Binyamin Netanyahu was one of Israel’s most conservative and controversial prime ministers, serving only three years, from 1996 to 1999. Today Netanyahu is viewed as one of two chief rivals to Israel’s ruling Kadima Party in the upcoming election. The other is the Labor Party’s leader Amir Peretz.
When Netanyahu was elected by a very narrow margin in 1996, he became the country’s youngest prime minister and the first to be born after the creation of the Israeli state. Netanyahu ran on an extreme-right platform, saying Israel would concede no land to Palestine, which alienated him from the left. But while in office, he succumbed to U.S. pressure to return land to Palestine, which caused him to lose popularity with the right.
He called elections 17 months early, in 1999, and was removed from office. Netanyahu retired temporarily from politics after his weak term as prime minister, but made a comeback in 2002 when Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon appointed him foreign minister.
While serving as foreign minister, Netanyahu tried several times, without success, to take over the party leadership from Sharon. In August 2005, however, he resigned in protest of Sharon’s Gaza Disengagement Plan. When Sharon resigned from Likud in November 2005 to form a new party, Netanyahu became head of Likud.
Netanyahu was born in Tel Aviv in 1949 and was educated in the United States, at MIT and Harvard. His father is a prominent professor of Jewish history and a former editor of the Hebrew Encyclopedia. He is married to his third wife and has three children.