Prime Minister Ehud Barak fulfilled a major campaign promise by pulling Israeli troops from south Lebanon in late May, prior to the July deadline. The Israeli public had grown increasingly disenchanted by the rising number of casualties in south Lebanon. While the long-term border situation still remains uncertain, relative calm has persisted in the immediate period following the withdrawal.
In the third week of June, a coalition crisis was averted with the resignation of Meretz cabinet ministers Yossi Sarid (education), Ran Cohen (industry and trade) and Haim Oron (agriculture). Prime Minister Barak did not try to persuade Meretz ministers to reconsider their decision, and appreciated the concession they had made in order to enable the peace process to continue. Meretz will continue to support the government as though it were still part of the coalition.
Meretz’ departure paved the way for the religious Shas party to return to the coalition. A major rift between the two parties developed in early 2000 when Yossi Sarid refused to allow Shas to control state funding for its network of religious schools. Relations between the two parties deteriorated further when Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef likened Sarid to the Devil, an outburst that Meretz portrayed as a death threat.