Palestinian attacks continued without a letup as the nation
went to the polls on Tuesday to elect a prime minister, the
first national election that did not involve voting for the
Knesset. Chareidi voters in particular had an unpleasant
choice between two secular candidates. Nonetheless, the
decision was firm and unequivocal as the gedolei
Torah urged everyone to vote for "the candidate who, it
is hoped, will not lend a hand to destroy religion in Eretz
Hakodesh." Though their choice was clear, the rabbonim did
not mention the name of the candidate they said to vote
St.-Sgt. Rujayah Salameh, 23, of the Lower Galilee village
of Turan, was killed by Palestinian sniper fire Monday
afternoon, the day before the elections, near Rafah, on the
Egyptian border. Fellow soldier Georgie Salim said he and
Salameh were among only six Christians in the southern
Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered the immediate closure of
the Dahaniya Airport in Gaza and the Rafah crossing.
The IDF imposed a general closure on Judea, Samaria, and the
Gaza Strip during the voting, barring Palestinians from
entering Israel except in humanitarian cases. Police and
security forces remained on high alert.
During the night preceding the opening of the polls at 7
a.m., Palestinian gunmen shot at civilians and Army troops
near Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron in the West Bank. The Gaza
Strip settlements of Netzarim, Kfar Darom and Neveh Dekalim
came under sniper fire as well. IDF forces returned fire in
all cases and there were no injuries.
The intifadah leadership, headed by Fatah but comprising all
Palestinian factions, has called for a "day of rage" on
Tuesday. They all vowed to continue the intifadah and
escalate violence against soldiers and Israeli civilians no
matter who wins.
In Hebron on Monday, soldiers fired a tank shell at a
Palestinian position in the Abu Sneneh neighborhood from
which gunmen had fired on the Hebron Jewish community's
Avrohom Ovinu quarter, narrowly missing a group of children
near the quarter's kindergarten.
The U.S. called on Israel and the Palestinians to avoid
violence during the transition period following the
election. Arab leaders have warned the U.S. administration
that they may not be able to restrain their populations from
rioting and expressing anti-Israel sentiments if Likud
leader Ariel Sharon triumphs.
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Mary Ellen
Countryman sent a reassuring message to Israel, saying the
election results would not impact the close U.S.-Israel
relationship. "You can bet we can work with whomever is
elected," she said.
Responding to Secretary of State Colin Powell's suggestion
on Sunday that a transfer of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv
to Jerusalem could be delayed because of the tension in the
region, Fleischer said there had been no change in Bush's
view that the embassy ought to be moved.
Throughout his own election campaign, Bush had vowed to
start the process of moving at least the U.S. ambassador to
Jerusalem as soon as he assumed office.
Describing Sharon as a man who "embodies Israel's most
militaristic impulses," The Washington Post predicted
that unless Sharon breaks with his past, "for months and
maybe years the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be
destined to be a grinding, occasionally bloody
The winner in the election for prime minister must present
his government to the Knesset 45 days after publication of
the official election results by the central election
committee, which is next Tuesday.
If Ariel Sharon is elected, it appears he would rush to form
a government and present it to the Knesset, because until
that is done, Ehud Barak and his cabinet will continue
running the country. Also, he prefers to work fast and get
Assuming Ariel Sharon wins, Barak and his cabinet will
continue in office until a new government is approved. This
includes security cabinet sessions and authority to make
decisions like any other government.
Sharon already has the announced support of 62 MKs, which is
enough to form a government. However, Sharon is made it
clear that he prefers to form a broad government that would
also include One Israel. Beyond that general statement, he
has not announced details of who will fill which
Barak has only 40 certain MKs behind him. Even with the full
support of the Arab parties and their 10 MKs, a future Barak
government can raise only 50 votes, and so is exposed to no
If the winner does not manage to form a government and get
it approved by the Knesset within 45 days, new elections for
prime minister must be held within 60 days after that.
The chareidi community will vote according to the
instructions of maranan verabonon. An explicit notice was
published saying that everyone should vote, even if it
involves travel to a different city.
In all previous Israeli elections, chareidi voters could
proudly cast their ballot for Torah Judaism by standing up
to be counted for United Torah Judaism. This time the vote
is just between two secular candidates. It will of course be
evident how the chareidi community voted from the turnout
and the results at polling places that are in chareidi
In Washington, Bush announced his intention to nominate Paul
Wolfowitz, a strong supporter of Israel and a former high-
ranking official in both the Pentagon and the State
Department, as deputy secretary of defense. Wolfowitz's
previous posts include undersecretary of defense for policy
when Vice President Dick Cheney served as defense secretary
under former president George Bush.
He is an expert on East Asia and the Middle East and is so
far the highest-ranking Jew named to the Bush