Benjamin Netanyahu: Who is Israel’s four-term PM?

Bibi is Israel’s most right-wing prime minister to date.

During a speech at the UN in 2012, Netanyahu called for a 'red line' on Iran's nuclear programme [Reuters]
During a speech at the UN in 2012, Netanyahu called for a 'red line' on Iran's nuclear programme [Reuters]

Informally known as “Bibi” and currently being investigated for corruption, Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel’s most right-wing prime minister to date, and the first Israeli born politician to assume the PM position.

This is his story from Washington and back to Tel Aviv.

European roots

The son of a “Revisionist Zionist” from Poland, Netanyahu traces some of his roots to Spain.

  • Zionist father: Born in Jaffa (now known as Tel Aviv) in 1949 to a settler family, Netanyahu grew up in Jerusalem and went to high school in the United States.

  • His mother, Tzila Segal, was an Israeli born Jew and his father Benzion Netanyahu was a secular Jew from Poland. His father, born Benzion Mileikowsky, changed his name to Benzion Netanyahu after he settled in Palestine

  • Netanyahu’s father was one of the original Revisionist Zionists who believed that Israel should exist on both sides of the Jordan River, rejecting compromises with neighbouring Arab states.

  • In 1967, Benjamin Netanyahu joined the Israeli army and soon became an elite commando and served as captain during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

  • Saliva test: In 2016, Netanyahu said that his brother had done a DNA test, and “it came out that at least some of that tree needs to be attributed to the Jews of Spain.”

Rise to power

After serving in the Israeli Army, Netanyahu assumed various roles under Israel’s foreign ministry until he won in the general elections in 1996.

  • Ambassador: In 1982, Netanyahu was appointed 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 appointed as deputy foreign minister in the cabinet of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

  • Likud chairman: Rising to the post of the right-wing Likud Party chairman in 1993, Netanyahu orchestrated the party’s return to political power after its defeat in the 1992 election.

  • Later, Netanyahu lost the Likud leadership to Ariel Sharon, and regained it only after Sharon left Likud to form Kadima in 2005.

  • Four-time PM: Campaigning under the slogan “a strong prime minister”, his Likud Party managed to gain enough seats for him to form a coalition with fellow right-wing parties Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas. 

  • Netanyahu won the elections in 1996, in 2009, 2013, and 2015.

‘Three noes’

Netanyahu has a “three noes” mantra: no Palestinian state, no return of the Golan Heights to Syria and no discussion on the future status of Jerusalem.

  • Despite opposing most peace deals with the Palestinians, Netanyahu signed the Wye River Accords in 1998 with Yasser Arafat, who was then the president of the Palestinian National Authority.

  • Netanyahu resigned as foreign minister in August 2005, in protest over Sharon’s plan to disengage from Gaza, part of the Palestinian territory.

  • To critics such as Yuval Diskin, the former head of Israel’s domestic intelligence organisation, Netanyahu holds an inflated sense of entitlement. Diskin once said: “At play inside Netanyahu, in my opinion, is a mix of ideology, a deep sense that he is a prince of a ‘royal family’ from the Jerusalem elite, alongside insecurity and a deep fear of taking responsibility.”

  • To supporters, he is a strong spokesperson for Israel, willing to tell the public uncomfortable truths and able to stand up to enemies.

Jerusalem status

  • Obama criticism: Netanyahu’s relationship with former US President Barack Obama has been described as “frosty”, as Obama has, on occasion, criticised the continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. 

  • “We will carrying on building in Jerusalem and in all the places that are on the map of Israel’s strategic interests,” Netanyahu said.

  • Trump reset: The election of Donald Trump was eagerly greeted by Netanyahu. 

  • Coming after a rocky eight years in US-Israel relations under Obama, their meeting in Washington, DC was intended to signal a “reset” in relations between the two.

  • On December 6, Trump broke with decades of US policy and has announced that the US formally recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will begin the process of moving its embassy to the city.

  • Netanyahu welcomed the decision, and said it was “a historic day” for Israel. Jerusalem “has been the capital of Israel for nearly 70 years,” he said in a statement.

Anti-Iran rhetoric

  • During his first stint as prime minister, Netanyahu addressed the US Congress, telling legislators that “time is running out” to deal with Iran. “The deadline for attaining this goal is extremely close,” he said.

  • Bibi does not believe leaders of the Islamic Republic are necessarily rational actors, and has said Iran poses an “existential threat” to Israel. He has threatened unilateral military action against Iran on several occasions. 

  • “As long as I am prime minister, Iran will not have an atomic bomb,” he said in 2013. “If there’s no other way, Israel is ready to act [with force].”

Corruption scandal  

  • In February 2018, Israeli police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for bribery in two cases while he was questioned in connection with a third investigation.

  • It is now up to Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, to decide whether to press charges. That decision could take months.

  • Netanyahu is under no strict legal obligation to quit following the police recommendations. He has given every indication that he intends to remain in office while pursuing a legal battle.

  • Outside Netanyahu’s party, Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett are possible candidates. Both head far-right parties in Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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