Benjamin Netanyahu

"Netanyahu" redirects here. For his brother, the commander of Operation Entebbe, see Yonatan Netanyahu. For other people with this name, see Netanyahu (surname).
Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu 2012.jpg
Netanyahu in 2012
9th and 13th Prime Minister of Israel
Assumed office
31 March 2009
President Shimon Peres
Reuven Rivlin
Preceded by Ehud Olmert
In office
18 June 1996 – 6 July 1999
President Ezer Weizman
Preceded by Shimon Peres
Succeeded by Ehud Barak
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Assumed office
14 May 2015
Preceded by Avigdor Lieberman
In office
18 December 2012 – 11 November 2013
Preceded by Avigdor Lieberman
Succeeded by Avigdor Lieberman
In office
6 November 2002 – 28 February 2003
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Preceded by Shimon Peres
Succeeded by Silvan Shalom
Leader of the Opposition
In office
28 March 2006 – 31 March 2009
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
Preceded by Amir Peretz
Succeeded by Tzipi Livni
Minister of Finance
In office
28 February 2003 – 9 August 2005
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Preceded by Silvan Shalom
Succeeded by Ehud Olmert
Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations
In office
1984–1988
President Chaim Herzog
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir
Shimon Peres
Preceded by Yehuda Zvi Blum
Succeeded by Yohanan Bein
Personal details
Born (1949-10-21) 21 October 1949 (age 67)
Tel Aviv, Israel
Nationality Israeli
Political party Likud
Other political
affiliations
Likud Beiteinu (2012–14)
Spouse(s)
  • Miriam Weizmann (1972–1978)
  • Fleur Cates (1981–1984)
  • Sara Ben-Artzi (1991–)
Children 3
Parents
Alma mater
Profession
  • Writer
  • Economic consultant
  • Marketing executive
  • Politician
Signature
Website netanyahu.org.il/en/
Military service
Allegiance   Israel
Service/branch Israeli Defense Forces
Years of service 1967–1973
Rank IDF seren rotated.svg Seren (Captain)
Unit Sayeret Matkal
Battles/wars

Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu ( Hebrew About this sound  בִּנְיָמִין "בִּיבִּי" נְתַנְיָהוּ ; born 21 October 1949) is the current Prime Minister of Israel. Netanyahu also currently serves as a member of the Knesset and Chairman of the Likud party.

Born in Tel Aviv to secular Jewish parents, [1] [2] Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister born in Israel after the establishment of the state.

Netanyahu joined the Israel Defense Forces shortly after the Six-Day War in 1967, and became a team leader in the Sayeret Matkal special forces unit. Netanyahu took part in many missions, including Operation Inferno (1968), Operation Gift (1968) and Operation Isotope (1972), during which he was shot in the shoulder. Netanyahu fought on the front lines in the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War in 1973, taking part in special forces raids along the Suez Canal, and then leading a commando assault deep into Syrian territory. [3] [4] Netanyahu achieved the rank of captain before being discharged.

After graduating from MIT with Bachelor of Science (SB) and Master of Science (SM) degrees, Netanyahu was recruited as an economic consultant for the Boston Consulting Group. Netanyahu returned to Israel in 1978 to found the Yonatan Netanyahu Anti-Terror Institute, named after his brother Yonatan Netanyahu, who died leading Operation Entebbe. Netanyahu served as the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations from 1984 to 1988.

Netanyahu became the leader of Likud in 1993. Netanyahu won the 1996 elections, becoming Israel's youngest ever Prime Minister, serving his first term from June 1996 to July 1999. Netanyahu moved from the political arena to the private sector after being defeated in the 1999 election for prime minister by Ehud Barak. Netanyahu returned to politics in 2002 as Foreign Affairs Minister (2002–2003) and Finance Minister (2003–2005) in Ariel Sharon's governments, but he departed the government over disagreements regarding the Gaza disengagement plan. As Minister of Finance, Netanyahu engaged in a major reform of the Israeli economy, which was credited by commentators as having significantly improved Israel's subsequent economic performance. [5] Netanyahu retook the Likud leadership in December 2005, after Sharon left to form a new party, Kadima. [6]

In December 2006, Netanyahu became the official Leader of the Opposition in the Knesset and Chairman of Likud. Following the 2009 parliamentary election, in which Likud placed second and right-wing parties won a majority, [7] Netanyahu formed a coalition government. [8] [9] After the victory in the 2013 elections, he became the second person to be elected to the position of Prime Minister for a third term, after Israel's founder David Ben-Gurion. In March 2015, Netanyahu was elected to his fourth term as prime minister.

Netanyahu has been elected Prime Minister of Israel four times, matching David Ben-Gurion's record. Netanyahu is the only prime minister in Israel's history to have been elected three times in a row. [10] Netanyahu is currently the second longest-serving Prime Minister in Israel's history after David Ben-Gurion, [11] and if his current government lasts a full term, upon its completion he will become the longest-serving Prime Minister in the history of Israel. [12]

Biography

Early life and career

Netanyahu was born in 1949 in Tel Aviv, Israel, to an Israeli-born mother, Tzila Segal (28 August 1912 – 31 January 2000) and a Warsaw-born father, Prof. Benzion Netanyahu (1910–2012), the middle of three children. He discovered via a DNA test that he has some Sephardi Jewish ancestry. [13] He was initially raised and educated in Jerusalem, where he attended Henrietta Szold Elementary School. A copy of his evaluation from his 6th grade teacher Ruth Rubenstein indicated that Netanyahu was courteous, polite, and helpful; that his work was "responsible and punctual"; and that Netanyahu was friendly, disciplined, cheerful, brave, active and obedient. [14]

Between 1956 and 1958, and again from 1963 to 1967, [15] his family lived in the United States in Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, where he attended and graduated from Cheltenham High School and was active in a debate club. To this day, he speaks fluent English, with a noticeable Philadelphia accent. [16]

After graduating from high school in 1967, Netanyahu returned to Israel to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces. He trained as a combat soldier and served for five years in an elite special forces unit of the IDF, Sayeret Matkal. He took part in numerous cross-border assault raids during the 1967–70 War of Attrition, rising to become a team-leader in the unit. He was wounded in combat on multiple occasions. [4] He was involved in many other missions, including Operation Inferno (1968), and the rescue of the hijacked Sabena Flight 571 in May 1972 in which he was shot in the shoulder. [17]

After completing his army service in 1972, Netanyahu returned to the United States in late 1972 to study architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He returned to Israel in October 1973 to serve in the Yom Kippur War in the Sayeret Matkal commando unit. [3] [18] While there, he fought in special forces raids along the Suez Canal against the Egyptian forces, before leading a commando attack deep inside Syrian territory, whose mission remains classified today. [19]

I have great respect for the unit. This is a unit that changes the reality of our lives even though its actions are a secret. Although it is a small unit, it influences all branches of the military ... My service in the unit strengthened my understanding of the risks involved behind approving operations and the risks that fighters are taking on. It is tangible and not theoretical for me.

Benjamin Netanyahu, on Sayeret Matkal, (Maariv 2007) [3]

He then returned to the United States and under the name Ben Nitay, completed an SB degree [20] in architecture [21] in February 1975 and earned an SM [20] degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management in June 1976. Concurrently, he was studying towards a doctorate [18] in political science, [22] [23] until his studies were broken off by the death of his brother in Operation Entebbe. [18]

At MIT, Netanyahu studied a double-load, completing an SM (that would normally take four years) in only two and a half years, despite taking a break to fight in the Yom Kippur War, and while simultaneously completing a thesis in a graduate course at Harvard. [18] Professor Groisser at MIT recalled: "He did superbly. He was very bright. Organized. Strong. Powerful. He knew what he wanted to do and how to get it done." [18]

At that time he changed his name to Benjamin Ben Nitai (Nitai, a reference to both Mount Nitai and to the eponymous Jewish sage Nittai of Arbela, was a pen name often used by his father for articles). [16] [24] Years later, in an interview with the media, Netanyahu clarified that he decided to do so to make it easier for Americans to pronounce his name. This fact has been used by his political rivals to accuse him indirectly of a lack of Israeli national identity and loyalty. [25]

In 1976 Netanyahu's older brother Yonatan Netanyahu was killed. Yonatan was serving as the commander of Benjamin's former unit, the Sayeret Matkal, and died during the counter-terrorism hostage-rescue mission Operation Entebbe in which his unit rescued more than 100 mostly Israeli hostages hijacked by terrorists and flown to the Entebbe Airport in Uganda.

Netanyahu studied at MIT between 1972 and 1976, earning SB and SM degrees. [20]

In 1976 Netanyahu graduated near the top of his class at the MIT Sloan School of Management, [26] and was headhunted to be an economic consultant [27] for the Boston Consulting Group in Boston, Massachusetts, working at the company between 1976 and 1978. At the Boston Consulting Group, he was a colleague of Mitt Romney, with whom he formed a lasting friendship. Romney remembers that Netanyahu at the time was: "[A] strong personality with a distinct point of view", and says "[w]e can almost speak in shorthand... [w]e share common experiences and have a perspective and underpinning which is similar." [26] Netanyahu said that their "easy communication" was a result of "B.C.G.'s intellectually rigorous boot camp." [26]

In 1978, Netanyahu appeared on Boston local television, under the name of 'Ben Nitai', where he argued: "The real core of the conflict is the unfortunate Arab refusal to accept the State of Israel ... For 20 years the Arabs had both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and if self-determination, as they now say, is the core of the conflict, they could have easily established a Palestinian state." [28]

In 1978, Netanyahu returned to Israel. Between 1978 and 1980 he ran the Jonathan Netanyahu Anti-Terror Institute, [15] a non-governmental organization devoted to the study of terrorism; the Institute held a number of international conferences focused on the discussion of international terrorism. From 1980 to 1982 he was director of marketing for Rim Industries in Jerusalem. [29] During this period Netanyahu made his first connections with several Israeli politicians, including Minister Moshe Arens, who appointed him as his Deputy Chief of Mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., a position he held from 1982 until 1984. [30] Between 1984 and 1988 Netanyahu served as the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. [30] Netanyahu was influenced by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, with whom he formed a relationship during the 1980s. He referred to Schneerson as "the most influential man of our time." [31] [32] [33]

It was while living in New York during the 1980s, that Netanyahu became friends with Fred Trump, the father of Donald Trump. [34]

Early political career, 1988–96

Benjamin Netanyahu
Knessets 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20
Ministerial roles
1996–1997 Minister of Science and Technology
1996–1999 Minister of Housing and Construction
2002–2003 Minister of Foreign Affairs
2003–2005 Minister of Finance
2009–2013 Minister of Economic Strategy
2009–2013 Minister of Pensioner Affairs
2009–2013 Minister of Health
2012–2013 Minister of Foreign Affairs
2013 Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs
2013 Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs
2014– Minister of Communications
2015 Minister of Pensioner Affairs
2015– Minister of Economy, Foreign Affairs, Minister of Health and Minister of Regional Cooperation
Netanyahu (right) with Sorin Hershko, a soldier wounded and permanently paralyzed in Operation Entebbe, 2 July 1986

Prior to the 1988 Israeli legislative election Netanyahu returned to Israel and joined the Likud party. In the Likud's internal elections, Netanyahu was placed fifth on the party list. Later on he was elected as a Knesset member of the 12th Knesset, and was appointed as a deputy of the foreign minister Moshe Arens, and later on David Levy. Netanyahu and Levy did not cooperate and the rivalry between the two only intensified afterwards. During the Gulf War in early 1991, the English-fluent Netanyahu emerged as the principal spokesman for Israel in media interviews on CNN and other news outlets. During the Madrid Conference of 1991 Netanyahu was among members the Israeli delegation headed by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. After the Madrid Conference Netanyahu was appointed as Deputy Minister in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office. [30]

Following the defeat of the Likud party in the 1992 Israeli legislative elections the Likud party held a primary election in 1993 to select its leader, and Netanyahu was victorious, defeating Benny Begin, son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and veteran politician David Levy [35] (Sharon initially sought Likud party leadership as well, but quickly withdrew when it was evident that he was attracting minimal support). Shamir retired from politics shortly after the Likud's defeat in the 1992 elections. [36]

Following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, his temporary successor Shimon Peres decided to call early elections in order to give the government a mandate to advance the peace process. [37] Netanyahu was the Likud's candidate for Prime Minister in the 1996 Israeli legislative election which took place on 26 May 1996 and were the first Israeli elections in which Israelis elected their Prime Minister directly. Netanyahu hired American Republican political operative Arthur Finkelstein to run his campaign, and although the American style of sound bites and sharp attacks elicited harsh criticism from inside Israel, it proved effective (the method was later copied by Ehud Barak during the 1999 election campaign in which Barak beat Netanyahu). When Netanyahu won the 1996 election, he became the youngest person in the history of the position and the first Israeli Prime Minister to be born in the State of Israel ( Yitzhak Rabin was born in Jerusalem, under the British Mandate of Palestine, prior to the 1948 founding of the Israeli state).

Netanyahu's victory over the pre-election favorite Shimon Peres surprised many. The main catalyst in the downfall of the latter was a wave of suicide bombings shortly before the elections; on 3 and 4 March 1996, Palestinians carried out two suicide bombings, killing 32 Israelis, with Peres seemingly unable to stop the attacks. Unlike Peres, Netanyahu did not trust Yasser Arafat and conditioned any progress at the peace process on the Palestinian National Authority fulfilling its obligations – mainly fighting terrorism, and ran with the campaign slogan "Netanyahu – making a safe peace". However, although Netanyahu won the election for Prime Minister, Labor won the Knesset elections, beating the Likud– GesherTzomet alliance, meaning Netanyahu had to rely on a coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and UTJ (whose social welfare policies flew in the face of his capitalistic outlook) in order to govern.[ citation needed]

First premiership, 1996–99

Netanyahu met with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat at the Erez crossing, 4 September 1996

A spate of suicide bombings reinforced the Likud position for security. Hamas claimed responsibility for most of the bombings. As Prime Minister, Netanyahu raised many questions about many central premises of the Oslo Accords. One of his main points was disagreement with the Oslo premise that the negotiations should proceed in stages, meaning that concessions should be made to Palestinians before any resolution was reached on major issues, such as the status of Jerusalem, and the amending of the Palestinian National Charter. Oslo supporters had claimed that the multi-stage approach would build goodwill among Palestinians and would propel them to seek reconciliation when these major issues were raised in later stages. Netanyahu said that these concessions only gave encouragement to extremist elements, without receiving any tangible gestures in return. He called for tangible gestures of Palestinian goodwill in return for Israeli concessions. Despite his stated differences with the Oslo Accords, Prime Minister Netanyahu continued their implementation, but his Premiership saw a marked slow-down in the peace process.

In 1996, Netanyahu and Jerusalem's mayor Ehud Olmert decided to open an exit in the Arab Quarter for the Western Wall Tunnel, which prior Prime Minister Shimon Peres had instructed to be put on hold for the sake of peace. [38] This sparked three days of rioting by Palestinians, resulting in both Israelis and Palestinians being killed. [39] In January 1997 Netanyahu signed the Hebron Protocol with the Palestinian Authority which resulted in the redeployment of Israeli forces in Hebron and the turnover of civilian authority in much of the area to the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu sitting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat at the Wye River Memorandum, 1998

Eventually, the lack of progress of the peace process led to new negotiations which produced the Wye River Memorandum in 1998 which detailed the steps to be taken by the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority to implement the earlier Interim Agreement of 1995. It was signed by Netanyahu and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, and on 17 November 1998, Israel's 120 member parliament, the Knesset, approved the Wye River Memorandum by a vote of 75–19. As Prime Minister Netanyahu emphasized a policy of "three no(s)": no withdrawal from the Golan Heights, no discussion of the case of Jerusalem, no negotiations under any preconditions. [40]

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife visit a Bedouin tent in Jordan, 1996

During his term, Netanyahu also began a process of economic liberalization, taking steps towards a free-market economy. Under his watch, the government began selling its shares in banks and major state-run companies. Netanyahu also greatly eased Israel's strict foreign exchange controls, enabling Israelis to take an unrestricted amount of money out of the country, open foreign bank accounts, hold foreign currency, and invest freely in other countries. [41] [42]

Throughout his term, Netanyahu was opposed by the political left wing in Israel and lost support from the right because of his concessions to the Palestinians in Hebron and elsewhere, and due to his negotiations with Arafat generally. Netanyahu lost favor with the Israeli public after a long chain of scandals involving his marriage and corruption charges. In 1997, police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted on corruption charges for influence-peddling. He was accused of appointing an attorney general who would reduce the charges and prosecutors ruled that there was insufficient evidence to go to trial. [43] In 1999, Netanyahu faced another scandal when the Israel Police recommended that he be tried for corruption for $100,000 in free services from a government contractor; Israel's attorney general did not prosecute, citing difficulties with evidence. [44]

After being defeated by Ehud Barak in the 1999 election for Prime Minister, Netanyahu temporarily retired from politics. [45] He subsequently served as a senior consultant with Israeli communications equipment developer BATM for two years. [46] [47]

Political downturn and recovery, 2000–03

Netanyahu with Vladimir Putin at the Jewish Community Centre, Moscow, 2000
Benjamin Netanyahu at the grave of his brother Yoni Netanyahu, who was killed leading a counter-terrorist operation in 1976

With the fall of the Barak government in late 2000, Netanyahu expressed his desire to return to politics. By law, Barak's resignation was supposed to lead to elections for the prime minister position only. Netanyahu insisted that general elections should be held, claiming that otherwise it would be impossible to have a stable government. Netanyahu decided eventually not to run for the prime minister position, a move which facilitated the surprising rise to power of Ariel Sharon, who at the time was considered less popular than Netanyahu. In 2002, after the Israeli Labor Party left the coalition and vacated the position of foreign minister, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon appointed Netanyahu as Foreign Minister. [30] Netanyahu challenged Sharon for the leadership of the Likud party, but failed to oust Sharon. [48]

On 9 September 2002, a scheduled speech by Netanyahu at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada was canceled after hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters overwhelmed security and smashed through a glass window. Netanyahu was not present at the protest, having remained at Montreal's Ritz-Carlton Hotel throughout the duration. He later accused the activists of supporting terrorism and "mad zealotry." [49] Weeks later on 1 October 2002 around 200 protesters met Netanyahu outside his Heinz Hall appearance in Pittsburgh although Pittsburgh Police, Israeli security and a Pittsburgh SWAT unit allowed his speeches to continue downtown at the hall and the Duquesne Club as well as suburban Robert Morris University. [50]

On 12 September 2002, Netanyahu testified (under oath as a private citizen) before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform regarding the nuclear threat posed by the Iraqi régime: "There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking and is working and is advancing towards the development of nuclear weapons – no question whatsoever," he said. "And there is no question that once he acquires it, history shifts immediately." [51] Netanyahu and other high rank officials from different countries had suspected that Iraq could develop a nuclear capability, as the country began building a nuclear power plant program in 1959 with the USSR, but Israeli airstrikes had destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981 (see Operation Opera). [52]

Finance Minister, 2003–05

After the 2003 Israeli legislative election, in what many observers regarded as a surprise move, Sharon offered the Foreign Ministry to Silvan Shalom and offered Netanyahu the Finance Ministry. Some pundits speculated that Sharon made the move because he deemed Netanyahu a political threat given his demonstrated effectiveness as Foreign Minister, and that by placing him in the Finance Ministry during a time of economic uncertainty, he could diminish Netanyahu's popularity. Netanyahu accepted the new appointment. Sharon and Netanyahu came to an agreement that Netanyahu would have complete freedom as Finance Minister and have Sharon back all of his reforms, in exchange for Netanyahu's silence over Sharon's management of Israel's military and foreign affairs. [53]

As Finance Minister, Netanyahu undertook an economic plan in order to restore Israel's economy from its low point during the Second Intifada. Netanyahu claimed that a bloated public sector and excessive regulations were largely responsible for stifling economic growth. His plan involved a move toward more liberalized markets, although it was not without its critics. He instituted a program to end welfare dependency by requiring people to apply for jobs or training, reduced the size of the public sector, froze government spending for three years, and capped the budget deficit at 1%. The taxation system was streamlined and taxes were cut, with the top individual tax rate reduced from 64% to 44% and the corporate tax rate from 36% to 18%. A host of state assets worth billions of dollars were privatized, including banks, oil refineries, the El Al national airline, and Zim Integrated Shipping Services. The retirement ages for both men and women were raised, and currency exchange laws were further liberalized. Commercial banks were forced to spin off their long-term savings. In addition, Netanyahu attacked monopolies and cartels to increase competition. As the Israeli economy started booming and unemployment fell significantly, Netanyahu was widely credited by commentators as having performed an 'economic miracle' by the end of his tenure. [53] [54] [55]

However, opponents in the Labor party (and even a few within his own Likud) viewed Netanyahu's policies as "Thatcherite" attacks on the venerated Israeli social safety net. [56] Ultimately, unemployment declined while economic growth soared, the debt-to-GDP ration dropped to one of the lowest in the world, and foreign investment reached record highs. [53]

Netanyahu threatened to resign from office in 2004 unless the Gaza pullout plan was put to a referendum. He later modified the ultimatum and voted for the program in the Knesset, indicating immediately thereafter that he would resign unless a referendum was held within 14 days. [57] He submitted his resignation letter on 7 August 2005, shortly before the Israeli cabinet voted 17 to 5 to approve the initial phase of withdrawal from Gaza. [58]

Likud leader and opposition leader, 2005–09

Following the withdrawal of Sharon from the Likud, Netanyahu was one of several candidates who vied for the Likud leadership. His most recent attempt prior to this was in September 2005 when he had tried to hold early primaries for the position of the head of the Likud party, while the party held the office of Prime Minister – thus effectively pushing Ariel Sharon out of office. The party rejected this initiative. Netanyahu retook the leadership on 20 December 2005, with 47% of the primary vote, to 32% for Silvan Shalom and 15% for Moshe Feiglin. [6] In the March 2006 Knesset elections, Likud took the third place behind Kadima and Labor and Netanyahu served as Leader of the Opposition. [59] On 14 August 2007, Netanyahu was reelected as chairman of the Likud and its candidate for the post of Prime Minister with 73% of the vote, against far-right candidate Moshe Feiglin and World Likud chairman Danny Danon. [60] He opposed the 2008 Israel–Hamas ceasefire, like others in the Knesset opposition. Specifically, Netanyahu said, "This is not a relaxation, it's an Israeli agreement to the rearming of Hamas ... What are we getting for this?" [61]

In the first half of 2008, doctors removed a small colon polyp that proved to be benign. [62]

Netanyahu meeting Secretary Clinton for a working dinner in Washington DC, 18 May 2009

Following Tzipi Livni's election to head Kadima and Olmert's resignation from the post of Prime Minister, Netanyahu declined to join the coalition Livni was trying to form and supported new elections, which were held in February 2009. [63] [64] Netanyahu was the Likud's candidate for Prime Minister in the 2009 Israeli legislative election which took place on 10 February 2009, as Livni, the previous Designated Acting Prime Minister under the Olmert government, had been unable to form a viable governing coalition. Opinion polls showed Likud in the lead, but with as many as a third of Israeli voters undecided. [65]

In the election itself, Likud won the second highest number of seats, Livni's party having outnumbered the Likud by one seat. A possible explanation for Likud's relatively poor showing is that some Likud supporters defected to Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party. Netanyahu, however, claimed victory on the basis that right-wing parties won the majority of the vote, and on 20 February 2009, Netanyahu was designated by Israeli President Shimon Peres to succeed Ehud Olmert as prime minister, and began his negotiations to form a coalition government.

Despite right wing parties winning a majority of 65 seats in the Knesset, Netanyahu preferred a broader centrist coalition and turned to his Kadima rivals, chaired by Tzipi Livni, to join his government. This time it was Livni's turn to decline to join, with a difference of opinion on how to pursue the peace process being the stumbling block. Netanyahu did manage to entice a smaller rival, the Labour party, chaired by Ehud Barak, to join his government, giving him a certain amount of centrist tone. Netanyahu presented his cabinet for a Knesset "Vote of Confidence" on 31 March 2009. The 32nd Government was approved that day by a majority of 69 lawmakers to 45 (with five abstaining) and the members were sworn in. [8] [9]

Second premiership, 2009–13

Netanyahu and President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, 18 May 2009
Netanyahu in a meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev in Russia, 24 March 2011

In 2009, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced support for the establishment of a Palestinian state—a solution not endorsed by prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, [66] with whom she had earlier pledged the United States' cooperation. [67] Upon the arrival of President Obama administration's special envoy, George Mitchell, Netanyahu said that any furtherance of negotiations with the Palestinians would be conditioned on the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. [68]

During President Obama's Cairo speech on 4 June 2009 in which Obama addressed the Muslim world, Obama stated, among other things, that "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements." Following Obama's Cairo speech Netanyahu immediately called a special government meeting. On 14 June, ten days after Obama's Cairo speech, Netanyahu gave a speech at Bar-Ilan University in which he endorsed a "Demilitarized Palestinian State", though said that Jerusalem must remain the unified capital of Israel. [69] Netanyahu stated that he would accept a Palestinian state if Jerusalem were to remain the united capital of Israel, the Palestinians would have no army, and the Palestinians would give up their demand for a right of return. He also argued the right for a "natural growth" in the existing Jewish settlements in the West Bank while their permanent status is up to further negotiation. Senior Palestinian official, Sereb Ereket, said that the speech had "closed the door to permanent status negotiations" due to Netanyahu's declarations on Jerusalem, refugees and settlements. [70][ better source needed]

Three months after starting his term, Netanyahu remarked that his cabinet already had achieved several notable successes, such as the establishment of a working national unity government, and a broad consensus for a " two-state solution". [71] A July 2009 survey by Ha'aretz found that most Israelis support the Netanyahu government, giving him a personal approval rating of about 49 percent. [72] Netanyahu has lifted checkpoints in the West Bank in order to allow freedom of movement and a flow of imports; a step that resulted in an economic boost in the West Bank. [73] [74] [75] In 2009, Netanyahu welcomed the Arab Peace initiative (also known as the "Saudi Peace Initiative") and lauded a call by Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to normalize relations with Israel. [76] [77]

In August 2009, Abbas declared that he would be willing to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly, where Netanyahu had accepted president Obama's invitation for a "triple summit," although he said it would not necessarily lead to negotiations. [78] Netanyahu was reported to be in a pivotal moment over these understandings, that were reported to include a compromise over permission on continuing the already approved construction in the West Bank in exchange for freezing all settlements thereafter, as well as continuing building in East Jerusalem, and at the same time stopping the demolition of houses of Arab inhabitants there. [79] On 4 September 2009, it was reported that Netanyahu was to agree to settlers' political demands to approve more settlement constructions before a temporary settlement freeze agreement took place. [80] White House spokesman Robert Gibbs expressed "regret" over the move; [81] however, one U.S. official said the move will not "derail [the] train". [82]

On 7 September 2009, Netanyahu left his office without reporting where he was headed. The prime minister's military secretary, Maj. Gen. Meir Kalifi, later reported Netanyahu had visited a security facility in Israel. [83] Several different news agencies reported several different stories about where he was. [84] On 9 September 2009, Yedioth Ahronoth reported that the Israeli leader had made a secret flight to Moscow to try to persuade Russian officials not to sell S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran. [83] [85] [86] Headlines branded Netanyahu a "liar" and dubbed the affair a "fiasco." [87] [88] It was later reported that the PM's military secretary will be dismissed due to the affair. [89] The Sunday Times reported that the trip was made to share the names of Russian scientists that Israel believes are abetting the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons program. [90]

Netanyahu with Yohanan Danino, appointed Israel's Chief of Police in 2011

On 24 September 2009, in an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Netanyahu said Iran poses a threat to the peace of the world and that it is incumbent on the world body to prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons. [91] [92] Waving the blueprints for Auschwitz and invoking the memory of his own family members murdered by the Nazis, Netanyahu delivered a passionate and public riposte to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's questioning of the Holocaust, asking: "Have you no shame?" [93]

In response to pressure from the Obama administration urging the sides to resume peace talks, on 25 November 2009 Netanyahu announced a partial 10-month settlement construction freeze plan. The announced partial freeze had no significant effect on actual settlement construction, according to an analysis by the major Israeli daily Haaretz. [94] U.S. special envoy George Mitchell said, "while the United States shares Arab concerns about the limitations of Israel's gesture, it is more than any Israeli government has ever done". [95] In his announcement Netanyahu called the move "a painful step that will encourage the peace process" and urged the Palestinians to respond. [96] The Palestinians rejected the call, stating the gesture was "insignificant" in that thousands of recently approved settlement buildings in the West Bank would continue to be built and there would be no freeze of settlement activity in East Jerusalem. [97]

In March 2010, Israel's government approved construction of an additional 1,600 apartments in a large Jewish housing development in northern East Jerusalem called Ramat Shlomo [98] despite the position of the current U.S. Government that acts such as this thwart the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The Israeli government's announcement occurred during a visit by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden and the U.S. government subsequently issued a strongly worded condemnation of the plan. [99] Netanyahu subsequently issued a statement that all previous Israeli governments had continuously permitted construction in the neighborhood, and that certain neighborhoods such as Ramat Shlomo and Gilo have always been included as part of Israel in any final agreement plan that has been proposed by either side to date. [98] Netanyahu regretted the timing of the announcement but asserted that "our policy on Jerusalem is the same policy followed by all Israeli governments for the 42 years, and it has not changed." [100]

Netanyahu, Hillary Clinton, George J. Mitchell and Mahmoud Abbas at the start of the direct talks, 2 September 2010

In September 2010, Netanyahu agreed to enter direct talks, mediated by the Obama administration, with the Palestinians for the first time in a long while. [101] The ultimate aim of these direct talks is to forge the framework of an official "final status settlement" to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict by forming a two-state solution for the Jewish people and the Palestinian people. On 27 September, the 10-month settlement freeze ended, and the Israeli government approved new construction in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. [102] On retiring from office in July 2011, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had said that Netanyahu was ungrateful to the United States and endangering Israel. Responding, the Likud party defended Netanyahu by saying that most Israelis supported the Prime Minister and that he had broad support in the United States. [103] [104]

Netanyahu unsuccessfully called for the early release of Jonathan Pollard, an American serving a life sentence for passing secret U.S. documents to Israel in 1987. [105] He has raised the issue at the Wye River Summit in 1998, where he claimed that U.S. President Bill Clinton had privately agreed to release Pollard. [106] [107] In 2002, Netanyahu visited Pollard at his North Carolina prison. [108] [109] The Israeli Prime Minister maintained contact with Pollard's wife, and was active in pressing the Obama administration to release Pollard. [110] [111]

In 2011, social justice protests broke out across Israel. Hundreds of thousands of people protested Israel's high cost of living throughout the country. In response, Netanyahu appointed the Trajtenberg Committee, headed by professor Manuel Trajtenberg, to examine the problems and propose solutions. The committee submitted recommendations to lower the high cost of living in September 2011. [112] Although Netanyahu promised to push the proposed reforms through the cabinet in one piece, differences inside his coalition resulted in the reforms being gradually adopted. [113] [114]

Netanyahu's cabinet also approved a plan to build a fiber-optic cable network across the country to bring cheap, high-speed fiber-optic Internet access to every home. [115] [116]

In 2012, Netanyahu initially planned to call early elections, but subsequently oversaw the creation of a controversial government of national unity to see Israel through until the national elections of 2013. [117] In May 2012, Netanyahu officially recognized for the first time the right for Palestinians to have their own state in an official document, a letter to Mahmoud Abbas, though as before [69] he declared it would have to be demilitarized. [118] On 25 October 2012, Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that their respective political parties, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, had merged and would run together on a single ballot in Israel's 22 January 2013 general elections. [119]

Third premiership, 2013–15

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Netanyahu, Jerusalem, 23 July 2014

The 2013 election returned Netanyahu's Likud Beiteinu coalition with 11 fewer seats than the combined Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu parties had going into the vote. Nevertheless, as leader of what remained the largest faction in the Knesset, Israeli president Shimon Peres charged Netanyahu with the task of forming the Thirty-third government of Israel. The new coalition included the Yesh Atid, The Jewish Home and Hatnuah parties and excludes the ultra-Orthodox parties at the insistence of Yesh Atid and the Jewish Home.

During Netanyahu's third term, he continued his policy of economic liberalization. In December 2013, the Knesset approved the Business Concentration Law, which intended to open Israel's highly concentrated economy to competition to lower consumer prices, reduce income inequality, and increase economic growth. Netanyahu had formed the Concentration Committee in 2010, and the bill, which was pushed forward by his government, implemented its recommendations. The new law banned multi-tiered corporate holding structures, in which a CEO's family members or other affiliated individuals held public companies which in turn owned other public companies, and who were thus able to engage in price gouging. Under the law, corporations were banned from owning more than two tiers of publicly listed companies and from holding both financial and non-financial enterprises. All conglomerates were given four to six years to sell excess holdings. [120] [121] Netanyahu also began a campaign of port privatization to break what he viewed as the monopoly held by workers of the Israel Port Authority, so as to lower consumer prices and increase exports. In July 2013, he issued tenders for the construction of private ports in Haifa and Ashdod. [122] Netanyahu has also pledged to curb excess bureaucracy and regulations to ease the burden on industry. [123]

Netanyahu meets with Argentine President Mauricio Macri, 2016.

In April 2014, and again in June, Netanyahu spoke of his deep concerns when Hamas and the Palestinian Authority agreed and then formed a unity government, and was severely critical of both the United States and European governments' decision to work with the Palestinian coalition government. [124] He blamed Hamas for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June 2014, [125] and launched a massive search and arrest operation on the West Bank, targeting members of Hamas in particular, and over the following weeks hit 60 targets in Gaza. [126] Missile and rocket exchanges between Gaza militants and the IDF escalated after the bodies of the teenagers, who had been killed almost immediately as the government had good reasons to suspect, were discovered on 30 June 2014. [127] After several Hamas operatives were killed, either in an explosion or from an Israeli bombing, Hamas officially declared it would launch rockets from Gaza into Israel, [126] [128] and Israel started Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, formally ending the November 2012 ceasefire agreement. [129] The prime minister did a round of television shows in the United States and described Hamas as "genocidal terrorists" in an interview on CNN. [130] When asked if Gazan casualties from the operation might spark "a third intifada", Netanyahu replied that Hamas was working towards that goal. [131] In October 2014, Netanyahu's government approved a privatization plan to reduce corruption and politicization in government companies, and strengthen Israel's capital market. Under the plan, minority stakes of up to 49% in state-owned companies, including arms manufacturers, energy, postal, water, and railway companies, as well as the ports of Haifa and Ashdod. [132] That same month, Netanyahu called restrictions on settlements "against the American values," [133] a remark that earned him a sharp rebuke from the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who noted that American values had resulted in Israel receiving not only consistent funding but protective technology such as Iron Dome. [134] Not long thereafter, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic reported that the relationship between Netanyahu and the White House had reached a new low, with the U.S. administration angry over Israel's settlement policies, and Netanyahu expressing contempt for the American administration's grasp of the Middle East. [135] Netanyahu explained that he does not accept restrictions on where Jews could live, and said that Jerusalem's Arabs and Jews should be able to buy homes wherever they want. He said he was "baffled" by the American condemnation. "It's against the American values. And it doesn't bode well for peace. The idea that we'd have this ethnic purification as a condition for peace, I think it's anti-peace." [133]

Netanyahu meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to discuss Syria and Iran, 21 September 2015

On 2 December 2014, Netanyahu fired two of his ministers, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who heads Hatnua. The changes led to the dissolution of the government, with new elections expected on 17 March 2015. [136]

In January 2015, Netanyahu was invited to address the US Congress. This speech marked Netanyahu's third speech to a joint session of Congress. [137] The day before announcing he would address Congress, Time reported that he tried to derail a meeting between U.S. lawmakers and the head of Mossad, Tamir Pardo, who intended warning them against imposing further sanctions against Iran, a move that might derail nuclear talks. [138] [139] Leading up to the speech, on 3 March 2015, Israeli consuls general in the United States "expect[ed] fierce negative reaction from U.S. Jewish communities and Israel's allies." Objections included the arrangement of the speech without the support and engagement of the Obama administration and the timing of the speech before Israel's 17 March 2015 election. Seven American Jewish lawmakers met with Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the U.S. and recommended that Netanyahu instead meet with lawmakers privately to discuss Iran. [140] In making the speech, Netanyahu claimed to speak for all Jews worldwide, a claim disputed by others in the Jewish community. [141] [142] [143] [144] Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, stated that "American Jews are largely appalled by the notion that Netanyahu, or any other Israeli politician – one that we did not elect and do not choose to be represented by – claims to speak for us." [145]

As election day approached in what was perceived to be a close race in the 2015 Israeli elections, Netanyahu answered 'indeed' when asked whether a Palestinian state would not be established in his term. He said that support of a Palestinian state is tantamount to yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorists to attack Israel. [146] However, Netanyahu reiterated "I don't want a one-state solution. I want a peaceful, sustainable two-state solution. I have not changed my policy." [147]

Fourth premiership, 2015–present

Netanyahu, 2015

In the 2015 election, Netanyahu returned with his party Likud leading the elections with 30 mandates, making it the single highest number of seats for the Knesset. President Rivlin granted Netanyahu an extension until 6 May 2015 to build a coalition when one had not been finalized in the first four weeks of negotiations. [148] He formed a coalition government within two hours of the midnight 6 May deadline. [149] His Likud party formed the coalition with Jewish Home, United Torah Judaism, Kulanu, and Shas. [149] [150]

On 28 May 2015, Netanyahu announced that he would be running for an unprecedented fifth term as Prime Minister in the next general election and that he supports Likud's current process of picking MK candidates. [151]

In August 2015, Netanyahu's government approved a two-year budget that would see agricultural reforms and lowering of import duties to reduce food prices, deregulation of the approval process in construction to lower housing costs and speed up infrastructure building, and reforms in the financial sector to boost competition and lower fees for financial services. [152] [153] In the end, the government was forced to compromise by removing some key agricultural reforms. [154]

In October 2015, Netanyahu drew widespread criticism for claiming that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, gave Adolf Hitler the idea for the Holocaust in the preceding months to the Second World War, convincing the Nazi leader to exterminate Jews rather than just expel them from Europe. [155] [156] This idea is dismissed by mainstream historians, [157] who note that al-Husseini's meeting with Hitler took place approximately five months after the mass murder of Jews began. [158] German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she did not accept Netanyahu's claims, and reiterated an acceptance of her country's crimes during the Nazi era. [159] Netanyahu later explained that his "aim was not to absolve Hitler from the responsibility he bears, but to show that the father of the Palestinian nation at the time, without a state and before the 'occupation,' without the territories and with the settlements, even then aspired with systemic incitement for the destruction of the Jews." [160] Some of the strongest criticism came from Israeli academics: Yehuda Bauer said Netanyahu's claim was "completely idiotic", [158] while Moshe Zimmermann stated that "any attempt to deflect the burden from Hitler to others is a form of Holocaust denial." [161]

In March 2016 Netanyahu's coalition faced a potential crisis as ultra-Orthodox members threatened to withdraw over the government's proposed steps to create non-Orthodox prayer space at the Western Wall. They have stated they will leave the coalition if the government offers any further official state recognition of Conservative and Reform Judaism. [162]

On December 23, 2016, the United States, under the Obama Administration, abstained from United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, effectively allowing it to pass. [163] On December 28, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry strongly criticized Israel and its settlement policies in a speech. [164] Netanyahu strongly criticized both the UN Resolution [165] and Kerry's speech [166] in response. On January 6, 2017, the Israeli government withdrew its annual dues from the organization, which totaled $6 million in United States dollars. [167]

Police investigation

During January 2017, the prime minister was questioned by police in two cases not made public before, one major case and the other minor one, cases that were called "Case 1000" and "Case 2000", due to the link between them. In these cases the prime minister is suspected in obtaining large-scale benefits from a businessman in Israel and businessman abroad. [168] [169]

Australia

On 22 February 2017, Netanyahu became the first serving Prime Minister of Israel to visit Australia. He was accompanied by his wife, Sara. The three day official visit included a delegation of business representatives, and Netanyahu and Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull were scheduled to sign several bilateral agreements. Netanyahu recalled that it was the Australian Light Horse regiments that liberated Beersheba during World War 1, and this began what has been a relationship of 100 years between the countries. [170]

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