Profile: Binyamin Netanyahu

Likud leader was asked by Israeli president to form a government.

Last updated: 31 Mar 2009 15:36
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In 1996, Netanyahu became the first Israeli prime minister born in the country [GALLO/GETTY]

When Binyamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud party, was elected prime minister in 1996 he was not only the youngest politician to hold such a post but also the first prime minister born in Israel.

Now he set for a second stint in the post following Likud's strong showing in a recent general election.

Although Likud got one seat less than rival Kadima in the February 10 vote, Likud looked more likely to cobble together a coalition government given that it had the support of Yisrael Beitenu, a far-right party that finished third in the poll.

Army veteran

Born in Tel-Aviv on October 21, 1949, Netanyahu grew up in Jerusalem but went to high school in the US where his father taught history.

On his return to Israel in 1967, he enlisted in the Israeli army and soon became an elite commando; he served as a captain during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

He was appointed as the deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Washington in 1982. In 1984 he was appointed Israel's ambassador to the United Nations.

In 1988, Netanyahu was elected to the 12th Knesset as a Likud member and was appointed deputy foreign minister in the cabinet of Yitzhak Shamir, the then Israeli prime minister.

Rising to the post of Likud party chairman in 1993, Netanyahu orchestrated its return to political power after its defeat in the 1992 election.

An opponent of the Labor government's peace policies, many held him responsible for cultivating Jewish right-wing support after the 1995 assassination of Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin.

Netanyahu's mantra included the famous "three noes": no Palestinian state, no return of the Golan Heights to Syria and no discussion on the future status of Jerusalem.

Arab leaders at the time said Netanyahu's policies diminished prospects for peace.

Peace accords

Despite opposing peace deals with the Palestinians, Netanyahu signed the Wye River Accords in 1998 with Yasser Arafat, the then Palestinian president.

Netanyahu later turned over most of Hebron to Palestinian jurisdiction.

Right-wing parties accused him of abandoning his initial promises of taking a hard line with the Palestinians and threatened to walk out of a coalition government.

Forced to call elections 17 months early, Netanyahu lost to Ehud Barak, the then Labor chairman, in May 1999.

The embattled former prime minister would not return to public office until 2002 when he was appointed as foreign minister by Ariel Sharon, who became prime minister after winning in March 2001.

The two later competed for the Likud's chairmanship, which he lost. He regained his leadership of the party when Sharon left Likud to form his own Kadima party in 2005 just before the 2006 elections.

Netanyahu resigned as foreign minister in August 2005, in protest over Sharon's plan to disengage from Gaza.

Tough policies

The Likud leader has always advocated a much tougher policy towards Iran and what he considers to be its proxy in Palestine, Hamas.

"The biggest, most important task of my government will be to fend off the Iranian threat in all aspects," he told a gathering of Jewish leaders from around the world before the February election.

"It will oblige us to work on all fronts, including harnessing the US administration to stop the threat."

He also believes rivalry between Hamas and Fatah has left the Palestinians too divided to negotiate a peace deal.

He said: "Palestinian society is deeply divided .... They are not strong enough to accept minimal concessions for a peace deal and are not strong enough to fight terror."

Al Jazeera
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