Freezing the Kotel plan is a defining moment in relations with Diaspora Jewry, which Netanyahu decided to sacrifice in favor of his political interests
Benjamin (Binyamin) Netanyahu is the Prime Minister of Israel. Netanyahu was born in Tel Aviv on October 21, 1949, to Tsilah and Benzion, a renowned historian. His older brother, Yonatan (Yoni), was killed in action while commanding the special forces rescue operation of Israeli hostages in Entebbe, Uganda.
When he was 14 years old, Netanyahu moved to Pennsylvania with his family. After graduating from high school, “Bibi,” as he came to be nicknamed, enlisted in the IDF and followed in his brother Yoni’s footsteps as an officer in the Sayeret Matkal special forces unit, where he served from 1967 to 1972.
As part of a rescue team that stormed a hijacked Sabena commercial airliner at Ben-Gurion Airport in 1972, Benjamin Netanyahu was shot and wounded. He was discharged from the IDF in 1972, but returned to Israel to fight in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, finally leaving the army with the rank of Captain. His younger brother, Ido, was also a member of the elite special operations unit.
In 1975, Netanyahu earned a Bachelor’s degree in architecture from MIT in Boston, and in 1977 a Master’s degree in business management from the MIT Sloan School of Management. He also studied political science at Harvard University and MIT.
In 1982, Netanyahu assumed the position of deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC. In 1984 he was appointed Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, a position he was to hold for four years. During this time, he led the effort for the declassification of the United Nations archive on crimes committed by Nazi Germany.
In 1988, Netanyahu returned to Israel, where he became a member of Knesset for the Likud, and was appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. In 1993, Netanyahu was elected Likud party chairman and served as head of the opposition until his election as Israel’s ninth prime minister in 1996.
In his negotiations with the Palestinians, highlighted by negotiations with Yasser Arafat in the form of the 1998 Wye River Accords, Netanyahu devised a policy of reciprocity. He also emphasized a policy of “three no’s”: no withdrawal from the Golan Heights, no discussion regarding Jerusalem and no preconditioned negotiations.
On the economic front, he led the liberalization of foreign currency regulations, accelerated privatization of government-owned companies and set about reducing budget deficit. No real progress was made regarding negotiations with the Palestinians, but Netanyahu turned over most of Hebron to Palestinian jurisdiction. In 1996, Netanyahu and then-Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert decided to open an exit for the Western Wall tunnel, sparking three days of rioting by Palestinians that resulted in both Israeli and Palestinian deaths. In the 1999 election for prime minister, Bibi was defeated by Labor Party leader Ehud Barak.
After a stint in the private sector, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon appointed Netanyahu as foreign minister in 2002, filling a post made vacant by the Labor Party’s exit from the coalition. In the wake of the 2003 elections, he accepted the finance portfolio from Sharon after being granted unprecedented independence to carry out his market liberalization reform policies. In August 2005, shortly before the Israeli cabinet voted 17 to 5 to approve the initial phase of withdrawal from Gaza, Netanyahu submitted his resignation.
Netanyahu reclaimed the Likud leadership in December 2005, and becamse opposition leader after the 2006 Knesset elections. In 2009, Netanyahu became prime minister for a second time after Kadima leader Tzipi Livni failed to form a coalition.
During his current term, Netanyahu has expressed acceptance of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, in principal. However, he has also stipulated that any future Palestinian state should be fully demilitarized, with no control of its airspace, and said that Jerusalem would be undivided Israeli territory. He also stated that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the Jewish national state with an undivided Jerusalem, and he has rejected a right of return for Palestinian refugees. His government’s policies on Jerusalem, in particular construction in the predominantly Arab eastern section of the city, has led to a conflict with the administration of President Barack Obama, although both sides have sought to downplay the tensions.
Alongside negotiations with the Palestinians, Netanyahu has focused his attentions on the Iranian nuclear weapon issue, trying to garner international support for crippling economic sanctions against the Iranian regime while saying that Israel’s military option is on the table.
Benjamin Netanyahu is married to Sarah, with whom he has two sons. He has been married twice before and also has a daughter from his first marriage. In 2009, he became a grandfather for the first time.
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