Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (1936-)

Former Defense Minister, 2001-2002


By Steven Klein

Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer was born in Iraq in 1936. He immigrated to Israel in 1950. He currently resides in Rishon LeZion and is married, with five children.

Ben-Eliezer joined the IDF in 1954. He fought as an enlisted soldier in the Sinai Campaign (“Mivza Kadesh”) in 1956. He graduated from the IDF Command and Staff College and the Israel National Defense College as an officer. He served as a commander during the Six-Day War and in the War of Attrition with Egypt in the late 1960s, during which he was injured.

In 1977 he became the IDF liaison between Israel and the Christians in Lebanon. The following year he was appointed Military Governor of Judea and Samaria, which post he held until 1981. He served as Government Coordinator of Activities in the Administered Areas from 1983 until 1984, when he retired from the IDF.

Ben-Eliezer immediately entered politics and was elected to the Knesset in 1984 with the Yahad Party. After the elections, Yahad merged into the Labor Alignment, which held the premiership under Shimon Peres. After Labor’s return to power in 1992, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin appointed Ben-Eliezer Minister of Housing and Construction, which he held until Likud defeated the Labor Party in the elections of 1996.

He returned to power as Deputy Prime Minster under Barak 1999-2001, while holding the portfolios of Communication and later Housing and Construction. After Ariel Sharon defeated Barak in the 2001 elections, the Labor party joined him in a new National Unity Government. Ben-Eliezer was appointed Defense Minister. He faced the difficult task of pursuing the war against terror but still representing the peace-camp interests of the Labor Party.

Ben-Eliezer was officially elected leader of the Labor party in December 2001, defeating his main challenger, Avraham Burg, who represented the younger generation of Labor leaders lacking extensive military backgrounds. Despite election, Ben-Eliezer came under a lot of attack from the dovish faction in Labor as the violence intensified in early 2002. Former Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister and Peres-ally Yossi Beilin made a bid and failed to force Ben-Eliezer to withdraw from the government in January 2002 during a party conference that month. Pressure intensified after Israel launched Operation Defensive Wall in the wake of the Netanya Park Hotel suicide bombing in March that killed 29 Seder guests. The IDF severely damaged the Palestinian terror infrastructure but also created devastation and chaos in many civilian areas. The doves argued that Ben-Eliezer was implementing the policies of a right-wing government that were not serving the interests of peace.

Haim Ramon then led the faction of MKs to pull out of the government. He also declared his candidacy to replace Ben-Elizer as Labor party leader. In the summer, Amram Mitzna also threw his hat into the race in the summer to challenge Ben-Eliezer from his political left.

In October 2002, Ben-Eliezer started becoming more at odds with his right-wing counterparts in government. In October, he ordered the dismantling of an illegal outpost, Havat Gilad, and caught a lot of flak as soldiers had to break the Sabbath in order to fulfill their orders. He then announced that Israel had exhausted its military option and had no choice but to return to the negotiating table. Finally, he withdrew support for the proposed 2003 budget, attacking it for favoring settlements over more needy sectors such as development towns inside the Green Line. Last minute negotiations failed and the Labor party pulled out of the government, which triggered the dissolution of the Knesset in November and the call for new elections in January 2003. However, Ben-Eliezer would first have to defeat Mitzna and Ramon in the primaries.

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02 May 2005 / 23 Nisan 5765 0