NETANYAHU, Benjamin

Grandson of a Lithuanian rabbi who emigrated to Palestine in 1920, Benjamin Netanyahu was born in Tel-Aviv in 1949. His father, Benzion Netanyahu was a theorist of the « zionist revisionism » and secretary of Zeev Jabotinski, ideologue of the Jewish ultra-nationalism. He was deeply shocked and upset by the death of his brother Jonathan during the raid of an Israeli commando to free the hostages of a plane hijacked in Entebbe by a group of German and Palestinian terrorists (1976).

He has received all his education in the United States where his family had moved in the early sixties. After studies in architecture and business administration at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he worked for the Boston Consulting Group until 1978. He has both American and Israeli citizenship.

In 1982, he was appointed Deputy Chief of Mission to the Israeli embassy in Washington; then, from 1984 to 1988, he served as Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations.

His political career in Israel started in 1988 when he was elected to the Knesset for Likud. He then became Deputy Foreign Minister in the National Unity government Labour/Likud. In 1991, he was part of the Israeli delegation to the Madrid Conference. Regarded as a « hawk », he is politically close to Yitzhak Shamir in the cabinet of whom he worked from 1991 to 1992. In March 1993 he became president of the Likud and was elected Prime Minister (in the first direct election for this office) on 29 May 1996. Due to legislative changes in Israel, the Prime Minister now has quasi-presidential prerogatives and a two-thirds majority is required in the Knesset to remove him. When this law was adopted, Netanyahu was the only Likud member to cast his vote in its favour.

Benjamin Netanyahu, whose political career has been financed by the most conservative wing of the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States basically totally opposes the Oslo Agreements. However, since he is Prime Minister, he has considered them as a fait accompli and claims to respect commitments taken by the precedent government. He nonetheless refuses to negotiate the status of Jerusalem – negotiations stipulated in the Declaration of Principles (Oslo Agreement) – and rejects the creation of a Palestinian State which he sees as a « Trojan horse » designed to annihilate Israel (see his book « Israel, a place among the Nations »). Partisan of the Great Israel, he wants a permanent control on « Judea-Samaria » (the West Bank) described as a « protective wall » against its Arab neighbours and the implementation of new Israeli settlements in this area. According to him, « the Oslo Agreements proves to the PLO that terrorism really pays  » and « the continuation of the application of the Oslo Agreements girds Israel with terrorist bases ». He would at most be ready to tolerate a form of civil autonomy as it already exists with the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip (Oslo II) which would means dangerously hypothecating the Oslo peace process.

Following David Levy’s resignation, he became himself Minister of Foreign Affairs in January 1998. In October, he appointed Ariel Sharon to this post.

Benjamin Netanyahu lost the elections of 1999 and was succeeded by Ehud Barak as Prime Minister. After this defeat, he also resigned from the Chairmanship of the Likud party.

But his successor as President of the Likud party, Ariel Sharon, became Prime Minister after the defeat of Ehud Barak. Since then, Netanyahu prepares his return on the political scene. Most of the Likud leaders and ordinary members are on his hand.

In 2002, he joined the cabinet of Ariel Sharon and replaced Shimon Peres as foreign Minister. He then became Minister of Economy and maintained his status in Ariel Sharon’s seconde Government.

Opposed to Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, he threatens to resign from government if the withdrawal is not subject to a referendum. He resigns in August 2005.

When Ariel Sharon leaves the Likud, Netanyahu seeks the presidency of the party. He was re-elected in December 2005. In the elections of the Knesset in March 2006, the Likud ranks third after Kadima and the Labour Party making Netanyahu the leader of the opposition.

He was re-elected head of the Likud in August 2007.

In 2009, the Olmert government faced early parliamentary elections and Benjamin Netanyahu led the Likud’s campaign. Tzipi Livni, the head of Kadima, won the elections by a seat ahead of B. Netanyahu who got 27 seats in the Knesset out of 120. Nevertheless, Netanyahu is chosen by Shimon Peres to form a coalition government. This government is the most right-wing that Israel has ever experienced. It includes Likud, Israel Beytenou, headed by Avigdor Lieberman, the ultra-Orthodox party Shas and the Labor Party of Ehud Barak.

The arrival of Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States marks the beginning of growing tensions between the two men on the freeze of settlements and the creation of a Palestinian state. The refusal of B. Netanyahu to freeze the settlements in June 2009 has prevented the continuation of the process of deepening of the relations between the EU and Israel, stalled since the « Cast lead », although the Prime Minister suggested that he may consider the creation a demilitarized Palestinian state under certain conditions.