Benjamin Netanyahu

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Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu

(Hebrew: בִּנְיָמִין נְתַנְיָהוּ (without niqqudot: בנימין נתניהו), transliteration: Binyamin Netanyahu, nicknamed Bibi) (born October 21, 1949, Tel Aviv) was the 9th Prime Minister of Israel. A member of the conservative Likud party, he was Prime Minister from June 1996 to July 1999. He is the first (and to date only) Prime Minister of Israel to be born after the creation of the state. He was Finance Minister of Israel until August 9, 2005, when his resignation letter came into force. He resigned in protest of the Gaza Disengagement Plan advocated by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.


Family and personal background

Benjamin was born to Zila and Ben-Zion Netanyahu. His father, Ben-Zion, is a professor of Jewish history and a former editor of the Hebrew Encyclopedia. His elder brother Yonatan, who was killed during Operation Entebbe in 1976, is considered an Israeli war hero. His younger brother Iddo is a radiologist and writer. All three brothers served in the Sayeret Matkal.

Netanyahu was married twice before, and has a daughter, Noa, from his first marriage. He is married to his third wife, Sarah, and has two children. He grew up in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Cheltenham High School. He holds a BS in Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MS in Management from the MIT Sloan School of Management, and has studied political science at Harvard and MIT.

After a brief career in business Netanyahu was appointed Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington in 1982. Subsequently, he became Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, serving from 1984-1988. He was elected to the Knesset in 1988 and served as a Deputy Minister in the governments led by Yitzhak Shamir from 1988-1992. Shamir retired from politics shortly after Likud's defeat in the 1992 elections. In 1993 for the first time the party held a primary to select its leader and Netanyahu was victorious, defeating Ze'ev "Benny" Begin, son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and veteran politician David Levy. (Ariel Sharon initially sought the Likud leadership as well, but quickly withdrew when it was evident that he was attracting minimal support.)

Prime minister (1996-1999)

In 1996 for the first time Israelis chose their Prime Minister directly. Netanyahu was elected in 1996 after a wave of Palestinian suicide attacks on Israeli civilians. Shimon Peres, who had succeeded the assassinated Labor Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was initially favored in the polls, but could not stop the terror attacks and public faith in him decreased rapidly. On March 3 and 4 1996, Palestinian militants carried out two lethal suicide bombings in which 32 Israeli citizens were killed. Those two attacks were the main catalyst in the downfall of Peres, who eventually lost the election due to his inability to stop attacks against Israelis. Unlike Peres, Netanyahu did not trust Yasser Arafat's good will and conditioned any progress at the peace process on the Palestinian Authority fulfilling their obligations - mainly fighting terrorism. His campaign slogan was "Netanyahu - making a safe Peace".

Perhaps due to his American education, Netanyahu hired American right-wing politican operative Arthur Finkelstein to run his campaign. Although the American style of soundbites and sharp attacks elicited harsh criticism from inside Israel, it proved effective and Netanyahu's Likud Party took control. In 1999 Ehud Barak would choose a similar style to challenge Netanyahu by bringing in Bill Clinton's former campaign manager, James Carville, as well as American consultant Bob Shrum and pollster Stanley Greenberg.

As Prime Minister he negotiated with Yasser Arafat in the form of the Wye River Accords (1998), but many claimed he tried to stall any progress. Netanyahu's approach to the peace negotiations was popular:

"If they'll give - they'll get. If they won't give - they won't get".
"יתנו - יקבלו. לא יתנו - לא יקבלו"

This approach seemed to work; unlike the rule of his predecessors and successors, Netanyahu's rule was quieter with relatively few Palestinian suicide bombings within Israel. In 1996, Netanyahu and Jerusalem's mayor Ehud Olmert decided to open an exit for the Western Wall tunnel. This sparked three days of riots by Palestinians, resulting in about a dozen Israelis and a hundred Palestinians being killed.

Despite the relatively low level of terrorism during his Premiership, Netanyahu was opposed by the left-wing in Israel and also lost support from the far right because of his concessions to the Palestinians in Hebron and elsewhere and due to his negotiations with Arafat generally. After a long chain of scandals (including gossip over his wife) and an investigation opened against him on charges of corruption, Netanyahu lost favor with the Israeli public.

After being defeated by Ehud Barak in the 1999 Israeli general elections, Netanyahu temporarily retired from politics.

Political activity after 2000

Benjamin Netanyahu, 2003
Benjamin Netanyahu, 2003

In 2002, after the Israeli Labor party left power and vacated the position of foreign minister, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appointed Netanyahu as Foreign Minister. Netanyahu challenged Sharon for the leadership of the Likud party but failed to oust Sharon. After the 2003 elections, Netanyahu accepted the post of Finance Minister in a newly formed Sharon coalition. Netanyahu does not currently support the concept of a future Palestinian state, though on two occasions in 2001, he indicated willingness to consider the idea "Likud Central Committee Rejects Palestinian State".

As a Finance Minister, Netanyahu undertook an economic plan in order to restore Israel's economy from its low during the al-Aqsa Intifada. The plan involved a move towards more liberalised markets, although it has been seen by many opponents as controversial. Netanyahu succeeded to pass several long due reforms, including an important reform in the banking system, which increased GDP growth rate significantly.

Netanyahu threatened to resign in 2004 unless the Gaza pullout plan was put to a referendum, but later lifted the ultimatum. He submitted his resignation letter on 7th August 2005, shortly before the Israeli cabinet voted by 17 to 5 to approve the initial phase of withdrawals of the Gaza Disengagement Plan. The resignation letter that Netanyahu submitted on 7th August 2005 officially came into force two days later.

Today, Netanyahu is attempting to become leader of the Likud party once more, thereby making him Prime Minister. His most recent effort to do so was in his attempt (Sept. 2005) to schedule early primaries for the position of the head of the Likud party, while the party is still holding the office of Prime Minister- thus effectively pushing Ariel Sharon out of office. The party rejected this initiative.

Books and articles


  • A Durable Peace: Israel and Its Place Among the Nations (Warner Books, 2000) ISBN 0446523062
  • Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic And International Terrorism (Diane Pub Co, 1995) ISBN 0788155148
  • A Place Among the Nations (Bantam, 1993) ISBN 0553089749
  • Terrorism: How the West Can Win (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1986) ISBN 0374273421



External links

Preceded by:
Shimon Peres
Prime Minister of Israel
June 1996 – July 1999
Succeeded by:
Ehud Barak
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