NEW: PLO official: "I hope this signals recognition of the futility of the military approach in ... dealing with the Palestinians"
Ehud Barak says he wants to spend more time with his family
Despite speculation of a new party, he says he won't contest the elections due in January
His resignation comes after a lethal conflict with Hamas in Gaza
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced his resignation Monday, saying he will quit politics in January to spend more time with his family.
His resignation comes at a highly delicate time for Israel, which is observing a fragile cease-fire with the militant Palestinian group Hamas after an eight-day conflict that killed more than 160 people – the overwhelming majority of them Palestinians in Gaza.
Barak, who is married and the father of three children, said Monday at a news conference in Tel Aviv that he will continue as defense minister for the next three months, as elections are due in January. He said he won’t contest the elections.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, weighed in on the announcement.
“I hope this signals recognition of the futility of the military approach in the adoption of violence as means of dealing with the Palestinians,” she said. “If it is for personal reasons, we cannot comment, but if it’s recognition that his whole career was based on the military approach to political life, then this demonstrates the recognition of the futility of militarism and violence.”
Some Israeli political commentators had speculated ahead of the announcement that Barak was planning to quit the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a new center-left party.
But Barak told reporters that new faces in leadership roles would benefit Israel.
“I feel it is important that other people should take leading positions in Israel. Changes in the position of power are a good thing. There are many ways to contribute to the society and the country, and not necessarily through politics,” he said.
Barak served as defense minister under former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert between 2007 and 2009, and retained the post under Netanyahu from 2009 until the present. He also held the title of deputy prime minister for both administrations.
He had previously served as prime minister between July 1999 and March 2001, when he was defeated in an election by Ariel Sharon. From 2001 until his return to politics in 2005, Barak worked in the private sector.
CNN’s Michael Schwartz and Kareem Khadder contributed to this report.