Sharon told the Knesset more time was needed for full judgment to be passed on his right-wing coalition government which was officially installed on 27 February 2003, after elections the previous month.

  

"We have acted to bring back calm on the economic level as well as on the security level, because I have said always that security will bring peace," the 75-year-old premier told deputies.

  

"I am happy to record that even today there are some statistics speaking about growth of 1.3% and this is already proof of the success of our policies."

 

Economic crisis

  

Israel has been mired in an economic crisis for the last few years in the wake of the global economic downturn and the outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada in September 2000, but ministers have insisted they are turning the corner.

  

The last 12 months have also seen a marked downturn in Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets although a formal truce agreed by resistance groups last summer lasted a mere seven weeks.

 

"We have acted to bring back calm on the economic level as well as on the security level"

Ariel Sharon,
Prime Minister, Israel

Sharon did not touch on the conflict with the Palestinians, but instead vowed to narrow class differences as well as push for greater immigration by Jews into Israel.

  

A vote was likely to be held at the end of the session on the government's performance which would stop short of being a formal confidence motion.

  

Three motions tabled by opposition parties to denounce Sharon's social and economic policies were earlier each defeated by 53 votes to 45 in the 120-member chamber. A vote on a fourth motion was cancelled.

  

Sharon was returned to office after a crushing election victory over the opposition Labour party in January last year, but his Likud party fell just short of an overall majority in the 120-seat chamber.

  

He subsequently formed a coalition government featuring two hard-right nationalist parties as well as the centrist Shinui faction.