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« on: June 14, 2007, 01:22:09 PM »

 Barak returns to power in Israel

By Carolynne Wheeler in Jerusalem
Last Updated: 2:19am BST 14/06/2007

The former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, is set for a dramatic return to politics after a six-year absence.

He was elected to lead the Labour Party, the second largest party in the governing coalition.

His win ensures that the embattled prime minister, Ehud Olmert, will remain in office at least until autumn, as Mr Barak has promised to leave his party in the governing coalition until an investigation into last summer's war in southern Lebanon is complete.

Mr Olmert is, in turn, expected to offer Mr Barak the defence ministry, sidelining the outgoing Labour leader Amir Peretz, whose performance in the post was ridiculed.

Mr Olmert's popularity has sunk to record lows since the Winograd Commission released a scathing interim report condemning his actions in the conflict.

Both Mr Barak and his leading opponent in the leadership race, the former intelligence head and naval commander Ami Ayalon, had promised to press for Mr Olmert's resignation.
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The Labour Party holds 19 seats in Mr Olmert's 78-seat coalition. Its withdrawal would leave Mr Olmert without a majority in the 120-seat Knesset and hard-pressed to keep his government together.

But Mr Barak, who was the country's most-decorated soldier before serving as prime minister from 1999-2001, has his own demons to overcome first, having left politics completely after a crushing electoral defeat by Ariel Sharon that followed the start of the second intifada.

Observers say he is likely to spend a few weeks or months in office polishing his own image before pressing for early elections.

"They [Olmert and Barak] could live together for quite some time," said Reuven Hazan, a political scientist at Jerusalem's Hebrew University. "This just goes to show that [Olmert] is still running Israeli politics."

Mr Barak, a former army chief of staff, attempted massive political and regional change during his prime ministerial term, first withdrawing Israeli soldiers from Lebanon after an 18-year occupation, then failing to hold talks with Syria and the Palestinians.

Barak returns to power in Israel
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