Meet the candidates: Olmert, Peretz and Netanyahu

olmert bibi peretz stack (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
olmert bibi peretz stack
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


Ehud Olmert was born in what is now Binyamina on September 30, 1945. In his youth he was involved with the Betar youth group, a revisionist zionist movement started by Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Olmert's father was a member of Knesset under the revisionist Zionist Herut party, which was the opposition to the ruling Mapai. During his army service, he was an officer in the Golani infantry unit. He also was a military correspondent for the IDF journal Bamachaneh. After graduating from Hebrew University with a B.A. in philosophy and psychology as well as an L.L.B. (a law degree), Olmert went on to set up a successful law partnership in Jerusalem. In 1973 he became the youngest MK in history for what was to be the first of seven consecutive terms. Between the years 1981-1988, he was a member of the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee. In 1988 Olmert became minister-without-portfolio responsible for minority affairs, and served in that position until 1990, when he became Minister of Health. As minister-without-portfolio he was considered a strong advocate of improving services to the Arab sector. During the 1980s Olmert shifted to the left. He gained enemies within his party by joining the effort to usurp legendary Likud leader Menachem Begin, and twice floated the idea of unilaterally granting Palestinian autonomy. In 1991, he caused a stir at an AIPAC conference when he said that Israel was willing to negotiate with Syria about the Golan Heights. Shamir and Sharon subsequently denied the claim. In 1993 Olmert scored a decisive victory against the popular Teddy Kolleck in a race to be mayor of Jerusalem, and became the first member of the Likud party or its predecessors to win the position. He was re-elected in 1998. As mayor of Jerusalem he slid to the right, pushing for the opening of the controversial Western Wall Tunnel as well as supporting Jewish settlement efforts in Arab neighborhoods and aggressively pursuing a policy of demolishing any unauthorized construction by Arab residents. During his time as mayor, Olmert spearheaded numerous programs to revitalize the city, including the construction of the Begin highway, a light rail system, and increased funding for the arts. He was widely criticized, however, for allowing the haredi sector to gain significant influence in the municipality. His proponents responded that it was simply democracy at work. Olmert is also widely credited with improving Jerusalem's school system, which is the largest in the country. During the last year of his tenure, attendance at city-run Arab schools increased by 53%. In 1998 Olmert began his move back to the left by supporting Barak in the national elections and urging Likud to join the coalition after Barak's victory. In 2003, Sharon defeated Olmert in the primaries for leadership of the Likud. Following his defeat, Sharon appointed him as the head of the election campaign for the Likud Party in the elections and was chief negotiator of the coalition agreement. After Likud's victory, Sharon appointed him Minister of Industry and Trade as well as Vice Prime Minister. Olmert subsequently became Minister of Communications and then Minister of Finance. Although Olmert voted against the Camp David accords in 1978 and vocally opposed withdrawal from the Sinai in 1982, saying that it was a "historic mistake," in 2005 he became one of the foremost supporters of the Gaza disengagement. After his appointment to the government, Olmert said of Menachem Begin, "Now I am sorry he is not alive for me to be able to publicly recognize his wisdom and my mistake. He was right and I was wrong. Thank God we pulled out of the Sinai." When Sharon broke away from the Likud in November 2005 to establish Kadima, Olmert was one of the first join him. Following Ariel Sharon's serious hemorrhagic stroke on January 4, 2006, prime ministerial powers were transferred to Olmert. Today he serves as Minister of Finance, Minister of Industry and Trade, and is responsible for the Israel Lands Administration as well as being Acting Prime Minister. On Sunday, January 16, he was approved by Kadima to act as interim chairman of the party.



Binyamin Netanyahu was born in Tel Aviv on October 21, 1949. After spending most of his youth in Jerusalem, a high-school aged Netanyahu moved to the Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, with his family, where his father Professor Benzion Netanyahu took a job as a history professor. At age 18, Netanyahu returned to Israel to serve in the IDF in an elite commando unit (Sayeret Matkal), under former prime minister Ehud Barak. During the War of Attrition (1968-1970) against Egypt, Netanyahu participated in a number of important missions including the Beirut Airport operation and the rescue of hijacked Sabena Airlines hostages. In 1972 he was discharged from the army, but returned to serve during the Yom Kippur War, after which he attained the rank of captain. Following his army service Netanyahu returned to study in the US, graduating from MIT with a B.Sc. in Architecture and an M.Sc. in Management Studies. He also studied political science at MIT and Harvard University. After briefly working as a business consultant in the US, Netanyahu returned to Israel and joined the senior management of Rim Industries in Jerusalem. Three years after his brother Jonathan was killed in Entebbe while leading forces rescuing passengers of an Israeli jetliner hijacked by terrorists, Netanyahu initiated and organized an international conference against terrorism in 1979, under the auspices of the Jonathan Institute - a private anti-terrorism institute named after his brother. The conference was attended by eminent world leaders, including former US president George Bush and former US secretary of state George Shultz. The two also participated in a subsequent anti-terror conference organized by Netanyahu in 1984. From 1982 Netanyahu served as Deputy Chief of Mission in the Israeli Embassy in Washington and played an active role in the first delegation to the talks of Israeli-US strategic cooperation. In 1984 he was appointed Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, in which position he served until 1988. Upon returning to Israel in 1988, Netanyahu was elected to the 12th Knesset on the Likud mandate and was appointed Deputy Foreign Minister. In that position he served as Israel's chief international representative during the 1991 Gulf War and led the Israeli delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference, which initiated the first direct negotiations between Israel and Syria, Lebanon, and a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Following the Likud Party's defeat in 1992 general elections, Netanyahu decisively defeated three other candidates for the Likud Party chairmanship on March 25, 1993. Elected on May 29, 1996, Netanyahu became Israel 9th and youngest ever Prime Minister. In that position, he concluded the Hebron agreement and the Wye River plantation accords with the Palestinians, but failed to implement promised further redeployments when Palestinians reneged on their commitments to curb terror and incitement. In May 1999 Netanyahu he was defeated by Ehud Barak. In the 15th Knesset he served as Foreign Minister. He claims to have revived the economy while he served as Finance Minister in the 16th Knesset. Since PM Ariel Sharon introduced his unilateral disengagement plan, Netanyahu disapproved of it, although he chiefly expressed his opposition by demanding a national referendum on the issue. Just weeks before the evacuations started Netanyahu quit the Knesset, in attempt to firmly align himself with the right-wing votership. After Sharon defected from the Likud in late 2005, Netanyahu won chairmanship of the party and steered the party further to the right. His campaign for the 2006 election stresses the war on terrorism and stipulates Israeli concessions on Palestinian reciprocity.