Ben-Eliezer, Binyamin

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BEN-ELIEZER, BINYAMIN (Fuad; 1936– ), Israeli military commander and politician, member of the Eleventh to Sixteenth Knessets. Ben-Eliezer was born in Basra in Iraq and immigrated to Israel on his own in 1950, when he was only 13. During the Six-Day War he served as the deputy to the Bedouin commander of the Shaked unit in the Southern Command. During the Yom Kippur War he was deputy commander of a brigade. In the mid-1970s he was appointed Israel's first commander in Southern Lebanon and was in charge of the opening of the "Good Fence" between Israel and Lebanon and creating the foundations for the Southern Lebanese Army under Major Haddad. In 1978 he was appointed military administrator of Judea and Samaria, a position he held for close to four years. In that period he participated in the effort to establish an alternative Palestinian leadership to the plo in the form of the village leagues. He left the army in 1982 and for a brief period served as the secretary general of the ethnic Tami party established by Aharon Abuhazeira. However, he was recalled to active service by Minister of Defense Moshe *Arens in 1983 and appointed coordinator of operations in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza. In the course of his military service Ben-Eliezer graduated from the idf Command and Staff Academy and the College for National Security.

After his final discharge from the idf in 1984 Ben-Eliezer joined Ezer *Weizman in establishing a new party, Yaḥad, which was elected to the Eleventh Knesset and joined the Alignment before the formation of the National Unity Government. When not serving as a minister, Ben-Eliezer served on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. In the government formed by Yitzhak *Rabin in 1992, he was appointed minister of construction and housing, a position he also held in the government formed by Shimon *Peres after Rabin's assassination. During this period he shifted the focus back to construction within the Green Line. In the government formed by Ehud *Barak in 1999, he was deputy prime minister and minister of communications, and after the nrp resigned from the government also served as minister of construction and housing. Following Barak's defeat in the elections for prime minister held in February 2001 and Labor's entry into the government formed by Ariel *Sharon, Ben-Eliezer was appointed minister of defense but resigned from the government with the Labor Party in November 2002.

As minister of defense he had to contend with the growing violence of the Intifada and was in charge of Operation Defensive Shield in the territories in the spring of 2002. As the violence escalated he favored the construction of a fence between Israel and the Palestinian territories, but continued to believe in a negotiated settlement which would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Already in June 2001 he advocated the need to remove outposts of the settlers in the territories. In primaries held for the Labor Party leadership in December 2001 Ben-Eliezer ran against Avraham *Burg, winning by a narrow majority. However, just before the elections to the Sixteenth Knesset, Amram Mitzna defeated him in another round of primaries for the party leadership.

[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]