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Barak, Ehud (1942–)

BARAK, EHUD (1942–)

Israeli military and political figure; prime minister of Israel (1999–2001). Born Ehud Brog in 1942 in Mandatory Palestine, Barak grew up in Kibbutz Mishmar Ha-Sharon and entered the Israeli Army in 1959. Awarded lieutenant's stripes in 1962, he went on to take commando training in France in 1964. Barak participated in the Arab-Israel War of June 1967 in an armored intelligence unit. Between 1970 and 1973 he commanded the Sayeret Matkal, a unit within the General Staff responsible for special operations. In that capacity, he commanded the neutralizing, on 8 May 1972, of a Palestinian commando unit that had taken over a Sabena airplane and its passengers at Tel Aviv airport. Other members of his group were Benjamin Netanyahu, future prime minister, and Dani Yatom, future head of Mossad.

On the night of 9–10 April 1973, in Beirut, Barak participated in the "Springtime of the Young" operation, conducted in collaboration with Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, whose objective was the elimination of Yasir Arafat, the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Arafat was absent from his supposed location, but three important Palestinian leaders were killed instead. The following July, Barak joined the General Staff of the Israel Defense Force (IDF). He participated in the Arab-Israel War of 1973 at the head of a tank battalion. In October 1974, he joined Aman as deputy-director of military intelligence. In this capacity he participated, in July 1976, in the operation against the terrorists who had hijacked an Air France airliner to Entebbe, Uganda.

Promoted to general at the age of thirty-nine, Barak was appointed head of the planning department of the IDF General Staff in 1982. From April 1983 to September 1985, he headed Aman, where he was replaced, at the end of his command, by his friend Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. Between September 1985 and January 1987, Barak was in command of Israel's central military region. In February 1987, then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin appointed Barak assistant to the army chief of staff, General Dan Shomron. As such, he was involved in the operation that led to the assassination in 1988 of Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), the second in command of the PLO. On 1 April 1991, Barak was named army chief of staff of the IDF. General Amnon Lipkin-Shahak became his deputy and then replaced him when, in January 1995, Barak resigned from the army to devote himself to politics.

On 16 July 1995, Barak joined the Labor Party; two days later, he was appointed minister of the interior in the government of Yitzhak Rabin. On 23 November 1995, after the assassination of the prime minister, he took over the post of foreign minister in the government of Shimon Peres, a position he retained until May 1996, when the Likud Party came to power. Barak won the leadership of the Labor Party, taking it away from his rival, Shimon Peres, on 3 June 1997. In his capacity as the new Labor Party leader, Barak affirmed that he supported the creation of a Palestinian state, on the condition that the latter be demilitarized and federated with Jordan. According to him, Israel's security did not depend only on its military strength, but also on its economy, prosperity, and national cohesion.

In January 1999, in preparation for early general elections scheduled to take place the following May, the Labor Party chose him as its candidate for the post of prime minister, against his adversary from Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu. Barak put together an electoral list called United Israel (Israel Ahat), with David Levy's Gesher Party and Rabbi Yehuda Amital's Meimad organization. On 17 May, Barak was elected prime minister with 56 percent of the votes cast, against 43 percent for Netanyahu. Barak paid homage to Yitzhak Rabin in his acceptance speech, and then went on to declare: "We expect peace to come not from weakness, but from strength and from a feeling of security; peace will not come at the cost of security, but it is peace that brings security." He promised also to come to a final agreement with the Palestinians, while conserving the unity of Jerusalem and keeping most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty. On 6 July 1999, he introduced his government to the Knesset. A unity cabinet, it included 18 members from 8 different political parties. Barak won a vote of confidence with 75 deputies voting for, 29 against, 11 abstentions, and 5 absences. In his inaugural speech, he declared himself determined to take all possible steps to conclude a definitive Israeli-Arab peace, referring to United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338.

On his first official trip abroad, Barak met the principal participants in the peace process, including U.S. president Bill Clinton, Palestinian president Yasir Arafat, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah II ibn Hussein of Jordan. While in Washington, Barak said that he expected to reach a definitive peace settlement with Israel's neighbors within fifteen months. On 5 September, at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Barak and Arafat signed an accord that was intended to open the way to negotiations on a definitive peace settlement between Palestinians and Israelis. During the ceremony, presided over by Husni Mubarak, Barak again paid homage to former Israeli prime minister Rabin, and made an appeal to Syrian president Hafiz al-Asad to resume peace negotiations with Israel. On 15 December, Barak returned to Washington, where he met officially with Syrian foreign minister Faruq al-Shara to discuss the resumption of the Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations that had been frozen since the spring of 1996.

On 1 March 2000, Barak suffered his first political reversal when the Knesset adopted the draft of a law aimed at establishing a mandatory enlarged majority in any referendum on a peace agreement with Syria. In April of the same year, he informed the United Nations of Israel's intention to withdraw its troops from South Lebanon before 7 July. On 1 June, while he was attending a ceremony marking the conquest of the Arab part of Jerusalem by Israeli troops, he confirmed his determination to defend the unity of the Holy City, an "inseparable part of the sovereign territory of Israel." On 7 June, he suffered a repudiation by the Knesset, which agreed to hold early general elections, by a vote of 61 in favor and 48 against. Three of the six parties belonging to Barak's governing coalition voted with the opposition. A month later, as Barak was scheduled to leave for Camp David to participate in an Israeli-Palestinian peace summit, the political crisis intensified with the resignation of six of his ministers, who were opposed to the concessions he was about to make to the Palestinians. On 2 August, Foreign Minister David Levy also resigned, confirming the widespread disappointment at the failure of Camp David II to result in a political breakthrough. On 19 December, after having failed to convince Likud to participate in a government of "national emergency," Ehud Barak submitted his resignation to President Moshe Katsav. The February 2001 elections brought Likud leader Ariel Sharon to power. That same month, Barak announced his retirement from the political scene and his resignation from the leadership of the Labor Party. He began a business career, though his frequent commentary on political matters led some to speculate that he might eventually return to politics.

SEE ALSO Camp David II Summit; Labor Party; Likud; Resolution 242; Resolution 338.

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