Netanyahu, Benjamin

(BIBI; 1949- )
   Born in Tel Aviv on 21 October 1949 and raised partly in the United States, where his father, Professor Benzion Netanyahu, a strong supporter of Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky and Revisionist Zionism, taught medieval Jewish history. From 1967 to 1972, he served in the elite Sayeret Matkal antiterrorism unit of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Having graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with degrees in architecture and business administration, he was pursuing a business career in the United States when his older brother, Jonathan (Yoni), was killed in the Israeli raid on a hijacked airplane in Entebbe, Uganda (Operation Entebbe), in July 1976. Benjamin Netanyahu returned to Israel and established the Jonathan Institute, a foundation devoted to studying ways to fight international terrorism. As director of the institute, he edited several major publications, including International Terrorism: Challenge and Response and Terrorism: How the West Can Win. In 1982, he was recruited by Ambassador Moshe Arens to serve as deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy to the United States. From 1984 to 1988, he served as Israel's permanent representative to the United Nations. First elected, on the Likud list, to the 12th Knesset in 1988, he served as deputy foreign minister from 1988 to 1991 and as deputy minister in the prime minister's office from 1991 to 1992. He gained international prominence during the Persian Gulf War (1991), when he was interviewed live on American television as Iraqi Scud missiles fell on Israel, and then as Israel's chief spokesman at the October 1991 Madrid Middle East Peace Conference.
   On 25 March 1993, Netanyahu was elected to succeed Yitzhak Shamir as Likud Party leader, defeating David Levy. In June 1996, he defeated Israel Labor Party leader Shimon Peres by less than 1 percent of the popular vote in the first direct election of the prime minister and subsequently presented his government to the Knesset. The first prime minister to be born in Israel since independence, he was generally viewed as representative of the new generation of Israeli politicians. Although his tenure was marked by a series of missteps and scandals, Netanyahu's government did achieve two significant diplomatic agreements: the January 1997 agreement to transfer control over 80 percent of the city of Hebron to the Palestinians and the October 1998 Wye River Memorandum. However, his government provoked controversy by opening an additional entrance to the Hasmonean tunnel underneath the old city (which Palestinian propagandists inaccurately portrayed as threatening the structural stability of the Temple Mount) and beginning the construction of residential housing in the Har Homa section on the southern outskirts of Jerusalem's municipal boundary.
   Netanyahu's government fell, through a consensus agreement among Knesset members, on 21 December 1998. On 17 May 1999, he was defeated in the direct election for prime minister, receiving 43.9 percent of the popular vote compared to the 56.1 percent taken by One Israel leader Ehud Barak. Netanyahu immediately resigned as Likud leader and subsequently relinquished his seat in the Knesset. Nevertheless, he hinted that he might return, telling his followers, "The course we charted together will triumph in the end, and we will all witness this victory. . . . With God's help, we shall yet return." Netanyahu agreed in November 2002 to serve as foreign minister under Ariel Sharon, a position he held until his reelection to the 16th Knesset in January 2003. In February 2003, Netanyahu was appointed finance minister, and under his tutelage, the Sharon-led government introduced a series of rigorous reforms designed to move forward Israel's transition to a market economy.
   For much of their tenure in office, Netanyahu and Sharon struck a tenuous political balance, with the former offering limited support for the prime minister's Gaza disengagement plan in return for Sharon's endorsement of the finance minister's economic reforms. However, the long-standing political rivalry with Sharon continued to fester and exploded completely within Likud over the divisive Gaza unilateral disengagement. On 7 August 2005, Netanyahu resigned from Sharon's government in protest of the plan, and on 26 September 2005, Netanyahu and his supporters narrowly lost a vote in the powerful Likud central committee that would have forced an early Likud leadership primary and, theoretically, a delay in the implementation of the Gaza disengagement. Although he did not refer to Netanyahu by name, it was generally understood that Sharon viewed his longtime political rival as the source of much of the infighting within Likud that led Sharon to his momentous decision to leave the party and to form his new Kadima Party to contest the election to the 17th Knesset.
   On 19 December 2005, Benjamin Netanyahu was elected to once again lead the Likud Party, taking 44 percent of the vote in the leadership primary, compared to 33 percent for Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, 12 percent for Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership Movement) leader Moshe Feiglin, and 9 percent for Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz. Under Netanyahu's leadership, Likud won only 12 seats in the 28 March 2006 Knesset elections.
   Netanyahu's control of the Likud Party was overwhelmingly reaffirmed in a leadership primary held on 14 August 2007. He took 73 percent of the vote, compared to 23 percent for Feiglin, leader of Likud's Manhigut Yehudit right-wing faction, and 3.5 percent for Daniel Doron.
   See also Gahal; Herut Party (Tenuat Haherut — Freedom Movement); Political parties.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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