BARAK, Ehoud

Ehud Barak’s original name is Ehud Brog. He was born to a Jewish family of Lithuanian origin in a kibboutz in 1942. He studied mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and administrative management at Stanford in the United States. He started his military career in 1959 and then decided to change his name to Barak meaning « thunder » in Hebrew). In the 70’s, he was leader of an élite unit, the Sayyeret Matkal, in which Yonathan Netanyahu, elder brother of Benyamin Netanyahu also served. As a specialist of commando operations, he participated in the rescue operation at Entebbe (Angola) where Israelis had been taken hostage by the PFLP in 1976 in a plane hijacking; in the assassination of three Palestinian leaders in Lebanon in 1973 and took part in the preparation of the assassination of Abu Jihad, PLO second in command, in Tunis in 1988. Director of the IDF Military Intelligence between 1983 and 1986, his military career culminated when he became IDF Chief of Staff in 1991. He was behind the expulsion of 412 Palestinians to southern Lebanon in 1992 (see Deportation by Israel of Palestinians from the occupied Territories) and, in order to crush the Hizbollah guerilla, in 1993 he organized, under the orders of the then Labour Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the biggest Israeli military operation in Lebanon since the invasion of this country in 1982.

In 1994, he supervised, as Chief of Staff, the first army withdrawal from the territories surrounding Jericho and the Gaza Strip (« Gaza and Jericho first ») following the Oslo declaration.

He retired from the army on 1st January 1995 as the most decorated soldier in Israel’s history and officially started his political career as a member of the Labour Party on 16 July of the same year. The following day, he was appointed Minister of the Interior by Yitzhak Rabin. In November 1995, after the assassination of Rabin, he was appointed Foreign Minister in the Shimon Peres cabinet. Until May 1996 – when Labour lost the elections – he concentrated his efforts on implementing the Oslo Agreements – on the adoption of which he abstained in the Knesset – and in trying to reach a peace agreement with Syria. He also bolstered Israeli ties with other Arab countries. In June 1997, he was elected as the successor of Peres at the head of the Labour Party.

Ehud Barak is considered as a « hawk » particularly sensitive to security matters. He said one day that he believes that the real difference between himself and the Likud is in « the level of commitment to the peace process ».

As a partisan of the « separation » with the Palestinians, he believes that, within a final agreement with the PLO, Israel must keep East Jerusalem, the neighbouring settlements (notably those around Bethlehem), the Jordan Valley and the majority of the settlements along the demarcation line between Israel and the West bank. According to Barak a possible Palestinian State should be demilitarized and confederated with Jordan. In May 1997, during a Labour convention, he approved a motion officially recognizing the right for the Palestinians to an independent State. The same year, commenting the partial military withdrawal from Hebron, he declared that « we must free ourselves of the burden of ruling the Palestinians, who have been residents of this land for hundreds of years ».

On 17 May 1999, he was elected Prime Minister to succeed Benjamin Netanyahu (with 56% of the votes). His party, the Labour party, had in the meantime shaped up an electoral cartel, Yisra’el Ahat (« One Israel ») with dissidents of Likoud Party and some moderate religious politicians. This cartel constituted a minority within the Barak government formed with right-wing religious and nationalist parties.

Considered as the « spiritual son » of Yitzhak Rabin, he put the peace process back on track but the process proved to be painstaking and deadlines impossible to meet, particularly regarding the implementation of the Wye River agreement.

During his inaugural speech to the Knesset, he explained that his peace policy was based on « four pillars »: peace negotiations with Syria and the Palestinians and improved relations with Egypt and Jordan. Concerning Syria, he intended to reach a negotiated peace based on UN resolution 242 and 338, retroceding the Golan in exchange for full recognition and normalized relations. Concerning the Palestinian issue, Barak remained uncompromising on Jerusalem but declared himself ready to accept a Palestinian state if it is demilitarized. At last, concerning Lebanon, Ehud Barak promised to withdraw the Israeli troops from the « South Lebanon security zone » by the middle of 2000. This was indeed carried out in May 2000.

The Barak government did not stop the extension and consolidation of Jewish settlements, arguing that the building plans decided by the Netanyahu government had to be carried out. This policy was running counter to the spirit of the agreements concluded with the PLO and the international community. It explains to a large extent the increasing frustration felt by the Palestinians, exacerbated by the provocative visit of Likud leader Ariel Sharon on 28 September 2000 to the sanctuary called Temple Mount (Har Ha-Bayit) by the Jews and the Noble Sanctuary (Haram Al-Sharif) by the Muslims, which culminated into the outburst of a new Intifada.

On 22 October 2000, Mr. Barak formally announced the suspension of the peace process despite the fairly moderate final statement issued by the Arab Summit of Cairo the same day. Ehud Barak also began negociating with Mr Sharon with a view to forming a national unity government.

While the Intifada was raging, Mr Barak’s coalition disintegrated gradually until he decided, in late 2000, to call a general election. On 6 February 2001, he was defeated by likud-leader Ariel Sharon and resigned as Member of Parliament and as President of the Labour Party.

After having lost the elections he left Israel to work in the USA. There, he created his own business Ehud Barak Limited. He undertook a tour of American high schools during which he shared his vision of the Middle East. He declared that the situation in Iraq was turning into civil war. According to him, the American presence on the territory was more a problem than a solution.

In 2005, Ehud Barak announced his return on the political scene. He ran for chairman in the elections of the Labor Party. Politically weakened, Barak withdrew from the race. A survey done in 2007 gave Barak winner to the elections within the party. He was elected president on June 12, 2007.

In the wake of his victory (June 18, 2007) and under the reshuffle of Ehud Olmert, he was appointed Minister of Defense. After leaving the intermediate report of the Winograd Commission, he threatened to leave the government if Olmert did resign by October 2007.

When Ehud Olmert announced his resignation in July 2008, Barak still Minister of Defense said that theLabor Party was ready to join the new government headed by the chairman of the Kadima party, elected in September 2008.