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Profile: Benjamin Netanyahu

Profile: Benjamin Netanyahu

Campaigning under the slogan "a strong prime minister", Benjamin Netanyahu is considered one of Israel's most right-wing leaders.

He became prime minister for the second time in March 2009, and won the elections again in March 2015.

In 2012, Time magazine dubbed Netanyahu "the king of Israel" because of his ability to dictate policy in the country's often fractious political climate.

Known informally as "Bibi", Netanyahu sees himself as the guarantor of Israel's security. He is said to believe that serious criticism of Israeli policies towards occupied Palestine is rooted in anti-Semitism, rather than in international law or morality.

To supporters, he is a strong spokesperson for Israel, willing to tell the public uncomfortable truths and able to stand up to enemies.

To critics such as Yuval Diskin, the former head of Israel's domestic intelligence organisation, Netanyahu holds an inflated sense of entitlement. Diskin once said: "At play inside Netanyahu, in my opinion, is a mix of ideology, a deep sense that he is a prince of a 'royal family' from the Jerusalem elite, alongside insecurity and a deep fear of taking responsibility."

Hardline policies

Born in Tel Aviv on October 21, 1949, Netanyahu grew up in Jerusalem but went to high school in the US, where his father taught history. His father, Benzion Netanyahu, was one of the original "Revisionist Zionists" who believed that Israel should exist on both sides of the Jordan River, rejecting compromises with neighbouring Arab states.

On his return to Israel in 1967, Benjamin Netanyahu enlisted in the Israeli army and soon became an elite commando; he served as a captain during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

He then became a diplomat, and was appointed the deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Washington in 1982. In 1984 he was appointed Israel's ambassador to the United Nations.

"As long as I am prime minister, Iran will not have an atomic bomb… If there's no other way, Israel is ready to act [with force]."

– Benjamin Netanyahu

In 1988, Netanyahu was elected to the 12th Knesset as a member of the right-wing Likud Party, and was appointed deputy foreign minister in the cabinet of then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Rising to the post of Likud Party chairman in 1993, Netanyahu orchestrated its return to political power after its defeat in the 1992 election.

An opponent of the Labour government's peace policies, many held Netanyahu responsible for cultivating Jewish right-wing support after the 1995 assassination of Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin. Netanyahu became prime minister for the first time after elections in March 1996.

Despite opposing most peace deals with the Palestinians, Netanyahu signed the Wye River Accords in 1998 with Yasser Arafat, who was then the president of the Palestinian National Authority.

Netanyahu later turned over most of the city of Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank, over to Palestinian jurisdiction.

Parties to the right of Likud accused Netanyahu of abandoning his initial promises of taking a hard line with the Palestinians, and threatened to walk out of a coalition government.

Forced to call elections 17 months early, Netanyahu lost to Ehud Barak, then the chairman of the Labour Party, in May 1999.

The embattled former prime minister would not return to government until 2002, when he was appointed foreign minister by Ariel Sharon, who became prime minister after winning in March 2001.

The two later competed for Likud's chairmanship, which Netanyahu lost. He regained his leadership of the party when Sharon left Likud to form Kadima in 2005, just before the 2006 elections.

'Existential' threat?

During his first stint as prime minister, Netanyahu addressed the US Congress, telling legislators that "time is running out" to deal with Iran. "The deadline for attaining this goal is extremely close," he said.

Bibi does not believe leaders of the Islamic Republic are necessarily rational actors, and has said Iran poses an "existential threat" to Israel. He has threatened unilateral military action against Iran on several occasions.

"As long as I am prime minister, Iran will not have an atomic bomb," he said in 2013. "If there's no other way, Israel is ready to act [with force]."

His relationship with former US President Barack Obama has been described as "frosty", as Obama has, on occasion, criticised the continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

"We will carrying on building in Jerusalem and in all the places that are on the map of Israel's strategic interests," Netanyahu said.

The election of Donald Trump was eagerly greeted by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Coming after a rocky eight years in US-Israel relations under President Barack Obama, their meeting in Washington, DC, was intended to signal a "reset" in relations between the two sides.

Trump, who is relentlessly pro-Israel and has repeatedly spoken disparagingly about Palestinians has challenged the legitimacy of Palestinian demands for a state.

On December 6, Trump broke with decades of US policy and has announced that the US formally recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will begin the process of moving its embassy to the city.

Netanyahu welcomed the decision, and said it was "a historic day" for Israel. Jerusalem "has been the capital of Israel for nearly 70 years," he said in a statement.

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