Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu
בנימין נתניהו
Prime Minister of Israel
Assumed office
31 March 2009
President Shimon Peres
Preceded by Ehud Olmert
In office
18 June 1996 – 6 July 1999
President Ezer Weizman
Preceded by Shimon Peres
Succeeded by Ehud Barak
Leader of the Opposition
In office
28 March 2006 – 31 March 2009
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
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
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
6 November 2002 – 28 February 2003
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Preceded by Shimon Peres
Succeeded by Silvan Shalom
Personal details
Born 21 October 1949 (1949-10-21) (age 62)
Tel Aviv, Israel
Political party Likud
Spouse(s) Miriam Weizmann (Before 1978)
Fleur Cates (1981–1984)
Sara Ben-Artzi (1991–present)
Children 3
Alma mater Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Harvard University
Religion Judaism
Military service
Allegiance  Israel
Service/branch Israel Defence Forces
Rank Captain
Unit Sayeret Matkal
Battles/wars War of Attrition
Yom Kippur War

Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu (Hebrew:About this sound בִּנְיָמִין "בִּיבִּי" נְתַנְיָהוּ Binyamin Netanyahu; born October 21, 1949) is the current Prime Minister of Israel. He serves also as the Chairman of the Likud Party, as a Knesset member, as the Health Minister of Israel, as the Pensioner Affairs Minister of Israel and as the Economic Strategy Minister of Israel.

Netanyahu is the first and, to date, only Israeli prime minister born in Israel after the founding of the state. Netanyahu joined the Israeli Defense Forces in 1967 where he served as a team leader in the Sayeret Matkal special forces unit, taking part in many missions including Operation Gift and the hostage rescue mission from the hijacked Sabena Flight 571 in 1972, where he was shot in the shoulder. He fought on the front lines in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, during which he was on occasion "almost killed",[1] and achieved the rank of captain before being discharged. Netanyahu served as the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations from 1984 to 1988, member of the Likud Party, and was Prime Minister from June 1996 to July 1999.

Netanyahu withdrew from politics after a corruption scandal related to gifts from a government contractor.[2] In 2002 he returned as Foreign Minister (2002–03) and Finance Minister (2003 – August 2005) in Ariel Sharon's governments, but he departed over disagreements regarding the Gaza Disengagement Plan. He retook the Likud leadership on December 20, 2005.[3] In the 2006 election, Likud did poorly, winning 12 seats.[4] In December 2006, Netanyahu became the official Opposition Leader in the Knesset and Chairman of the Likud Party. In August 2007, he retained the Likud leadership by beating Moshe Feiglin in party elections.[5] Following the 10 February 2009 parliamentary election, in which Likud placed second and right-wing parties won a majority,[6] Netanyahu formed a coalition government.[7][8] He is the brother of Israeli Special Forces commander Yonatan Netanyahu, who died during a hostage rescue mission, and Iddo Netanyahu, an Israeli playwright.

In April 2011, the Israel State Comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, announced an investigation into Netanyahu's travel at the expense of private businessmen, mainly American Jews.[9]



Early life, military service, education, and early public career

Netanyahu was born in 1949 in Tel Aviv to Zila (née Segal) (1912–2000) and professor Benzion Netanyahu (b. 1910 in Warsaw, Poland), the middle child of three children. He was initially raised and educated in Jerusalem. Between 1956 and 1958, and again in 1963–67,[10] his family lived in the United States in Cheltenham, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, where he attended and graduated from the Cheltenham High School and was active in a debate club. To this day, he speaks American English with a Philadelphia accent.[11]

After graduating from high school in 1967, Netanyahu returned to Israel to enlist in the IDF. He trained as a combat soldier and became a team leader in an elite special forces unit of the IDF, Sayeret Matkal. He was involved in many missions, including the rescue of the hijacked Sabena Flight 571 in May 1972 in which he was wounded by friendly fire.[12] During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he fought in special forces raids along the Suez Canal, and then led a commando team deep into Syrian territory.

After his army service Netanyahu returned to the United States, studied and earned a B.S. degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology[13] in 1975, an M.S. degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1977, and studied political science at Harvard University. 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).[11] 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.[14]

In 1976 Netanyahu lost his older brother Yonatan Netanyahu, who served as the commander of the elite Israeli army commando unit Sayeret Matkal and was killed in action during the counter-terrorism hostage-rescue mission Operation Entebbe in which his unit rescued more than 100 hostages hijacked and flown to the Entebbe Airport in Uganda.

While studying Netanyahu worked at the Boston Consulting Group in Boston, Massachusetts.[15]

After graduating in 1977 Netanyahu returned to Israel and had a brief career as a furniture company's chief marketing officer. In addition between 1978 and 1980 he formed the Jonathan Netanyahu anti-Terror Institute,[10] a non-governmental organization devoted to the study of terrorism, which conducted a number of international conferences about terrorism. 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.[citation needed]

Between 1984 and 1988 Netanyahu served as the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.[citation needed]

In 2005, he was voted the 18th-greatest Israeli of all time, in a poll by the Israeli news website Ynet to determine whom the general public considered the 200 Greatest Israelis.[16] In 2010, the British magazine New Statesman listed Netanyahu at 11th on the list of "The World's 50 Most Influential Figures 2010".[17]

Early political career: 1988–96

Prior to the 1988 Israeli legislative election Netanyahu returned to Israel and joined the Likud party. In the internal elections in the Likud center Netanyahu became the fifth place on the list. Later on he was elected to 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 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.[citation needed]

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[18] (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.[citation needed]

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.[19] Netanyahu was the Likud's candidate for Prime Minister in the 1996 Israeli legislative election which took place on May 26, 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 he beat Netanyahu.) Netanyahu won the election, becoming the youngest person in the history of the position and the first Israeli Prime Minister to be born in the State of Israel.[citation needed] (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 March 4, 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 term as Prime Minister: 1996–99

Netanyahu with Yasser Arafat and Nabil Shaath at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 1997
Netanyahu sitting with Madeleine Albright and Yassir Arafat at the Wye River Memorandum

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 peace process. 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 Prime Ministership 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.[20] This sparked three days of rioting by Palestinians, resulting in both Israelis and Palestinians being killed.[21]

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.

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 November 17, 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.[22]

Netanyahu was opposed by the political left wing in Israel and also 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.[23] 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.[2]

After being defeated by Ehud Barak in the 1999 election for Prime Minister, Netanyahu temporarily retired from politics.[15]

Political downturn and recovery: 2000–03

Benjamin Netanyahu with Vladimir Putin at the Jewish Community Centre in Moscow, Russia, December 2000

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.[citation needed]

On September 9, 2002, a scheduled speech by Netanyahu at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec 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 Hotel throughout the duration. He later accused the activists of supporting terrorism and "mad zealotry."[24]

Netanyahu challenged Sharon for the leadership of the Likud party, but failed to oust Sharon.[25]

Finance Minister: 2003–05

Benjamin Netanyahu, 2003

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 after Sharon agreed to provide him with an unprecedented level of independence in running the ministry..[citation needed]

As Finance Minister, Netanyahu undertook an economic plan in order to restore Israel's economy from its low point during the al-Aqsa Intifada. The plan involved a move toward more liberalized markets, although it was not without its critics. Netanyahu succeeded in passing several long-unresolved reforms, including an important reform in the banking system.[26] 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.[27]

Netanyahu threatened to resign in 2004 unless the Gaza pullout plan was put to a referendum, but later lifted the ultimatum and voted for the programme in the Knesset.[28] He submitted his resignation letter on August 7, 2005, shortly before the Israeli cabinet voted 17 to 5 to approve the initial phase of withdrawal from Gaza.[29] Shortly thereafter he said he had rejected an invitation to serve as Italy's finance minister,[30] allegedly extended to him by Italian billionaire businessman Carlo De Benedetti, who later said it was a joke.[31]

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 December 20, 2005, with 47% of the primary vote.[3] In the March 2006 Knesset elections, Likud took the third place behind Kadima and Labor and Netanyahu served as Leader of the Opposition.[4]

On August 14, 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.[5] 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?"[32]

Following 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.[33][34]

Netanyahu campaign posters around Jerusalem. The caption reads HaLikud or The Consolidation. On the right-hand side slogans are written in Russian for repatriates from former USSR.

Netanyahu was the Likud's candidate for Prime Minister in the 2009 Israeli legislative election which took place on February 10, 2009, as Tzipi 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.[35]

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 February 20, 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.

Netayahu presented his cabinet for a Knesset "Vote of Confidence" on March 31, 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.[7][8]

Second term as Prime Minister: 2009–present

Barack Obama and Netanyahu in the Oval Office, May 18, 2009
Hillary Clinton and Netanyahu in Washington DC, May 18, 2009

In March 2009 US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton traveled to Israel.[36] She warned that Israeli settlements and demolition of Arab homes in East Jerusalem were "unhelpful" to the peace process.[37] Clinton also voiced support for the establishment of a Palestinian state—a solution not endorsed by Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu,[38] with whom she had earlier pledged the United States' cooperation.[39] Upon the arrival of President Obama administration's special envoy, George Mitchell, Netanyahu said that any furtherance of negotiations with the Palestinians will be conditioned on the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state,[40] as this issue had not been sufficiently clarified.

During a May 19, 2009 meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House, Obama said a two state solution was a priority and called for settlement growth to be frozen, while Netanyahu refused to support the creation of a Palestinian state and stated that Israel has the right to continue settlements.

During President Obama's Cairo speech on June 4, 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". "This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop." Following Obama's Cairo speech Netanyahu immediately called a special government meeting. On June 14, ten days after Obama's Cairo speech, Netanyahu gave a speech at Bar-Ilan University in which he endorsed a "Demilitarized Palestinian State". The speech was widely seen as a response to Obama's speech.[41] In a rejoinder to Obama's mentioning of the founding of Israel in the context of the Holocaust, Netanyahu remarked, "[t]here are those who say that if the Holocaust had not occurred, the State of Israel would never have been established. But I say that if the State of Israel would have been established earlier, the Holocaust would not have occurred."[42] 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. The address represented a renewal in Netanyahu's willingness to appeal for Palestinian leadership to accept peace.[43] The overture was quickly rejected by Palestinian leaders such as Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, who called the speech "racist".[41]

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".[44] The Kadima-led opposition submitted a no-confidence measure to the Knesset shortly after Netanyahu concluded his first 100 days in office.[45] 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,[46] a spike from 28 percent prior to his Bar-Ilan speech.

As part of his "economic peace", to boost the Palestinian economy, while insisting not a substitute to political negotiations, Netanyahu has lifted checkpoints in the West Bank, in order to allow freedom of movement and a flow of imports as a "highway to peace", a step that resulted in an economic boost in the West Bank.[47][48][49]

On July 23, 2009, Netanyahu welcomed the Arab Peace initiative (also known as the "Saudi Peace Initiative"), stating that "The Arab initiative provides a tailwind to the Peace Process", and also lauded a call by Bahrain's Crown Prince, Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa to normalize relations with Israel.[50][51] On July 31, the Saudi Foreign Minister, Saud El Faisal, at a press conference with U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rejected the U.S pressure on Arab states to make gestures toward normalizing ties with Israel as "confidence-building" measures, stating that "'step-by-step' diplomatic approach, have not and will not lead to peace", and that "temporary security arrangement as well, so-called 'confidence-building' measures will not lead to peace either." He added that a comprehensive approach is needed in order to tackle the core issues of the conflict, that include "The future of the Palestinian State, control over Jerusalem, the return of the refugees to their country, and water and security arrangements". He also argued that Israel was diverting attention "From the occupation that had began on 1967, and the establishment of a Palestinian State, towards secondary issues, such as flying methods (referring to one of the gestures) and academic arguments, and said that "It is time all the inhabitants of the Middle East will live a normal life".[52]

On August 10, 2009, Netanyahu warned that "If Hezbollah will enter the (Lebanese) government as an official factor, let it be clear that the Lebanese government will be held responsible for any attack carried out from its territory. Once they [Hezbullah] are part of the government, the sovereign government of Lebanon is the one responsible. I hope we will not be forced to make such responses".[53] However, he maintained his assessment that "There are no 'winds of war' brewing in the North" the next day.[54]

On August 23, 2009, Netanyahu announced in his weekly cabinet meeting that negotiations with the Palestinians will begin in September and will be officially launched on his visit to New York, after he had accepted an invitation from President Barack Obama for a "Triple Summit" there.[55] He added that there is progress with special envoy George Mitchell, though there is no full agreement on everything,[56] and there will be more rounds of meetings [until September].[57] On the same day, a spokesman for PA President Mahmoud Abbas said he refused to participate in peace negotiations as long as there was any building going on in settlements.[58]

On August 26, 2009, Netanyahu and special envoy George Mitchell met, in what was perceived as a critical meeting towards an understanding on a settlement freeze between Israel and the U.S, in which they reaffirmed in a joint statement the need for a meaningful negotiation between the Israelis and Palestinians that will lead to a comprehensive peace agreement, and Abbas declared the same day that he will be willing to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu at the U.N General Assembly, where Netanyahu had accepted president Obama's invitation for a "triple summit", although he said it would not necessarily lead to negotiations.[59] 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.[60] It was also reported that the U.S Administration was planning a "modest" summit with a principle declaration and stiff timetable, rather than a "Grand Plan".[60]

On September 4, 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.[61] White House spokesman Robert Gibbs expressed "regret" over the move;[62] however, one U.S official said the move will not "derail [the] train".[63]

On September 7, 2009, Netanyahu left his office without reporting where he was headed, his schedule was mysteriously cleared, and his whereabouts were unknown for a several hours. The prime minister's military secretary, Maj. Gen. Meir Kalifi, later reported Netanyahu had visited a security facility in Israel.[64] At the same time, a Palestinian newspaper reported that Netanyahu had left for a visit in an Arab state that does not have diplomatic ties with Israel.[65] On September 9, 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.[64][66][67] The report caused a local media storm, with angry journalists accusing Netanyahu’s office of lying. Headlines branded Netanyahu a "liar" and dubbed the affair a "fiasco."[68][69] It was later reported that the PM's military secretary will be dismissed due to the affair.[70] The Sunday Times reported that the trip was made to share the names of Russian scientists that Israel believes are abetting the Iranian nuclear weapons program.[71]

On September 16, 2009, special envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel for one of his last rounds before a triple summit at the U.N. between President Obama, Netanyahu and PA president Mahmoud Abbas, in order to secure such a summit. Despite shuttling between the Israelis and the Palestinians, he failed to secure such a summit.[72] However, it was reported that he had expected his trip to be extended, that he would meet Prime Minister Netanyahu again two days later, and that there might be a three-way summit without relaunching the peace process, after which negotiations on understandings between Israel and the U.S would continue. On September 18, Netanyahu and Mitchell met again, but failed to reach an agreement that will secure the summit. Later that day, Haaretz reported that Israeli officials blamed the Palestinian Authority for thwarting the peace talks.[73]

On September 20, 2009, the White House announced that it will host a three-way meeting between President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, within the framework of the United Nations General Assembly, "in an effort to lay the groundwork for renewed negotiations on Mideast peace."[74][75] The meeting took place on September 22, in New York. Afterwards, Netanyahu said that he agreed with Abbas during the meeting that peace talks should be relaunched as soon as possible.[76]

On September 24, 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.[77][78] Waving the blueprints for Auschwitz and invoking the memory of his own family members murdered by the Nazis, Netanyahu delivered his most passionate and public riposte yet to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's questioning of the Holocaust, asking: "Have you no shame?"[79]

In response to pressure from the Obama administration urging the sides to resume peace talks, on November 25, 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.[80] 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".[81] In his announcement Netanyahu called the move "a painful step that will encourage the peace process" and urged the Palestinians to respond.[82] However, the Palestinians rejected the call.[83]

On December 7, 2009, a bill with Netanyahu's backing[84] obligating a national referendum on any withdrawals from land passed 68–22 in the Knesset.[85] Opponents of the bill claim it would be another obstacle to peace, by tying a Prime Minister's hand in any future peace accord.[86] Source in Syrian foreign ministry says Israel 'provoking... international community' with referendum bill.[87]

On March 10, 2010, Israel's government approved construction of an additional 1,600 apartments in a large Jewish housing development in northeastern Jerusalem called Ramat Shlomo[88] 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.[89] The European Union also condemned the announcement and issued a statement calling on the Israeli government to reverse the decision.[90] 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.[88] 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. As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is the same as building in Tel Aviv."[91]

Netanyahu, together with Mahmoud Abbas, Hillary Clinton and George J. Mitchell at the start of the direct talks on September 2, 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.[92] 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. Nevertheless, the Israeli government publicly stated that a lasting peace wouldn't take effect immediately due to Hamas and Hezbollah presence threatening the progress. In addition the Israeli government clearly rejected any possible agreement with the Palestinian side as long as that side refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.[citation needed]

On September 27, the 10 month settlement freeze ended, and the Israeli government approved new construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.[93]

In January 2011, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak formed a breakaway party, Independence, which enabled Barak to maintain his loyal Labor MK faction within the Netanyahu coalition government, and prevented the departure of Labor as a whole from the government. Labor previously threatened to force Barak to do so. After Barak's move, Netanyahu was able to maintain a majority of 66 MKs (out 120 in the Knesset), previously having 74 MKs within his majority coalition.[citation needed]

In March and April 2011 the Israeli media published a series of articles claiming that interest groups had paid for foreign trips of Netanyahu and his wife.[94] In response, Netanyahu filed two libel suits on a total of one million NIS each against the newspaper Ma'ariv and several of its employees,[95] and against the news division of Israeli channel 10 Hadashot 10, against the Israeli web portal Nana 10 and several employees.[96] Later on, the couple filed another libel suit in the amount of 3.5 million NIS against the Israeli channel 10, Nana 10, Hadashot 10 and the Israeli journalists Raviv Drucker and Mickey Rosenthal.[97][98]

In 2011, it was revealed that, on retiring from office in July of that year, 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.[99][100]

Political positions

Oslo Accords

From the inception of the Oslo accords, Netanyahu opposed them. During his term as prime minister in the late 1990s, Netanyahu consistently reneged on commitments made by previous Israeli governments as part of the Oslo peace process, leading American peace envoy Dennis Ross to note that “neither President Clinton nor Secretary [of State Madeleine] Albright believed that Bibi had any real interest in pursuing peace.”[101]

In a 2001 video, Netanyahu, reportedly unaware he was being recorded, said: "They asked me before the election if I'd honor [the Oslo Accords]," "I said I would, but ... I'm going to interpret the accords in such a way that would allow me to put an end to this galloping forward to the '67 borders. How did we do it? Nobody said what defined military zones were. Defined military zones are security zones; as far as I'm concerned, the entire Jordan Valley is a defined military zone. Go argue."[102]

One of Netanyahu's campaign posters during the 2009 Israeli legislative elections which stated that he would be the best choice for Israel's economy and security.

Prior to second term as Prime Minister

Netanyahu had previously called U.S.-backed peace talks a waste of time,[103] while at the same time refusing to commit to the same two-state solution as had other Israeli leaders,[104] until a speech in June 2009. He repeatedly made public statements which advocated an "economic peace" approach, meaning an approach based on economic cooperation and joint effort rather than continuous contention over political and diplomatic issues. This is in line with many significant ideas from the Peace Valley plan.[105] He raised these ideas during discussions with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.[106] Netanyahu continued to advocate these ideas as the Israeli elections approached.[107] Netanyahu has said:

Right now, the peace talks are based on only one thing, only on peace talks. It makes no sense at this point to talk about the most contractible issue. It's Jerusalem or bust, or right of return or bust. That has led to failure and is likely to lead to failure again....We must weave an economic peace alongside a political process. That means that we have to strengthen the moderate parts of the Palestinian economy by handing rapid growth in those areas, rapid economic growth that gives a stake for peace for the ordinary Palestinians." [105]

In January 2009, prior to the February 2009 Israeli elections Netanyahu informed Middle East envoy Tony Blair that he would continue the policy of the Israeli governments of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert by expanding settlements in the West Bank, in contravention of the Road Map, but not building new ones.[108]

June 2009 peace address; "Bar-Ilan Speech"

On June 14, 2009, Netanyahu delivered a seminal address[109] at Bar-Ilan University (also known as "Bar-Ilan Speech"), at Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, that was broadcast live in Israel and across parts of the Arab world, on the topic of the Middle East peace process. He endorsed for the first time the notion of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.[42] Netanyahu had immediately called a special government meeting after Obama finished his June 4 speech at Cairo. Yedioth Ahronoth has stated that Obama's words had "resonated through Jerusalem's corridors".[110]

As part of his proposal, Netanyahu demanded the full demilitarization of the proposed state, with no army, rockets, missiles, or control of its airspace, and said that Jerusalem would be undivided Israeli territory. He stated that the Palestinians should recognize Israel as the Jewish national state with an undivided Jerusalem. He rejected a right of return for Palestinian refugees, saying, "any demand for resettling Palestinian refugees within Israel undermines Israel's continued existence as the state of the Jewish people." He also stated that a complete stop to settlement building in the West Bank, as required by the 2003 Road Map peace proposal, would not occur but the expansions will be limited based on the "natural growth" of the population, including immigration, with no new territories taken in although, despite this, Netanyahu still claimed that he accepted the Road Map.[111] He did not discuss whether or not the settlements should be part of Israel after peace negotiations, simply saying that the "question will be discussed".[42]

In a response to U.S. President Barack Obama's statements in his Cairo speech, Netanyahu remarked, "there are those who say that if the Holocaust had not occurred, the State of Israel would never have been established. But I say that if the State of Israel would have been established earlier, the Holocaust would not have occurred." He also said, "this is the homeland of the Jewish people, this is where our identity was forged." He stated that he would be willing to meet with any "Arab leader" for negotiations without preconditions, specifically mentioning Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon.[42] In general, the address represented a complete turnaround for his previously hawkish positions against the peace process.[43]

Some right-wing members of Netanyahu's governing coalition criticized his remarks for the creation of a Palestinian State; believing that all of the land should remain under Israeli sovereignty. Likud MK Danny Danon said that Netanyahu went "against the Likud platform",[112] while MK Uri Orbakh of Habayit Hayehudi said that it had "dangerous implications".[113] Opposition party Kadima leader Tzipi Livni remarked after the address that she thinks Netanyahu does not really believe in the two-state solution at all; she thought that he only said what he did as a feigned response to international pressure.[45] Peace Now blasted the speech, highlighting the fact that, in the group's opinion, it did not address the Palestinians as equal partners in the peace process. The Secretary General of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer, said, "It's a rerun of Netanyahu from his first term".[114]

On August 9, 2009, speaking at the opening of government meeting Netanyahu repeated his claims from the Palestinians: "We want an agreement with two factors, the first of which is the recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people and (the second of which is) a security settlement".[115]

International reaction

Netanyahu's "Bar-Ilan Speech" provoked mixed reaction from the International community:[116]

  •  Palestinian Authority – The Palestinian National Authority rejected the conditions to a Palestinian State given by Netanyahu. Senior official Saeb Erekat said, "Netanyahu's speech closed the door to permanent status negotiations". Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said it reflected a "racist and extremist ideology"[117] and called on Arab nations to "form stronger opposition".[43] Palestinian Islamic Jihad labeled it "misleading" and, like Hamas, demanded stronger opposition to Israel from Arab nations.[118] According to The Jerusalem Post, some leaders advocated a third intifada in response to the speech.[42]
  •  Arab League – The Arab League dismissed the address, declaring in a statement that "Arabs would not make concessions regarding issues of Jerusalem and refugees" and that "we know his history and style of evasion", adding that the Arab League would not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.[118]
  •  Czech Republic – The Czech Republic, which held the presidency of the European Union, praised Netanyahu's address. "In my view, this is a step in the right direction. The acceptance of a Palestinian state was present there," said Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, whose country held the EU's six-month presidency at the time of the speech.[119]
  •  United States – The Press secretary of President Barack Obama, Robert Gibbs, said that the speech was an "important step forward".[118][120] President Obama stated that "this solution can and must ensure both Israel's security and the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations for a viable state".[116]
  •  Sweden – Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt stated that "the fact that he uttered the word state is a small step forward". He added that "whether what he mentioned can be defined as a state is a subject of some debate".[116][119]
  •  France – France praised the speech but called on Israel to cease building settlements in the West Bank. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner stated that "I can only welcome the prospect of a Palestinian state outlined by the Israeli Prime Minister".[116][119]
  •  Russia – The Foreign Ministry of Russia called the speech "a sign of readiness for dialogue" but said that "it does not open up the road to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The conditions on the Palestinians would be unacceptable".[116]
  •  Egypt – Referring to Netanyahu's demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, Egypt's then President Hosni Mubarak remarked, "You won't find anyone to answer that call in Egypt, or in any other place". Issuing a less blunt response, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that the speech was "not complete" and that it hoped for another, "different Israeli proposal which is built on the commitment to the two-state solution".[121][122]
  •  Syria – Syrian state media condemned the speech and wrote that "Netanyahu has confirmed that he rejects the Arab peace initiative for peace along with all the initiatives and resolutions of the Security Council to relative peace".[116][123]
  •  Lebanon – Lebanese President Michel Suleiman called for unity among Arab leaders, saying that "Arab leaders should be more united and preserve the spirit of resistance to face the Israeli stands regarding the peace process and the Palestinian refugee issue." He called on the international community to exert more pressure on the Israeli government to accept the Arab Peace Initiative, as he said Israel still has a will of military confrontation which can be proved in its offensives on Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.[118]
  •  Jordan – Jordanian Minister of State for Media affairs and Communications, and Government spokesperson Nabil Sharif issued a statement saying "The ideas presented by Netanyahu do not live up to what was agreed on by the international community as a starting point for achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the region".[118]

Opinion on unilateral withdrawals

On August 9, 2009, speaking at the opening of his weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu promised not to repeat the "mistake" of the Gaza unilateral pullout, saying, "We will not repeat this mistake. We will not create new evacuees", and adding that "the unilateral evacuation brought neither peace nor security. On the contrary", and that "We want an agreement with two factors, the first of which is the recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people and [the second is] a security settlement. In the case of Gaza, both of these factors were lacking". He also said, "Should we achieve a turn toward peace with the more moderate partners, we will insist on the recognition of the State of Israel and the demilitarization of the future Palestinian state".[115][124]


On February 20, 2009, after being asked to be the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu described Iran as the greatest threat that Israel has ever faced: "Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence."[125]

Speaking before the UN General Assembly in New York on September 24, 2009, Netanyahu slammed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech at the forum, saying those who believe Tehran is a threat only to Israel are wrong. "The Iranian regime", he said, "is motivated by fanaticism… They want to see us go back to medieval times. The struggle against Iran pits civilization against barbarism. This Iranian regime is fueled by extreme fundamentalism."[77][78]

Comparing Iran's leadership to Nazi Germany

Strongly opposed to Iran's alleged pursuit of uranium enrichment, Netanyahu said "It’s 1938, and Iran is Germany, and Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs”.[126][127] In an March 8, 2007 interview with CNN, he asserted that there is only one difference between Nazi Germany and the Islamic Republic of Iran, namely that the first entered a worldwide conflict and then sought atomic weapons, while the latter is first seeking atomic weapons and, once it has them, will then start a world war. Netanyahu repeated these remarks at a news conference in April 2008.[128][129]

On January 27, 2010, speaking at Holocaust remembrance ceremony held at Auschwitz, in a possible reference to Iran Netanyahu said, "We will always remember what the Nazi Amalek did to us, and we won't forget to be prepared for the new Amalek, who is making an appearance on the stage of history and once again threatening to destroy the Jews".[130]

Jonathan Pollard

Netanyahu has repeatedly called for the release of Jonathan Pollard, an American serving a life sentence for passing secret U.S. documents to Israel.[131] Netanyahu has called for his release over the course of several presidential administrations.[131][132] He 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; Clinton denied the assertion.[133][134]

In 2002, Netanyahu visited Pollard at his North Carolina prison.[135][136] The Israeli Prime Minister maintains contact with Pollard's wife, and has been active in pressing the Obama administration to release Pollard.[137][138] Netanyahu has characterized Pollard as "a warmhearted Jew, proud and a real Zionist."[138]

Defense and security

The Israeli General Staff concluded that the armed forces cannot maintain their battle readiness under Netanyahu's proposed cuts.[139]

Netanyahu arranged for 1000 prisoners to be swapped for Gilad Shalit, including terrorists with "blood on their hands."[140] About 60% of the released terrorists were expected to return to terrorism.[141]

According to a U.S. State Department representative in November 2011, under the leadership of Netanyahu and Obama, Israel and the United States have enjoyed unprecedented security cooperation.[142]

Personal relations with foreign leaders

During the 2011 G20 summit in Cannes, French president Nicholas Sarkozy was overhead saying to president Barack Obama, "I cannot bear Netanyahu, he's a liar". To this Obama responded, "You're fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day." Journalists covering the event were requested to sign an agreement not to report the incident.[143][144]

Sarkozy and Netanyahu originally became acquainted when Sarkozy was the mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine, after an introduction by a mutual friend. The two used to dine together in Paris and Israel.[145]

Family and personal life

Nathan Mileikowsky
(Writer and Zionist activist)
Benzion Netanyahu
(Professor of History and Zionist activist)
Elisha Netanyahu
(Professor for Mathematics)
Shoshana Shenburg
(Justice at the Supreme Court of Israel)
Yonatan Netanyahu
(Commander of Sayeret Matkal)
Benjamin Netanyahu
(Prime Minister of Israel)
Iddo Netanyahu
(radiologist, author and playwright)
Nathan Netanyahu
(Professor of Computer Science)

Related to the Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (the Vilna Gaon) on his paternal side,[146] Netanyahu was born in Tel Aviv,[147] to Benzion Netanyahu (original name Mileikowsky) and Cela (Tsilah; née Segal). His mother was born in 1912 in Petah Tikva, part of the future British Mandate of Palestine that eventually became Israel. Though all his grandparents were born in the Russian Empire (now Belarus, Lithuania and Poland), his mother's parents emigrated to Minneapolis in the United States.[148]

Netanyahu's father, Benzion, is a former professor of Jewish history at Cornell University,[149] a former editor of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica, and a former senior aide to Ze'ev Jabotinsky, who has remained active in research and writing into his 90s. Regarding the Palestinian people, he has stated: “That they won’t be able to face [anymore] the war with us, which will include withholding food from Arab cities, preventing education, terminating electrical power and more. They won’t be able to exist, and they will run away from here. But it all depends on the war, and whether we will win the battles with them.”[150]

Netanyahu's paternal grandfather was Rabbi Natan Mileikowsky, a leading Religious Zionist rabbi and JNF fundraiser.[151] Netanyahu's older brother, Yonatan, was killed in Uganda during Operation Entebbe in 1976. His younger brother, Iddo, is a radiologist and writer. All three brothers served in the Sayeret Matkal reconnaissance unit of the Israel Defense Forces.

Netanyahu's first marriage was to Dr. Miriam Weizmann, whom he met in Boston. The couple had one daughter, Noa. The marriage ended in 1978. In 1981, he married Fleur Cates, a British citizen whom he met while they were both living in Boston, but the couple divorced in 1984. In 1991 Netanyahu married his third wife, Sara Ben-Artzi, a psychology major working as a flight attendant, whom he met while traveling on an El Al flight from New York to Israel. He and Sara have two sons, Yair and Avner.[15] Yair is a Corporal in the IDF Spokesperson's Unit.[152] Avner is a national Bible champion and winner of the prestigious National Bible Quiz for Youth in Kiryat Shmona.[153] Sara has been the defendant of numerous lawsuits filed by former housekeepers, alleging abuse and underpayment.[154]

In the first half of 2008, doctors removed a small colon polyp that proved to be benign.[155]

Netanyahu became a grandfather on October 1, 2009, when his daughter Noa Netanyahu-Roth (married to Daniel Roth) gave birth to a boy, Shmuel.[156][157] In 2011, Noa and her husband Daniel had a second son named David.[158]

Books and articles

Through the years Netanyahu authored five books, three of which focus on counter-terrorism. The books he authored include:

  • International Terrorism: Challenge and Response (The Jonathon Institute, 1980) (ISBN 0-87855-894-2)
  • Terrorism: How the West Can Win (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1986) (ISBN 0-380-70321-1)
  • A Place Among the Nations (Bantam, 1993) (ISBN 0-553-08974-9)
  • Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorism (Diane Pub Co, 1995) (ISBN 0-374-52497-1)
  • A Durable Peace: Israel and Its Place Among the Nations (Warner Books, 2000) (ISBN 0-446-52306-2)



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Political campaign
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Yehuda Blum
Ambassador from Israel to the United Nations
Succeeded by
Johanan Bein
Party political offices
Preceded by
Yitzhak Shamir
Leader of Likud
Succeeded by
Ariel Sharon
Preceded by
Ariel Sharon
Leader of Likud
Political offices
Preceded by
Shimon Peres
Prime Minister of Israel
Succeeded by
Ehud Barak
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
Silvan Shalom
Preceded by
Silvan Shalom
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Ehud Olmert
Preceded by
Amir Peretz
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
Tzipi Livni
Preceded by
Ehud Olmert
Prime Minister of Israel

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