On this day: Barak beats Bibi

May 17 1999: A Labour revival in Israel

By Jennifer Lipman, May 17, 2011

Twelve years later, two of Israel's longest-serving statesmen are still at it, with Binyamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister and Ehud Barak his coalition partner and Defence Minister, now of the new Independence Party.

In 1999 the two were pitted against each other in only the second direct prime ministerial elections in Israel's history. After Netanyahu's surprise win in 1996, this was a chance for the left-of-centre to return to power.

Standing for the One Israel party (an alliance of three leftist parties), Barak trounced the incumbent Bibi. But the coalition he formed included the ultra-Orthodox party Shas, which ultimately triggered the other coalition party – the left-wing Meretz – to quit.

As Prime Minister Barak was in office less than two years. During his time in power he oversaw Israel's withdrawal from Southern Lebanon and took part in the 2000 Camp David Summit, President Bill Clinton's last ditch-attempt to revive the peace process.

After he lost power to Likud under Ariel Sharon, Barak pursued a business career, returning to politics in 2005 as an (at first) unsuccessful hopeful for the Labour leadership.

Netanyahu finally returned to the prime ministerial office in March 2009 this time working with, not against, Barak.

What the JC said: Ehud Barak likes nothing more than taking apart intricate mechanisms such as watches and putting them back together again. Perhaps that explains why he has succeeded in dismantling and reconstituting one of the most intricate mechanisms in Israeli politics, the Labour Party. He is seen, and has seen himself, as natural heir to Mr Rabin. Hawkish on security issues, he is portrayed by pundits as a man whom "middle Israel" – those who voted for Mr Rabin in 1992 but switched to Binyamin Netanyahu in 1996 – can trust.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 4:26pm, May 31 2011