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Ben Eliezer, Benyamin (1936–)

BEN ELIEZER, BENYAMIN (1936–)

Israeli military and political figure, also known as Fouad, born in Iraq. After immigrating to Israel in 1949, Benyamin ben Eliezer joined the Israeli Army in 1955, intending to make a career in the military. Attached to an elite unit, he participated in military operations in the 1956 Suez-Sinai War and in the Arab-Israel War of June 1967. In March 1978, he commanded one of the larger units participating in the invasion of South Lebanon, which was in reprisal for an attack near Tel Aviv by a Palestinian commando from Lebanon. Between 1978 and 1981 he was in command of the central military region of Israel. In 1983, Ben Eliezer became coordinator of Israeli activities in the Occupied Territories. In 1984, having retired with the rank of general, he joined the centrist party, Yad, created by Ezer Weizman. Elected to the Knesset that same year, he became a member of the foreign affairs and defense committee, where he advocated dialogue with the Arabs and territorial compromise with the Palestinians. In 1988, along with Weizman, he joined the ranks of the Labor Party and was elected to the Knesset.

In February 1992, in the context of the Israeli-Arab peace process, which had started at the time of the Madrid Conference, Ben Eliezer came out against the dismantling of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. That July, he participated actively in the election campaign of the Labor candidate, Yitzhak Rabin. On 11 July, he was named minister of housing and social development in the Rabin government. On 4 March 1993, he held an informational conference for ambassadors from the European Union, during which he stated his support for the principle of a "united Jerusalem, as capital of Israel; and of the Jordan Valley, as a natural security frontier," thereby confirming his support of the "hawk" camp of the Labor Party. He survived the cabinet reshuffle of May 1993, keeping his post of minister of housing. He traveled discreetly to Tunis in early December, where he met with Palestine Liberation Organization leaders. At the same time, Rabin entrusted him with secret missions to certain Iraqi leaders. During the summer of 1995, his name was cited in the press in connection with massacres of Arab soldiers perpetrated by an Israeli unit to which he belonged during the fighting in the 1956 Sinai-Suez War and 1967 Arab-Israel War. After the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995, Ben Eliezer remained minister of housing in the new cabinet headed by Shimon Peres. In February 1996, he took over the Labor Party's electoral campaign in preparation for the elections to be held the following May, when the prime minister and Knesset members were to be chosen for the first time by separate ballot. The vote gave thirty-four seats to the Labor Party and twenty-two to Likud, whose leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, was elected prime minister. Ben Eliezer won reelection, thereby consolidating his position in the Labor Party. On 17 May 1999, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak was elected prime minister. That July Ben Eliezer was appointed minister of communications.

In February 2001, in anticipation of the upcoming election of a new prime minister, he declared himself in favor of the participation of Labor in a government of national unity, even if the latter included movements of the extreme right. The following March, Ben Eliezer and six other Labor members, including Peres, joined the cabinet of Ariel Sharon. He took on the ministry of defense. When the Intifada intensified in the Occupied Territories, he approved of and supported the reprisal operations ordered by Sharon. In September of that same year, Ben Eliezer was defeated in the election for the post of secretary general of the Labor Party by Avraham Burg, whom he accused of electoral fraud. In late December, after months of legal proceedings and battles, Ben Eliezer was elected secretary general of the Israel Labor Party in a vote where participation was very low.

SEE ALSO Aqsa Intifada, al-; Arab-Israel War (1967); Barak, Ehud; Madrid Conference; Netanyahu, Benjamin; Peres, Shimon; Rabin, Yitzhak; Sharon, Ariel; Suez Crisis; Weizman, Ezer; Yad.

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