Netanyahu, Benjamin

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Netanyahu, Benjamin

Benjamin Netanyahu (bēn´yəmēn´ nĕtənyä´hōō), 1949–, Israeli diplomat and politician, prime minister of Israel (1996–99, 2009–), b. Tel Aviv. A member of the conservative Likud party, the self-assured Netanyahu, known universally in Israel as "BiBi," attended high school in the United States, where his father was a history professor. He was an officer in an elite Israeli commando unit from 1967 to 1972 and later studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (B.Sc. 1974, M.Sc. 1976). Returning to Israel in 1978, he became active in politics and served as Israel's UN representative (1984–88). First elected to Israel's parliament in 1988, he became deputy foreign minister (1988–91) and deputy prime minister (1991–92). During this period he earned a reputation for American-style media savvy.

As leader (1993–99) of the Likud party, Netanyahu was largely responsible for engineering its return to political power after its 1992 electoral defeat. An opponent of the peace policies espoused by Israel's Labor government, he was criticized for cultivating Jewish extremist support after the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Narrowly elected in May, 1996, he became Israel's youngest prime minister, promising a tough stance on terrorism. His tenure was marked by difficult peace talks with the Palestinians. Corruption scandals in his cabinet and strong reactions to his personality contributed to his May, 1999, loss to One Israel (Labor) party leader Ehud Barak. More recently, Netanyahu served under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as foreign minister (2002–3) and as finance minister (2003–5), but resigned and unsuccessfully challenged (2005) Sharon for the Likud leadership when Israel withdrew its settlers and forces from the Gaza Strip. When Sharon subsequently left Likud, Netanyahu became party leader; the party did poorly in the 2006 elections. A better showing in the 2009 elections enabled him to become prime minister of a largely right-wing coalition government in Apr., 2009; the centrist Kadima party joined the coalition in 2012. Despite Likud alliance loses, he remained prime minister after the 2013 elections, this time heading a center-right coalition.

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