Basic Law: cabinet

   The cabinet or government is the central policymaking body of the Israeli governmental system. From statehood until 1996, the president was empowered to designate a member of Knesset, almost always the leader of the party holding the most seats, to form a government. Pursuant to the amended Basic Law: The Government (1992), the process for selecting the prime minister was changed to one of direct election; in 1996 and 1999, this occurred simultaneously with general elections (see KNESSET ELECTIONS) for the Knesset, whereas in 2001, there was a special election for prime minister alone. However, in March 2001, the Basic Law: The Government was amended once again, retracting those provisions allowing for the direct election of the prime minister.
   The prime minister must be a citizen of Israel of at least 30 years of age and a member of the Knesset. Ministers are usually, but not necessarily, members of the Knesset (MK). The prime minister elect has 45 days within which to form a government and present that government and its guiding principles before the Knesset for a vote of confidence. If within that period the prime minister elect is unable to form a government, the president is empowered to ask another MK (normally the leader of the party with the second largest number of seats in the Knesset) to try to form a viable government. If, after the constitutionally mandated 28 days, a government still cannot be formed, the president has the discretion to either accord a brief extension, revert the prerogative for forming the government to the leader of the largest party in the Knesset, look to another MK to try to form the government, or advise the Knesset to dissolve in preparation for new general elections.
   The government is constituted upon obtaining a vote of confidence from the Knesset, which must approve the composition of the government, the distribution of functions among the ministers, and the basic guidelines of the government's policy. The cabinet is collectively responsible to the Knesset, reports to it, and remains in office as long as it enjoys the confidence of that body. Until March 1990, there had never been a successful motion of no confidence by the Knesset causing the ouster of a government. Under the Basic Law: The Government (2001), there are several ways to terminate a cabinet's tenure. The first is a vote of no confidence in the prime minister and government, which requires the support of a majority of 61 members of the Knesset to pass. There is also the possibility for the prime minister himself or herself to inform the president that the government cannot continue to function properly; as noted earlier, the president is then empowered to ask another MK to try to form a new government and, if that fails, to recommend the dissolution of the Knesset and new general elections be held.
   The cabinet decides Israel's policies in all spheres, subject to Knesset approval, and it generally initiates the largest portion of legislation. Increasingly much of the cabinet's work has been conducted by a small and select group of ministers meeting informally in "kitchen cabinets," for example, as occurred when Golda Meir was the prime minister, or in ministerial committees on issues such as security and defense. Ministries are divided among the parties forming the coalition in accordance with the agreement reached by the parties and generally reflect their size and influence. The most important positions in the cabinet aside from the prime minister tend to be defense minister, foreign minister, and finance minister.
   To date, no party has received enough Knesset seats to be able to form a government by itself (that is to say, at least 61 seats of the 120-seat Knesset). Thus, all Israeli governments have been based on coalitions between two or more parties, with those remaining outside the government making up the opposition. The coalition is based on agreement among the parties that make up the government, defining common policy goals and the principles that are to guide its activities. The coalition agreement is not a legally binding document. Though one of the goals behind the change to the direct election of the prime minister was to make the coalition formation process more stable and less vulnerable to coalition pressures, this proved not to be the case in practice. In the summer of 1996, Prime Minister elect Benjamin Netanyahu formed a coalition composed of six parties representing six diverse political interests and demands on the system and on the prime minister. One Israel leader Ehud Barak presented his coalition comprised of seven parties and its program to the Knesset for confirmation on 6 July 1999. Likud leader Ariel Sharon formed his coalition government on 7 March 2001. Israel's 30th government, headed by Sharon, was presented to the Knesset on 27 February 2003; however, due to various defections and firings, the government went through many permutations and remained extremely unstable. Kadima leader Ehud Olmert presented his coalition government to the Knesset on 4 May 2006.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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