Ehud Barak announces he will leave politics

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced that he will leave politics after more than half a century, and not run in the upcoming elections.

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Barak made the surprise announcement Monday, less than a week after the end of Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, for which he has received accolades for his successful leadership.

Barak said he planned to spend more time with his family.

“I have never felt that politics was the height of my ambition,” he said at the Monday morning news conference. “I feel there is room now for other people to take up positions in Israel. There are many ways to contribute, but the state is not just politics.”

Barak served as prime minister in 1999, succeeding Benjamin Netanyahu. He also served as defense minister at the same time. He left politics in 2001 after losing to Ariel Sharon, but returned to serve as defense minister for Ehud Olmert in 2007, as chairman of the Labor Party.  He continued to serve as prime minister under Netanyahu when he became prime minister in 2009.

Barak left the Labor Party and formed his own left-wing Independence Party in January 2011, in order to shore up Netanyahu’s majority coalition government when the Labor Party, minus Barak’s faction, left the coalition.

The Independence Party likely would not garner enough votes in the upcoming elections to break the 2 percent threshold to win seats in the Knesset, according to recent polls. Barak, however, has recently been courted by left-wing and center-left-wing parties to join with them for the coming elections. Netanyahu reportedly demanded that Barak resign from the government if he decided to join another party.

Barak said he would leave the government after the January elections.

Former Kadima Party head Tzipi Livni is slated to announce this week what her plans for the coming political season are, as is former Prime Minister and Kadima Party head Ehud Olmert.

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