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Wednesday, 20 November, 2002, 05:41 GMT
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer: Pragmatic politician
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
Mr Ben-Eliezer: A hawk on the Israeli left
For most of his time as defence minister in Ariel Sharon's government of national unity, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer appeared to be quite at home.

His tough stance on security issues was similar to Mr Sharon's.

His decision to leave the government over the issue of funding for Jewish settlements has more to do with internal Labour Party politics than with political or ideological differences with Mr Sharon.

Ahead of elections for the Labour leadership, Mr Ben-Eliezer made a pitch for the support of the left of the party, but was beaten resoundingly by challenger Amram Mitzna.

I am Fouad, who immigrated by myself at age 13 on foot to the Land of Israel

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer
Mr Ben-Eliezer follows the mould of many of the country's other political leaders, with a long and highly decorated background in the state's revered military.

Born in Iraq in 1936, the former army general was the first Israeli of Middle Eastern descent to lead the centre-left party.

His appointment was all the more surprising given that most Sephardi Jews in Israel - those of eastern origin - have traditionally supported the rival right-wing Likud party led by Mr Sharon.

Mr Ben-Eliezer emigrated to the nascent State of Israel a year after its formation, and although he changed his Iraqi name Fouad to the Hebrew Binyamin, he has stayed loyal to his roots.

Military careerist

A gruff, straight talking pragmatist with little charisma, Mr Ben-Eliezer entered the army in 1954 and rose through its ranks to become military governor of the West Bank.

Former Labour leader Ehud Barak (left) congratulates Mr Ben-Eliezer
Mr Ben-Eliezer took over a divided party
In 1976, Mr Ben-Eliezer was responsible for setting up links between Israel and its Christian militia allies in south Lebanon and, along with then-Defence Minister Sharon, Mr Ben-Eliezer helped plan Israel's invasion of its northern neighbour to repel Palestinian guerrillas.

Mr Ben-Eliezer is one of the most hawkish members of the Labour party, which negotiated the Oslo peace accords with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1993.

He favours a tough approach towards dealing with the Palestinian uprising, while supporting a "compromise" in final status talks with the Palestinian Authority.

As communications minister in Ehud Barak's government, Mr Ben-Eliezer went against the then-prime minister in calling for a halt to peace talks until the violence ended.

Hardline

Appointed Israel's defence minister by Mr Sharon in March, 2002, Mr Ben-Eliezer has backed controversial measures against the Palestinians, including the targeted killing of Palestinian militants.

Israeli troops on the border with Lebanon
Mr Ben-Eliezer was one of the architects of Israel's invasion of Lebanon
Mr Ben-Eliezer has said he would not compromise on the status of Jerusalem as Israel's declared capital and supports the continuation of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

He has, however, said he would be ready to make concessions when the time was right.

"For us and the Palestinians, it is clear that the day is not far off when we will return to the negotiating table," he told party leaders.

"[Then] we will have to arrive at painful and difficult decisions."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Reynolds in Jerusalem
"Binyamin Ben-Eliezer is much more of a hardliner of the Labor Party"
Leading Labor party left winger, Yossi Beilin
"[Ben-Eliezer] is a kind of shadow of Sharon and not an alternative to him"

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