JERUSALEM, March 5 (JTA) – Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon and his intended defense minister, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, may have much in common even though they belong to different political parties.
As he prepares to enter his new post, the highest position he has held, the Iraqi-born Ben-Eliezer, 65, is considered to have a number of points in his favor.
In addition to amicable relations with the Likud’s Sharon, Ben-Eliezer acquired a hands-on knowledge of the most prominent issue on the defense agenda – the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – during his military career. A reserve brigadier-general, Ben-Eliezer, a member of the Labor Party, served as commander of Israeli forces in the West Bank and as the army’s coordinator of activities in the territories.
In Labor, some consider Ben-Eliezer a hawk, others see him as a pragmatist: He supported the peace process, but was not among the party’s great optimists regarding Palestinian intentions.
He also was among the earlier Labor advocates of a unity government when the Palestinian uprising broke out in late September.
Following Sunday’s terrorist bombing in Netanya, Ben-Eliezer said he would work with Sharon on a plan to eliminate terrorism. Ben-Eliezer opposes collective punishment for the Palestinian population, saying Israel should focus its efforts against the terrorists and those who send them.
Ben-Eliezer immigrated to Israel with his family in 1950, speaks English and Arabic in addition to Hebrew, and is commonly known by his Arabic name, Fuad.
A Knesset member since 1984, Ben-Eliezer has headed the ministries of Housing and Communications. He is married with five children.
Sharon may face more ideological conflict with his slated foreign minister, Shimon Peres, 77.
One of the most prominent leaders of the Israeli peace camp, Peres was the leading voice arguing for Labor’s entry into a unity government with Sharon.
One of the hurdles in coalition negotiations was determining who would set diplomatic policy. A Nobel Peace Prize laureate and architect of the Oslo accords, Peres brings with him a sterling international reputation that Sharon hopes may help foster ties abroad.
Critics of Peres abound, however.
On the right, some Israelis fear that Peres – considered by some to be an inveterate schemer – may try to forge an independent foreign policy, as he did as foreign minister in 1993, when he launched the Oslo accords without the knowledge of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Peres’ more left-wing critics worry that he will serve as a “fig leaf” for Sharon’s alleged hard-line policies.
A newcomer to the Cabinet will be Avigdor Lieberman of the far-right immigrant Israel, Our Home Party, who is slated to serve as national infrastructure minister under Sharon..
A controversial figure, Lieberman, 43, made his political career as a close aide to Benjamin Netanyahu and served as director-general of Netanyahu’s office at the beginning of his term as prime minster.
Lieberman immigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1978. He became involved in Likud politics as a student at the Hebrew University, where he also worked as a bouncer at a nightclub.
Lieberman entered the Knesset in 1999 after founding Israel, Our Home. His faction later joined with the National Union, whose leaders at one time advocated transferring the Arab population out of Israel.
Lieberman has been the subject of more than one police investigation. He was investigated for insulting a public servant after calling the head of the police investigations unit an “anti-Semite.” The attorney general dropped the investigation after Lieberman apologized.
More recently, the attorney general asked a Knesset committee for permission to lift Lieberman’s parliamentary immunity to bring charges against him for striking some teen-agers who allegedly beat up Lieberman’s son.
In the election campaign, he said Israel should consider bombing Tehran or Egypt’s Aswan Dam in response to violent provocations from the Muslim world.
Lieberman is married and has three children.
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