Ehud Barak (1942- )

Prime Minister of Israel 1999-2001, Labor Party leader

Ehud Barak (1942-)  
 

Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces (1991-1994). Born in Israel, Ehud Barak served in one of the IDF's select reconnaissance squads and commanded it. During the Yom Kippur War (1973) he led an armored regiment; in 1982-83 he was head of planning in General Headquarters; 1983-1986, commanding officer of the Central Command. From 1987-1991, he was assistant chief of staff and head of Operations Branch at GHQ.

Barak entered politics, after a short retirement, to serve as both the Interior Minister and Foreign Minister for the Labor Government (1992-1996). After Shimon Peres lost the first direct Election as Prime Ministerial candidate in 1996 by a narrow margin, Barak placed himself at the front of the candidates for a new leadership of the Israel Labor Party, winning the position from veteran politicians.

When it became evident in late 1998 that the Likud would have difficulty maintaining their coalition government through to a complete term of office, Barak chose not to provide a security net for the Wye River Accords and moved to force early elections in 1999. His plan of campaign included broadening the party's base into a coalition of parties with social platforms, called "One Israel", and recruiting the services of US President Clinton's publicity advisors to mount a staged, quasi-military campaign for the Prime Ministership. Forming a broad-based coalition after his landslide victory was less easy, and his term of public office as Israel's tenth Prime Minister began with international demands for fast results on the diplomatic front of the Peace Process, in the improvement of Israel's social climate, and in a change of priorities to benefit the socially disadvantaged in terms of employment and welfare services.

Ehud Barak decided on a unilateral withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon in May 2000, but did not succeed in advancing the Peace Process with Syria or engaging in social reform. He pursued negotiations with the Palestinians through the Sharm El Sheikh Accords, intensifying efforts to reach a Final Status Agreement in the last months of the Clinton Presidency. The “Peace Cabinet’s” position on concessions of sovereignty over Jerusalem was politically unpopular with most of his coalition partners; “One Israel” therefore lost its tenuous parliamentary majority in the summer of 2000, and Barak did not succeed in his quest for an agreement with the Palestinians, around which he might have been able to build a narrow coalition government. The “Intifada” and continuing violence of autumn 2000 led to ongoing government crises and Barak’s eventual resignation as Prime Minister.

Israel went to its first Special Elections for the premiership only, in February 2001, with Barak standing against Likud Party Chairman Ariel Sharon. He lost by a margin of almost 25%, with an all-time low voter turnout of 59%, while the vast majority of the Arab electorate boycotted the election totally. Barak subsequently declared his intention to resign from the leadership of the Labor Party and the Knesset, until such time as he decided to return to politics.

From 2001 through the 2003 and 2006 Israeli Elections, Ehud Barak remained outside Israeli politics and was involved in various private initiatives. He was also in demand as a speaker, and was consulted officially by the Israeli government during the Second Lebanon War. A possible comeback within or outside the Labor Party was discussed by the pundits prior to 2006, but it was only in June 2007 that he returned to stand for the Labor Party leadership, ousting Amir Peretz and winning against Ami Ayalon in a second round of voting, by a small majority. He was then invited by PM Olmert to become Minister of Defense, replacing Peretz. Barak kept Labor in the narrowing coalition government in 2008, despite its low showing in the polls, leading the party into the uncertain outcomes of the 2009 Israel Election. 

 
 

 

 

 

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14 Apr 2005 / 5 Nisan 5765 0