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Key Player: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

BY Admin  April 16, 2009 at 12:30 PM EST

The results saw the centrist Kadima party win the most seats but not enough to forge a coalition government.

Netanyahu, however, was able to form a coalition of about 70 seats in the 120-member Knesset and, in the process, created the largest Cabinet in Israel’s history when he increased the number of ministers to 30 in order to satisfy his coalition partners’ competing demands.

The premiership marked his second time at the post; he first served in the role from 1996 to 1999. Although Netanyahu was critical of the peace process’ goal of creating a Palestinian state, he turned over 80 percent of Hebron in 1997 to the Palestinian Authority. He also signed the Wye River Memorandum in 1998, which outlined more withdrawals from the West Bank, alienating some of supporters from the right, according to the BBC.

Netanyahu lost the office when the Labor party unseated his party at the polls, and Ariel Sharon took over the leadership of Likud. But in 2005, Sharon left the party to set up the centrist Kadima party, opening the door for Netanyahu to take back the reins of Likud.

Soon after, Sharon suffered a massive stroke and Ehud Olmert became the leader of the Kadima party — and Netanyahu became one of Olmert’s most vocal critics.

The 2006 Israeli war against Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which lasted a month with no clear victor, and the Israeli military offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip in late 2008 resulted in Netanyahu’s slight edge over his political rivals and his return to the premiership in 2009.

Netanyahu was born Oct. 21, 1949 in Tel Aviv. When he was 14 years old, his family moved to the United States. He received a B.S. degree in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.S. degree from the MIT Sloan School of Management and studied political science at Harvard University and MIT, according to his Web site.

Netanyahu worked for six years in the private sector and then became deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. He was appointed Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1984-88. After returning to Israel, he was elected to the Knesset in 1988 and then became leader of the Likud party in 1993.

In 2002, he became minister of foreign affairs and then minister of finance in 2003 under Sharon’s government.

Netanyahu has been married three times and has three children.