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Ehud Barak, Ex-Leader of Israel, Will Run in New Election

JERUSALEM — Ehud Barak, a former Israeli prime minister and longtime critic of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, announced Wednesday that he was forming a new political party to run in the September election.

Mr. Barak, 77, who is also a former defense minister and a decorated military chief, has long been rumored to be planning a comeback. He has used Twitter to denounce Mr. Netanyahu in recent years for his right-wing policies and a corruption investigation that could lead to the prime minister’s indictment.

Israel will hold a do-over election in September because Mr. Netanyahu failed to form a viable coalition after the April ballot.

In a televised news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Barak challenged Mr. Netanyahu’s propriety to continue in office, accusing him of having precipitated the last election for the purpose of trying to disrupt legal proceedings against him.

“These are dark days the likes of which we have not known before,” Mr. Barak said. “The Netanyahu regime must be toppled.”

He called for parties in Israel’s fragmented political system to join forces with him, in order to bring about change. His new party has not yet been given a name.

As the leader of a center-left, Labor Party-led alliance, Mr. Barak beat Mr. Netanyahu, the leader of the conservative Likud, for the premiership in 1999, but went on to serve a disastrously short term. He resigned after about 18 months in office as his government began to fall apart and peace talks with the Palestinians imploded into the violence of the second Palestinian intifada.

Mr. Barak made a comeback in 2007, when he was re-elected as leader of the Labor Party. He went on to serve as defense minister in the government led by Ehud Olmert, and in the next one led by Mr. Netanyahu. As Mr. Netanyahu’s defense minister, he supported plans to strike Iranian nuclear facilities, plans that were ultimately thwarted by the vehement opposition of the security establishment and other ministers.

Mr. Barak announced his retirement from politics in late 2012 and left office a few months later. This will be his second effort at political revival.

The Israeli electorate has moved considerably to the right since Mr. Barak was prime minister. The storied Labor Party he once led has become almost another niche faction, winning only six seats in April.

Beyond that, skeptical commentators said the last thing Israeli politics needed now was another opposition party led by generals.

Mr. Barak was joined at Wednesday’s news conference by Yair Golan, a former general who caused an uproar in 2016 when, as deputy chief of the Israeli military, he said in a speech for Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day that he discerned disturbing trends in Israeli society that reminded him of processes that led to the rise of Nazi Germany.

The largest opposition party, the centrist Blue and White, is led by three former military chiefs and a former television host-turned-politician.

Blue and White used its military credentials to try to neutralize Mr. Netanyahu’s argument that only he could keep Israel safe. But analysts said another party led by generals could further split the opposition vote against Mr. Netanyahu.

Blue and White tied with Likud in the April election — both won 35 seats in the 120-seat Parliament but Likud had a larger coalition and so was given the opportunity to form a government.

Mr. Netanyahu ended up one seat short of being able to form a coalition of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties that would command a majority of 61, when Avigdor Lieberman, a former coalition partner whose ultranationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party won five seats, refused to join.

Blue and White had refused to be part of a government led by a prime minister facing corruption charges and could not muster a majority from the center-left bloc alone. Its leader, Benny Gantz, appears to have largely been in hibernation since then.

Mr. Netanyahu engineered the dissolution of the new Parliament, forcing a new election set for Sept. 17, to prevent the president from granting another politician the opportunity to form a government. He and his associates are now floating the idea of canceling the September election to make another effort at cobbling together a majority, but it is not clear if that can be done legally.

“One of the big takeaways from the last election on both the left and right is that there needs to be bigger parties,” said Dahlia Scheindlin, a left-leaning political consultant in Tel Aviv who worked on Mr. Barak’s team as a researcher from 1999 until 2001.

Two right-wing parties failed to win enough support to enter Parliament in April, wasting their votes for the right-wing bloc.

“I cannot imagine how more fragmentation will help anyone,” Ms. Scheindlin said, “especially in the bloc that has fewer and fewer voters,” referring to Israel’s severely diminished left.

In the two decades since Mr. Barak beat Mr. Netanyahu, she said, “The parties, public opinion and the image of Ehud Barak have changed.”

During his brief term, he was widely seen as lacking the necessary political skills. Like his talks with the Palestinians, his peace negotiations with the Syrians also came to naught.

Later, he was seen as having betrayed his original constituency by crossing the lines and joining Mr. Netanyahu’s government.

Since he left office in 2013, Mr. Barak has been successful in business, investing in Israeli tech companies in the fields of cybersecurity, rescue technology and biometrics. His more recent foray into medical cannabis has generated headlines. He serves as chairman of Canndoc-InterCure, a holding company of Israeli medical cannabis firms.

Source: NYT > World

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