Defense minister announces he is quitting public life to spend more time with family; 'I want to study, write, live and have a good time, he says. Minister Erdan: Barak misread political climate in Mideast
Yuval Karni, Attila Somfalvi
Barak stated that while he had difficulties making the decision, he was confident in his choice. "I want to study, to write to live and have a good time," he said.
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"My decision to resign stems from my desire to dedicate more time to my family," he said, adding that his passion never lied in politics.
"There are many ways to contribute to the state, not only through politics," he noted.
The minister denied making the decision based on grim polls results ahead of the Knesset election. He further joked that he is following the footsteps of Likud Minister Moshe Kahlon, who recently announced he is taking a hiatus from politics.
"I'm making way for Olmert, so you can keep on working," Barak told reporters.
Barak praised IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, saying that he projects "open, quiet and attentive leadership while also making decisions."
Barak said later Monday that he will travel to the US on Tuesday to take part in the in the Saban conference. He is to be replaced by Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter during his five-day absence.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he respects Barak's decision and thanked the minister for his cooperation. He further expressed appreciation for the minister's contribution to Israel's security.
Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich voiced regret over Barak's resignation and said she hopes he would contribute his expertise to the state when the need arises.
Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni chimed in with an expression of gratitude, noting that despite past disagreements between the two she "always appreciated his genuine concern for the future of Israel." She wished him luck "in the new chapter in his life."
Yair Lapid's party made do with a concise statement: "Yesh Atid thanks Defense Minister Ehud Barak for his years-long service of the state, its security and defense."
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan appeared to welcome the announcement, saying that Barak's "political and ideological path was completely misguided."
"We are currently acting to raise the election threshold in order to have a proper state leadership, unlike Barak's leadership which has totally misread the political situation in the Middle East," Erdan said.
The minister lauded Barak's contribution to Israel's security but added that "Unfortunately, in recent years he interjected his political views in issues that touch upon the settlements in Judea and Samaria."
Barak is leaving behind the Independence party, which he founded after quitting Labor in January 2011. Its four remaining members met on Monday afternoon to discuss their options. Sources within the faction say the most favored possibility is joining another party.
"Ehud Barak is the most famous and senior figure in the party and even he didn't manage to make it relevant," one source said.
Barak, 70, served as Israel's 14th IDF chief of staff. During his 36-year military career he received five citations, thus becoming the most decorated soldier in the Israeli army's history.
Six months after leaving the army in 1995 he joined politics at then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's behest, assuming the role of interior minister.
After Rabin's assassination Barak was named foreign minister. In 1997 he was elected Labor chairman and managed to defeat Netanyahu in the 1999 in the prime ministerial election. In May 2000 he led the IDF's retreat from south Lebanon. In 2001 he resigned and later lost the election to Ariel Sharon.
Barak's hiatus from public life lasted until 2007, when he won the Labor primaries. He was then appointed as defense minister under then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Under Barak's leadership, Labor was dealt a blow in the last Knesset election, winning only 13 mandates.
Yuval Karni and Attila Somfalvi are Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth correspondents