the incumbent's office and will be standing in for him for up to 100 consecutive days, while the incumbent is in office. Legally, the "100 consecutive days" limit, in the language of the law, only stipulates that the incumbent then is deemed to be permanently incapacitated and that the limited time for an acting prime minister to act in the incumbent's office is over.
The 1968 law (prior to the 1992 and 2001 basic laws of government) did not impose a time limit on a "temporarily incapacitation" period of the incumbent prime minister, but rather pending the return of the incumbent to resume his duties, and separately addressed only the event of death of the incumbent for appointing an interim prime minister, while failing to address Permanent incapacitation or criminal conviction of the incumbent prime minister.
Separately, the law of 2001 stipulates that in any event where the incumbent prime minister becomes permanently incapacitated (either declared as such or "100 consecutive days" limit expired or else), or if the incumbent died or ceased being prime minister due to a criminal conviction, the government that is "deemed to have resigned", to become an interim government, continues to govern until a new government is placed in power, and in the absence of a prime minister in office, they then must vote on one of their incumbent ministers (either the acting prime minister or else) to fully assume office as the interim Prime minister, if he or she meet the requirements.
While the acting prime minister must be a Knesset member to meet the requirements, the interim prime minister must be a member of the prime minister's party as well. Until the 2001 basic law: the government, both the acting and interim prime ministers were only required to be a Knesset member in addition to being a member of the Government. However, before and after the 2001 law, an interim prime minister would not be appointed unless the government would be voting on one of their members (either the acting prime minister or else) to be the interim prime minister until a new government is placed in power.
In 2006, Ehud Olmert, after standing in for Prime Minister Sharon for 100 consecutive days, as acting prime minister, did not automatically assume office as an interim prime minister. The government voted to appoint him, and in addition, he was also a member of prime minister's party, which enabled them to appoint him to the role.
An interim prime minister does not have to form a majority coalition in the Knesset, in order to get their approval vote (as a prime minister is required to do), and can assume office immediately, until a new government is placed in power.
Shimon Peres was the foreign minister when Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, and was voted unanimously to assume office as an interim prime minister until a new Government would be placed in power (that he later formed by himself). Yigal Allon was also voted to be the interim prime minister after Prime Minister Levi Eshkol suddenly died and served until Golda Meir formed her government.
Both the interim and acting prime ministers' authorities are identical to those of a prime minister, with the exception of not having the authority to dissolve the Knesset.
There are other cases (all other), not pending the situation of the incumbent prime minister's ability to continue to serve, where the Government becomes an interim government, while the incumbent prime minister is in office. In these cases, the incumbent prime minister is commonly referred as an "interim" prime minister, as a reference to change of the legal status only of the government under him. However, legally he is the prime minister, and only the government under him is legally an interim government (see interim government below).
Basic Law: the Government (2001):
|Name||Party||Dates in office|
|Yigal Alon||Labour Alignment||26 February 1969– 17 March 1969|
|Shimon Peres||Labour Alignment||4 November 1995– 22 November 1995|
|Ehud Olmert||Kadima||14 April 2006– 4 May 2006|
An 'interim government' (Hebrew: ממשלת מעבר, Memshelet Ma'avar lit. "transitional government") is the same government, having been changed in their legal status, after the death, resignation, permanent incapacitation, or criminal conviction of the prime minister, as well as after the prime minister's request to dissolve the Knesset (Israeli parliament) was published through the president's decree, or after it was defeated by a motion of no confidence (these actions are regarded by the law as "the Government shall be deemed to have resigned"), or after election and before the forming of a new government (legally, "Newly elected Knesset" period), and in all the cases above, it continues to govern as an interim government, until a new government is placed in power, accordingly to the principle of "government continuity", in order to prevent a government void.
If the incumbent prime minister can no longer serve (died, permanent incapacitation or criminal conviction), when the government is "deemed to have resigned" to become an interim government, they appoint a different person from their own government to the role of an interim prime minister (either the acting prime minister or else) until a new government is placed in power. This is a legal reference both to the change of a prime minister in office and in same government, a change in their legal status.
In all other cases, when the government becomes an interim government, and the incumbent prime minister is able to continue to serve also until a new government is placed in power, the prime minister is commonly referred also as an "interim" prime minister, as a reference only to the change of the legal status of the same government under him. However, legally, he is the prime minister, and only the government under him is legally an interim government.
An incumbent prime minister running an interim government occurs either if the government is "deemed to have resigned" to become an interim government, but the incumbent is able to continue to serve also until a new government is placed in power; if the incumbent resigned, government was defeated in motion of no confidence, the prime minister's request to dissolve the Knesset was published through the president's decree; Or else, during the period of time after elections were held and before the forming of a new government, as defined by the law as the period of time of a "newly elected Knesset", and if they have not become one already, the elections will turn them into an interim government as well, as in the cases of the end of a full Knesset term (or after extension term), or after the Knesset has dissolved itself (but not until election day).
A resignation of the government or elections, consequentially, turning the Cabinet into an interim government (i.e. the interim Cabinet), legally requires to start the process of forming a new government, through the only single elected branch in the general elections, the Knesset, to have an approval "vote of confidence" of the majority on an official prime minister and the government he formed there. If elections were held, the process goes through the newly Knesset designated, but if it occurred during the four years term of the existing Knesset, the process will go back to the existing elected branch and will take place there, and only should that fail, as a result, the existing elected branch, the Knesset, will be "deemed" to have dissolved itself, and early elections will be held. In all cases above, the interim government will continue to govern until one of those processes is successful.
An official prime minister is or was always voted, along with the government he formed in the parliament, in an approval vote of confidence by the majority of this elected branch, the Knesset, with the expectation to serve, along with his government, until the end of the Knesset full term, either if he began serving after a newly elected Knesset or in the midst of the Knesset term, unless his government later became an "interim government", that is legally "deemed" to have lost that vote, and as opposed to an interim prime minister, appointed by such a government, and without the approval vote of the Knesset, to serve along only until a new government will be placed in power.
If the elected branch, the Knesset, decides on its own to dissolve itself, or is legally "deemed" to have dissolved itself separately, necessarily, leading to early elections, the cabinet is regarded not to have changed in their legal status. However, once elections were held, they automatically become an interim government.
An acting prime minister, standing in for the incumbent, while he is temporarily incapacitated, does not turn the government into an interim government (nor does the incumbent's temporary situation). However, if the incumbent became temporarily incapacitated, while already running an interim government, the acting Prime minister will be filling in for the incumbent as well.
The law does not impose any impediments on an interim government (except that in the past ministers were banned from resigning and today it has turned into a privilege, were they may resign and a successor may be appointed without the approval vote of the Knesset), but rather addresses the definition of government continuity for the purpose of preventing a government void situation. However, a Supreme Court ruling on the matter, that stipulated that such a government that does not enjoy the approval vote of the Knesset must act in "restraint in using its authorities, in all matters that do not bear any particular urgency or necessity to act upon them", has opened the door for legal controversies at times, as to what exactly does this legal determination mean.
|Prime minister||Way of appointment||Status of previous PM||Legal status of government||Type of government|
|Interim PM||Cabinet member who is also a member of the Knesset and PM's party, voted by the cabinet||Died||Government deemed to have resigned||Interim government|
|Interim PM||Cabinet member who is also a member of the Knesset and PM's party, voted by the cabinet||criminal conviction||Government deemed to have resigned||interim government|
|Interim PM||Cabinet member who is also a member of the Knesset and PM's party, voted by the cabinet||Permanently incapacitated||Government deemed to have resigned||interim government|
|Acting PM||Automatically, had a minister who is also a Knesset member been designated (else, Cabinet vote on one such Cabinet member)||Temporary incapacitated||(Regular) government 1|
received the Knesset's confidence vote
|Same incumbent outgoing PM – resigned||Government deemed to have resigned||interim government|
received the Knesset's confidence vote
|Same incumbent outgoing PM – Government was defeated in a motion of no confidence||Government deemed to have resigned||interim government|
received the Knesset's confidence vote
|Same incumbent outgoing PM – PM's request to dissolve the Knesset was published through the president's decree||Government deemed to have resigned||interim government|
|PM||Deemed to continue having the Knesset's confidence vote||Same Incumbent PM – Knesset dissolved itself – Election day was set||Government|
received the Knesset's confidence vote
|Same incumbent outgoing PM – Knesset dissolved itself – elections were held, new Parliament elected||interim government|
received the Knesset's confidence vote
|Same incumbent outgoing PM – End of Knesset's full term (or after extension term) – elections were held, new parliament elected||interim government|
1 Unless the government already been an interim government, in case the prime minister resigned, government was defeated in a motion of no confidence, or the prime minister's request to dissolve the Knesset was published through the President's decree, and only after this occurred, the prime minister became temporarily incapacitated (as was in Ehud Olmert's case, when Sharon's request to dissolve the Knesset was published through the President's decree, and only there after, did he become temporarily incapacitated).
2 Basic Law: the Government (2001); Section 30 on Government Continuity (addresses the continuity of the prime minister, after he has resigned his post and appointing an interim prime minister), Section 30 also addresses the following provisions; Criminal conviction of the prime minister – 18; Resignation of a prime minister – 19; Death or permanent Incapacitation of the prime minister – 20, A prime minister who ceased being a Knesset Member (Regarded as if he has resigned his post) – 21; Government defeated in Motion of no confidence – 28; Resignation of the Government after the prime minister's request to dissolve the Knesset have been published through the President's decree – 29, and defines the "Outgoing Government" according to these clauses (Whereas the Supreme Court referred to it as the "interim government", as it is well known). Clause 30b also refers to the Outgoing Government during the times of "Newly elected Knesset" [parliament], hence, if the government's status had not been already an interim government during "Newly elected Knesset", according to the clauses above, then in the event of a "Newly elected Knesset" – in conjugation with the basic law: The Knesset, in the event of the end of the Knesset's full term (or after an extension term) or after the knesset has dissolved itself earlier (but not until election day) – the government then becomes an interim government as well.
3 Exceptions to the "outgoing government"; on one hand, according to the Basic law: the Government (2001), as opposed to past laws, Ministers may resign their post, and the government may appoint a successor without the approval of the Knesset. On the other hand, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that "During this period of time, the Government is bound by restraint in using its authorities, regarding all matters that do not particularly bare necessity or urgency to act upon them during the interim period"., and legal controversies erupt at times, over the meaning of this legal determination :
4 interim government – Hebrew Wikipedia (see same table there)
During his term of office, the prime minister lives in Jerusalem. Since 1974, the official residence of the prime minister is Beit Aghion, at the corner of Balfour and Smolenskin streets in Rehavia.
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