Netanyahu, Benjamin


Netanyahu, Benjamin
▪ 1997

      In May 1996 Israeli voters went to the polls to elect a new prime minister. For many, the choice they faced was couched in deceptively simple terms—peace versus security. Shimon Peres, the incumbent prime minister and leader of the Labor Party, pledged to carry on the legacy of the late Yitzhak Rabin, whose efforts at establishing a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had earned him both the Nobel Peace Prize and an assassin's bullet. The candidate of the Likud bloc, Benjamin Netanyahu, had a different message—peace with security—which struck a chord with Israeli voters. Netanyahu won the election with the slimmest of margins.

      Netanyahu was born in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Oct. 21, 1949. His father, a prominent right-wing Zionist and historian, moved the family to the United States when Netanyahu was a teenager. The young Netanyahu attended high school in Philadelphia, returning to Israel to join the army, where he served in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit and rose to the rank of captain.

      Netanyahu returned to the United States and attended Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He caught the eye of Israeli Ambassador Moshe Arens, who brought Netanyahu to the embassy in Washington. He then moved on to become the Israeli ambassador to the UN. In 1988 he was elected to the Knesset (parliament) as a member of Likud and quickly established himself as an adept politician. Capitalizing on the national and international exposure he had gained during the Persian Gulf War as one of the leading Israeli spokesmen, he became leader of Likud in 1993.

      Netanyahu's election bid was seen by many as Israel's first "American-style" campaign. Handsome, charismatic, and glib, he used the media to his advantage, appearing at the scenes of terrorist bombings to speak out against the establishment of a Palestinian state, against further concessions to the PLO, and in favour of the continued settlement of Jews in disputed areas. Twice-divorced, Netanyahu was married to Sara Ben-Artzi, a child psychologist.

      The first native-born prime minister in Israel's history, "Bibi" (as he was called in Israel) Netanyahu took office at a critical time. His narrow victory in the election demonstrated the deep political divisions that existed in Israeli society, while his hard-line stance on security issues made negotiations with the Arab world difficult. By year's end, however, he had backed down from some of his more hawkish pronouncements and even entered into dialogue with Syria. In his campaign Netanyahu had promised peace with security, a promise that Israel fervently hoped he could keep.

      (JOHN H. MATHEWS)

▪ 1994

      In 1993 the new leader of Israel's Likud Party was conservative politician Benjamin Netanyahu, who nevertheless delighted in being compared to U.S. Pres. Bill Clinton, another particularly successful product of television-age politics. Netanyahu's stature as head of the opposition was underscored by his attempts to bring down the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and by his vociferous opposition to the historic Israeli-Palestinian accords formalized in September by Rabin and PLO leader Yasir Arafat.

      Netanyahu was born on Oct. 21, 1949. His father, Benzion Netanyahu, was a historian and a leading intellectual of the conservative revisionist movement. In 1963 the family moved to the U.S. after the elder Netanyahu was invited to teach at a college in Philadelphia. There Benjamin attended high school and learned the idiomatic English that would later serve him so well. He returned to Israel in 1967 to serve until 1972 as a commando in the elite, top-secret Sayeret Matcal ("Border Reconnaissance") unit, which often staged daring raids; he eventually became a captain.

      In 1972 Netanyahu was on the team that successfully stormed a hijacked airliner at Ben-Gurion Airport. Later that year he commenced studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but in 1973 he returned to Israel to fight in the Yom Kippur War. After the war he finished his studies and earned an M.B.A. from MIT. It was a Sayeret raid in which he did not participate, however, that perhaps most profoundly affected his life. The 1976 raid of a hijacked airliner at Entebbe, Uganda, was led by Netanyahu's brother Jonathan, who fell as the only military casualty. Netanyahu responded by founding (1978) the Jonathan Institute, which held seminars on terrorism and drew participants from all over the world.

      Netanyahu worked (1979-82) as a marketing manager for a furniture retailer before accepting an offer from Moshe Arens, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., to join him and serve as deputy chief of mission. From 1984 to 1988 Netanyahu served as the permanent representative to the UN, and from 1988 to 1991 he was deputy minister of foreign affairs. In 1991, while serving as a deputy minister in Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's Cabinet, he became familiar to international television audiences. During the Gulf war he briefly interrupted a televised interview to don a gas mask during an Iraqi missile attack; at the peace talks in Madrid he forcefully articulated Israel's rejection of Palestinian demands.

      After Likud fell from power, Netanyahu tried to gain control of the party and remake it in his own television-friendly image. In the first election of a Likud leader voted directly by party members instead of old-style bosses, he easily won the post that would make him prime minister if Likud were to gain power. He succeeded despite revelations that his campaign was financed mainly by U.S. businessmen, and the thrice-married Netanyahu deflected a sex scandal by publicly admitting his marital infidelity. Netanyahu was the author of A Place Among the Nations (1993).

      (CHERYL L. COLLINS)

* * *

▪ prime minister of Israel
byname  Bibi 
born October 21, 1949, Tel Aviv [now Tel Aviv–Yafo], Israel
 
 Israeli politician and diplomat, who was his country's prime minister from 1996 to 1999.

      In 1963 Netanyahu, the son of the historian Benzion Netanyahu, moved with his family to Philadelphia in the United States. After enlisting in the Israeli military in 1967, he became a soldier in the elite special operations unit Sayeret Matcal and was on the team that rescued a hijacked jet plane at the Tel Aviv airport in 1972. He later studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.B.A., 1976), taking time out to fight in the Yom Kippur War in Israel in 1973. After his brother Jonathan died while leading the successful Entebbe raid in 1976, Benjamin founded the Jonathan Institute, which sponsored conferences on terrorism.

      Netanyahu held several ambassadorship positions before being elected to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) as a Likud member in 1988. He served as deputy minister of foreign affairs (1988–91) and then as a deputy minister in Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (Rabin, Yitzhak)'s coalition cabinet (1991–92). In 1993 he easily won election as the leader of the Likud party, succeeding Yitzhak Shamir (Shamir, Yitzḥak) in that post. Netanyahu became noted for his opposition to the 1993 Israel-PLO peace accords and the resulting Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

      The governing Labour Party entered the 1996 elections with weakened electoral appeal following Rabin's assassination in November 1995 and a series of suicide bombings by Muslim militants early in 1996. Netanyahu eked out a victory margin of about 1 percent over Prime Minister Shimon Peres (Peres, Shimon) in the elections of May 29, 1996, the first in which the prime minister was directly elected. Netanyahu became the youngest person ever to serve as Israel's prime minister when he formed a government on June 18.

 Unrest dominated Netanyahu's prime ministership. Soon after he entered office, relations with Syria deteriorated, and his decision in September 1996 to open an ancient tunnel near Al-Aqsa Mosque angered Palestinians and sparked intense fighting. Netanyahu then reversed his earlier opposition to the 1993 peace accords and in 1997 agreed to withdraw troops from most of the West Bank town of Hebron. Pressure from within his coalition, however, led Netanyahu to announce his intention to establish a new Jewish settlement on land claimed by Palestine. He also significantly lowered the amount of land that would be handed over to Palestine during Israel's next phase of withdrawal from the West Bank. Violent protests, including a series of bombings, ensued. In 1998 Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yāsir ʿArafāt (Arafāt, Yāsirʿ) participated in peace talks that resulted in the Wye Memorandum, the terms of which included placing as much as 40 percent of the West Bank under Palestinian control. The agreement was opposed by right-wing groups in Israel, and several factions in Netanyahu's government coalition quit. In 1998 the Knesset dissolved the government, and new elections were scheduled for May 1999.

      Netanyahu's reelection campaign was hindered by a fragmented right wing as well as by voters' growing dislike of his inconsistent peace policies and his often abrasive style. In addition, a series of scandals had plagued his administration, including his appointment in 1997 of Roni Bar-On, a Likud party functionary, as attorney general. Allegations that Bar-On would arrange a plea bargain for a Netanyahu ally who had been charged with fraud and bribery led to a series of confidence votes in the Knesset. With his core political support undermined, Netanyahu was easily defeated by Ehud Barak (Barak, Ehud), leader of the Labour Party, in the 1999 elections.

      Netanyahu was succeeded as head of Likud in 1999 by Ariel Sharon (Sharon, Ariel) but remained a popular figure in the party. When early elections were called in 2001, Netanyahu, who had resigned his seat in the Knesset and thus was ineligible to run for prime minister, unsuccessfully challenged Sharon for leadership of the party. In Sharon's government, Netanyahu served as foreign minister (2002–03) and finance minister (2003–05). In 2005 Sharon left Likud and formed a centrist party, Kadima; Netanyahu was subsequently elected leader of Likud and was the party's unsuccessful prime ministerial candidate for the 2006 Knesset elections.

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Universalium. 2010.

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