Netanyahu, Benjamin

views updated May 21 2018


Israeli politician, born in 1949, in a family of university academics close to the Zionist right. His father, Benzion Netanyahu, was the secretary of Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky. In 1968, after studying in the United Sates, Benjamin Netanyahu enlisted in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and volunteered to perform his military service in an elite Israeli unit, in which he remained for five years. In May 1972, at the Tel Aviv airport, he participated in neutralizing a Palestinian group that that taken over a Sabena airliner, with some hundred passengers aboard. In the same combat unit were also Ehud Barak, future prime minister, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, future Army chief-of-staff, and Dani Yatom, future head of Mossad. He was discharged from the IDF in 1972 having reached the rank of captain following the Yom Kippur War. After the army, he completed his studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), receiving his master's degree in management studies in 1976. He remained in the United States where he was involved in various commercial activities.

During the summer of 1976, after the death of his brother Yonatan, during the famous Israeli raid on Entebbe, Netanyahu joined the party of Menachem Begin, the Herut. The following year, in memory of his brother, he founded the Jonathan Institute for Terrorism Research, at Jerusalem. In 1982, recommended by Moshe Arens, an important figure in Herut and Israeli ambassador to the United States, he joined the staff of the Israeli embassy in Washington, then filled, from 1984 to 1988, the post of Israeli

ambassador to the United Nations. His tenure at the UN took place under the Israeli Likud-Labor coalition, with alternation of the prime ministers, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir. On 1 November 1988, having returned to Israel, he was elected a Likud member of Knesset, then was named, on 25 December, deputy foreign minister in the coalition government led by Yitzhak Shamir, becoming thereby the rising star of Likud.

Within this party, Netanyahu belonged to the current of Herut, led by Shamir and Arens, while two other tendencies were significant, one headed by Ariel Sharon and Benny Begin, the other by David Levy and Yitzhak Modai. In October 1991, he was the spokesperson of the Israeli delegation to the Middle East peace conference, at Madrid. The tone of his remarks there made many think of him as the heir-apparent to Yitzhak Shamir. In November 1991, he joined the cabinet of Prime Minister Shamir, to handle specifically the peace process. This appointment was a consequence of some differences that had surfaced between Shamir and the new foreign minister, David Levy. In April 1992, Netanyahu's name came up as a replacement for Levy, thought likely to resign.

After the Labor Party came to power, in July, 1992, Benyamin Netanyahu focused all his efforts on becoming the leader of Likud. On 25 March, 1993, he was elected to lead this party, with 52.1 percent of the votes, against 26.3 percent for Levy. The first sabra to head Likud, he committed himself to upholding the dogmas of the nationalist right. At a congress of the party, which took place between 16–18 May, he consolidated his position at the top of Likud by obtaining control of its executive organs. On 19 October, following, after the Israeli-Palestinian accord, signed in Washington in September, he conceded that the peace process with the Palestinians was irreversible, but insisted on maintaining Israeli sovereignty over the Occupied Territories. During the first six months of 1995, his quarrels with Levy weakened Likud, intensifying personal animosities and social-ethnic cleavages. During the month of November, following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, his popularity dropped in public opinion, which reproached him for having contributed, through his extremist political rhetoric, to a climate of hate, with the end result that the prime minister was assassinated.

In February 1996, in anticipation of Knesset elections, in the course of which the prime minister would be, for the first time, chosen by direct universal suffrage, Likud joined with the ultranationalist party, Tzomet, headed by General Raphael Eitan. A few weeks later, it expanded this alliance, to include the Gesher "Bridge" Party of Levy, who had resigned from Likud. Thereby he became the sole candidate of the Israeli right, confronted by that of the Labor Party, Shimon Peres, favored to win. On 31 May 1996, Netanyahu was proclaimed prime minister, elected with 50.4 percent of the votes cast, against 49.5 percent for Peres. He became the youngest prime minister ever of the State of Israel and the first head of government chosen by universal direct suffrage. On 18 June, he presented his government, constituted around the Likud-Gesher-Tzomet alliance, along with representatives of two ultra-Orthodox religious parties (SHAS and the National Religious Party) and two centrist groups (Third Way and Israel be-Aliyah). In his program, the new prime minister affirmed his desire to pursue the peace process, but announced his intention of redefining the Oslo Accords, signed between the Israelis and Palestinians. Opposing the creation of an independent Palestinian state, he advocated the development of Jewish settlements, upheld the unity of Jerusalem, and favored maintaining Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Between 1996 and 1997, his intransigence and many turnabouts wound up blocking the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on the application of the Oslo Accords, leading to much criticism from the international community and a part of Israeli society. On 15 January 1997, Netanyahu and Yasir Arafat signed an accord on Israeli withdrawal from the city of Hebron. This was the very first accord signed between the Israeli right and the Palestinians.

On the following January, the "Bibigate" scandal burst out, when Netanyahu made a public statement that he had cheated on his wife and his political opponents were trying to blackmail him. On 8 January 1998, David Levy, his foreign minister and rival for leadership of the party, resigned in response to the charges concerning the alleged blackmail. Pressed to make some concessions, Netanyahu signed, on 23 October 1998, the Oslo Accords II, providing for the withdrawal from an additional 13 percent of the territories to the Palestinians. On 21 December, when he was being repudiated for his policies, particularly concerning the Palestinians, both by the opposition as well as by some of his supporters, the Knesset passed a motion authorizing elections, by 81 votes of the 120 in the Knesset, a vote confirmed in a final ballot, on 4 January 1999, by 85 votes. Previously the Knesset had rejected, by majority vote, the five conditions Netanyahu intended to impose on the Palestinians before putting into effect the withdrawal, provided for in the Oslo Accords II. On 25 January 1999, as a result of the primaries of Likud, he obtained 75 to 80 percent of the votes cast, running against Moshe Arens, becoming again his party's candidate for the post of prime minister. On 17 May following, defeated by the candidate of the Labor Party, Ehud Barak, and having obtained only 43 percent of the votes against 56 percent for his adversary, Netanyahu resigned from the leadership of Likud, where he was replaced by Ariel Sharon. His party had won only nineteen Knesset seats. On 28 March 2000, an investigation of him was opened, for embezzlement of funds, breach of trust, and obstruction of Israeli justice. On the following 27 September, the justice department declined to prosecute him, for lack of sufficient evidence. Netanyahu returned to the Knesset in the elections of 2003 and was appointed minister of finance by Sharon. Within the Likud, Netanyahu assumed a leadership role among the "hawks," opposing Sharon's proposed plan for disengagement from disputed territories and opposing the prime minister's apparent acceptance of the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

SEE ALSO Barak, Ehud;Begin, Menachem;Gesher "Bridge" Party;Golan Heights;Herut Party;Israel be-Aliyah;Jabotinsky, Vladimir Ze'ev;Knesset;Levy, David;Likud;Lipkin-Shahak, Amnon;National Religious Party;Oslo Accords;Oslo Accords II;Peres, Shimon;Rabin, Yitzhak;Sabra and Shatila;Shamir, Yitzhak;Sharon, Ariel;SHAS;Third Way;Tzomet Party.

Netanyahu, Binyamin

views updated May 21 2018


NETANYAHU, BINYAMIN (Bibi ; 1949–), Israeli politician, prime minister in the years 1996–99. Netanyahu was born in Israel, to a Revisionist family, son of historian Benzion *Netanyahu. He was raised in Jerusalem, and in Philadelphia where his family lived in 1956–58 and 1963–67. Netanyahu returned to Israel in 1967 to do his military service, reaching the rank of captain in the elite Sayyeret Matkal unit. He finished his military service in 1972, and then returned to the U.S., where he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving a bachelor's degree in architecture. While studying at mit he returned to Israel to participate in the Yom Kippur War. He then went back to complete a master's degree in business administration, and considered doing a doctorate in political science. While in the U.S. Netanyahu changed his name to Benjamin Nitai and started working in the international consulting firm the Boston Consulting Group. In these years he was active in presenting information about Israel. After his brother Jonathan (Yonni) was killed in the course of the *Entebbe operation in July 1976, Netanyahu returned to Israel in 1978, and started advocating international action against terrorism. In 1980 he set up and headed the Jonathan Institute for the Study of Terror, which was named for his brother. He also started working as marketing manager for the Jerusalem-based furniture manufacturer Rim. Netanyahu's speaking skills and fluent English brought him to the attention of Israel's ambassador in Washington, Moshe *Arens, who supported his appointment as minister plenipotentiary in the Israel Embassy in Washington, where he served from 1982 to 1984. In 1984–88 he served as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations. Inter alia, he got the un archive to open its files on Nazi war criminals, and frequently appeared in the American media to explain Israel's positions. Netanyahu returned to Israel in time to run in the elections to the Twelfth Knesset on the Likud list. In the National Unity government he was appointed deputy minister for foreign affairs under Arens. After David *Levy succeeded Arens, Netanyahu was appointed deputy minister in the prime minister's office. During the first Gulf War he was one of Israel's leading spokesmen, and played a similar role in the Madrid Conference of October–November 1991. He was one of the staunch supporters of the direct election of the prime minister. After the Likud's electoral defeat in the elections to the Thirteenth Knesset in 1992, and Yitzhak *Shamir's resignation from the Likud leadership, Netanyahu was elected chairman of the Likud in March 1993, despite a well-publicized scandal over an affair he had had. In the Thirteenth Knesset he served on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and headed the opposition to the Oslo process led by Prime Minister Yitzhak *Rabin. Nevertheless, he supported the peace treaty with Jordan. Netanyahu was accused by the left of having participated in the incitement against Rabin that led up to his assassination in November 1995. However, after convincing David Levy's Gesher party and Raphael *Eitan's Tzomet to run together in a joint list with the Likud in the elections to the Fourteenth Knesset in 1996, Netanyahu beat Shimon *Peres in the first direct election for prime minister, thus becoming Israel's first prime minister to be born after the establishment of the state. Netanyahu established a right of center–religious government, and soon after its establishment traveled to Washington, Cairo, and Amman, proclaiming that while Israel was committed to the peace process and the Oslo Accords, he would insist on the Palestinians' implementing all their undertakings, including the cancelation of the articles in the Palestine National Covenant that rejected Israel's right to exist, and putting an end to Palestinian terror against Israel. Netanyahu met with Palestinian leader Yasser *Arafat in September 1996, signed the Hebron Memorandum in January 1997, and the Wye River Memorandum in November 1998. He offered Syria negotiations based on the concept "Lebanon first," and an Israeli withdrawal from the security zone in southern Lebanon as a prelude to talks on other issues. However, Syrian President Hafez el-Asad rejected the initiative.

Netanyahu's government was characterized by a succession of scandals, some connected with his own political style, and others with various controversial decisions that he took, such as his choice of candidates for minister of justice and attorney general. Growing dissatisfaction with his leadership within the Likud led to several prominent members' leaving the party, while the partnership with Gesher and Tzomet fell apart. Finally, a slowdown in the economy and difficulties in getting the 1999 budget approved by the Knesset led Netanyahu to call for early elections to the Fifteenth Knesset.

In the direct election for the prime minister held in May 1999, Netanyahu lost by a large margin to Labor's Ehud *Barak. Rather than continue to lead the Likud in opposition, he decided to leave politics temporarily and engage in business and lecturing. Prior to the elections to the Sixteenth Knesset in January 2003 he returned to active politics and was reelected to the Knesset on the Likud list. In the government formed by Ariel *Sharon in 2003 he was appointed minister of finance, in which task he was forced to confront a deep economic recession. Pursuing an extreme neoliberal economic policy, Netanyahu managed to improve the performance of the economy, though at the cost of severe cuts in Israel's social welfare system and growing gaps between rich and poor.

Netanyahu opposed Sharon's policy of disengagement from the Gaza Strip, and the dismantlement of settlements, but on October 26, 2004, failed in an effort to vote down the policy in the Knesset. He then threatened to resign from the government unless a referendum were held on the disengagement, but he finally lifted his threat due to pressure that he remain in the Ministry of Finance to see the 2005 budget through. Netanyahu finally resigned from the government on August 9, one week before the beginning of the evacuation of the settlements in *Gush Katif and northern Samaria, before the 2006 budget was brought to the Knesset. His intention was to contend for the Likud leadership before the elections to the Seventeenth Knesset, a post he won in December 2005 after Sharon bolted the party to form Kadimah.

He wrote Don Isaac Abravanel, Statesman and Philosopher (1982); Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists (1995); and A Durable Peace: Israel and Its Place among the Nations (2000); he edited Terrorism: How the West Can Win (1986); and A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World (1993).


B. Kaspit, Netanyahu: The Road to Power (1998); N. Lochery, The Difficult Road to Peace: Netanyahu, Israel and the Middle East Peace Process (1999); R. Vardi, Bibi: Mi Atta Adoni Rosh ha-Memshalah? (1997); R. Gelbard, Shinui Emdot Manhigim be-Sikhsukh Kiyyumi u-Murkav: Binyamin Netanyahu (2003).

[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]

Binyamin Netanyahu

views updated May 18 2018

Binyamin Netanyahu

Former Israel ambassador to the United Nations, Binyamin Netanyahu (born 1949) became party head of the Likud opposition in 1993. He was then elected to the position of Prime Minister in 1996.

On March 24, 1993, Binyamin Netanyahu—better known to the Israeli public as "Bibi"—was elected leader of the right-of-center, nationalist Likud Party, at the age of 43 replacing the 77-year-old former prime minister, Yitzchak Shamir. Netanyahu's rapid, dramatic rise to high political office and surprise selection was likely to have a profound dual impact on Israeli national politics. First, in receiving 52.1 percent of the votes from the Likud rank-and-file membership in U.S.-style primaries he out-maneuvered three more senior Likud candidates. They were former foreign minister David Levy, the formidable Ariel Sharon, and Benny Begin, son of the former respected party leader and premier Menachem Begin. In this sense Netanyahu opened a new era in Likud Party politics. Second, by his youth and engaging media style, Bibi at the same time signaled a change at the national level of politics. The first of the younger Israeli-born generation of politicians to head a major party, his choice hastened a similar process among the other parties, especially in the rival Labor alignment, of passing over the "old guard" and promoting newer faces appealing to younger Israeli voters.

Netanyahu was born in Jerusalem on October 2, 1949, to Ben-Zion Netanyahu, a professor of history, and his wife Tsilla. At the age of 18 he began his military training. He served as a soldier and officer in an elite unit of the Israel Defense Forces from 1967 to 1972. In this he followed his brother, Yonatan ("Yoni") Netanyahu, the celebrated hero of the 1976 Entebbe rescue operation who was killed in action freeing a planeload of Israelis held hostage in Uganda. Another brother, Iddo Netanyahu, was a physician.

Bibi attended Cheltenham High School in Philadelphia and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976. After graduating, he held several industrial consulting and managerial positions in the United States. In 1976 he returned to Israel to become director of the Jonathan Institute, founded to study ways for democratic governments to combat terrorism. With his wife Sarah, he had one son, Yasir.

In 1982 he began a diplomatic career when appointed deputy chief of mission to the United States, where he served until 1984, already then impressing people in Jerusalem with his television "persona" and ability to defend Israeli hard-line policies. In 1984 Netanyahu shifted from Washington to New York, serving for the next four years as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, again proving extremely effective.

Regarded as the protégé of Yitzchak Shamir, Netanyahu was recalled to Israel, where he acted as deputy foreign minister (1988 to 1991) and deputy minister for information in the prime minister's office (1991 to 1992), participating as a member of the Israeli delegation in the 1991 Madrid Middle East peace conference and subsequent early peace talks in Washington. All this time he involved himself increasingly in internal Likud Party politics, being elected in 1988 to the Knesset, where he was a strong advocate of electoral reform and helped to pass legislation establishing direct election of the prime minister.

Netanyahu gained control of the Likud Party in March 1993. His upset victory unquestionably constituted a tremendous personal triumph and overnight regained for him the world press attention he had enjoyed during the 1991 Persian Gulf war when he appeared regularly as a principal spokesman for Israel on CNN and other network commentary programs. However, he also faced the immediate challenge of reorganizing a party demoralized and in disarray following its defeat in the June 1992 general elections at the hands of Labor, led by Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres. No less of a challenge was the need for Netanyahu to orchestrate efforts at redefining the Likud Party's strategy and platform to reflect both changing global and Middle Eastern circumstances as well as national priorities. Nor would his task be made any easier by the lingering resentment of those party veterans who had lost out to Netanyahu, and who, each in his own way, continued to question Netanyahu's's leadership capabilities.

David Levy, thinking himself the logical successor to Begin and Shamir and having his source of power among the large numbers of working-class Sephardim (Israelis of oriental origin) from the development towns, openly criticized Netanyahu's early decisions and kept aloof from party activities. Israeli political experts similarly forecast that former general Sharon would work behind the scenes to undermine Netanyahu's authority and to be positioned to put forward his own candidacy should the new party leader lose popularity or commit a serious political misstep. One further complicating factor was the opposition Labor government's foreign policy initiative of September 1993 aimed at a territorial compromise with the Palestinians and paving the way for an eventual Palestinian state—a prospect to which the Likud had always taken the strongest opposition. To consolidate his position and to assert his leadership, Netanyahu was compelled to steer a middle-of-the-road course between ideology and pragmatism in trying to present to an Israeli public anxious for peace a viable Likud alternative peace strategy that stopped short of major territorial concessions.

After the November 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, elections were scheduled for May of the following year. During the campaign, Netanyahu and the Likud Party ran on a "Peace Through Security" platform, which on some points asserted that the peace process was rushed and thus doomed to fail. During the ugly campaign, Netanyahu was not seen as the front runner.

For the first time in Israeli history, voters could choose the prime minister and the Knesset representatives separately. On May 29, 1996, Netanyahu was elected prime minister, winning by a less than one percent margin to the surprise of many. He was the youngest man to ever hold the position. His election stunned the international community, who now feared that the hard-won Oslo agreements of 1992 and 1993, which Netanyahu inherited but did not like, would be railroaded by Israeli conservatives.

In September 1997 Netanyahu met with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, during her first mission to the Middle East. They discussed Israeli-Palestinian relations, and there appeared to be a wide gap between the philosopies of the Clinton administration and those of the Israeli government. Although Albright condemned terrorist activities, she urged Netanyahu to make concessions. Netanyahu responded that no progress would be made "until Arafat arrests terror suspects and increases cooperation with Israeli security forces … If they fight terrorism, there will be progress."

Further Reading

Binyamin Netanyahu edited Terrorism: How the West Can Win (1986); and authored A Place Among the Nations: Israel and the World (1993), an analysis of Israel's situation in relation to the Arab world and to the West. See also Time, Sept. 15, 1997. □

Netanyahu, Binyamin

views updated May 23 2018

Netanyahu, Binyamin (1949– ) Israeli statesman, prime minister (1996–99). He served as permanent representative (1984–88) to the United Nations (UN) before becoming deputy minister of foreign affairs. In 1993, he became leader of the right-wing Likud Party. He defeated Shimon Peres in the elections that followed the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Netanyahu's uncompromising stance over Israeli settlement on the West Bank and Likud's opposition to the Israeli-Palestinian Accord stalled the peace process in the Middle East. Netanyahu and Yasir Arafat signed the Wye Accord (1998), but the subsequent withdrawal of the religious right from the coalition prompted fresh elections (1999), in which Labour Party leader Ehud Barak defeated Netanyahu. Ariel Sharon succeeded Netanyahu as leader of Likud.

Netanyahu, Benjamin

views updated May 11 2018


NETANYAHU, Benjamin. Israeli, b. 1949. Genres: Area studies, International relations/Current affairs. Career: Boston Consulting Group, consultant, 1976-78; Jonathan Institute, Jerusalem, Israel, executive director, 1978-80; Rim Industries, Jerusalem, senior manager, 1980-82; Israeli Embassy, Washington, DC, deputy chief of mission, 1982-84; permanent representative to United Nations, 1984-88; Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1988-91, deputy minister, prime minister's office, 1991-92; Likud (political party), leader, 1993-; prime minister, Israel, 1996-. Publications: (As Binyamin Netanyahu, with Y. Netanyahu and I. Netanyahu) Self-Portrait of a Hero: The Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu (1963-1976), 1980; (ed., with M. Yonatan) International Terrorism: Challenge and Response: Proceedings of the Jerusalem Conference on International Terrorism, 1981; (ed.) Terrorism: How the West Can Win, 1986; A Place among the Nations: Israel and the World, 1993; Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorism, 1995. Contributor to newspapers. Address: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 91950 Haqirya Romema, Israel.

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