Benjamin Netanyahu

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Prime Minister of Israel

"But I think, at the end of the day, we have to knock down this terror network. I think this is the second wake-up call. It's not as ferocious as September 11th. But the image, the horrible image of 250 people or 500 people dropping from the sky in a great explosion is something that doesn't require that much imagination. And this could be replicated time and time again." (ABC Interview, Dec. 2002)

"Peace is Israel’s strategic objective. We hope it is the objective of the Arab states. But, the peace process can be made hostage to any prior conditions. Peace talks must be linked to security for all the peoples in the region. Threats to security are incompatible with negotiations."

"The test of peace agreements is security, and on this we shall not compromise. We will not compromise on the security of Israel or it’s citizens, and we will not countenance attacks on our children--be it in Jerusalem or Hebron, Tel Aviv or Ariel, Kiryat Shmona or Kfar. Zionism is not dead...We will encourage this spirit; we will encourage pioneering settlement in the Land of Israel: in the Negev, Galilee, Judea and Samaria, and the Golan. The settlers are the real pioneers of our day, and they deserve support and appreciation. But above all we will guard and strengthen Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, undivided under the sovereignty of the State of Israel."

"If they give-they’ll get. If they don’t give- they won’t get."


You are Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel and leader of the Likud party. Born in Tel Aviv in 1949, you grew up in Jerusalem and you are married with three children. During your term of service in the Israel Defense Forces, from 1967-72, you were a member of an elite anti-terrorism unit. After military service, you were educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked in the United States and Israel in consulting and management positions. Your books and articles on terrorism have been widely published both in the United States and abroad. From 1976 to the present you have been the president of the Jonathan Institute, an anti-terrorism research foundation named for your brother Jonathan, who was killed while rescuing Israeli hostages at Entebbe. Overall, you have always positioned yourself in public relations capacities, owing to the fact that you are well-spoken, telegenic, and speak flawless American English.

As a member of the Likud you have held many political posts, mainly in foreign affairs. From 1982-84 you were deputy chief of mission to the United States and ambassador to the United Nations from 1984-88. After being elected to the Knesset in 1988, you were named deputy foreign minister, then deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s office from 1991-92. As such you were a spokesman for Israel during the Gulf war and participated in the Madrid Peace conference. In 1993 you were chosen as leader of the Likud party and you were elected Prime Minister in June of 1996. Analysts feel that this election was a reflection of Israeli frustration with the stalled Madrid peace process, and a desire to see a more security-oriented government confront Palestinian factions which were still condoning military and terrorist actions against Israeli civilians.

Prime Minister

The changes you helped to create in Israel’s electoral system in 1992 allowed you to become arguably the most powerful Prime Minister Israel has ever had. In the 1996 election, Israelis were allowed to cast two ballots, one for a specific candidate for prime minister and one for a party. As the first Israeli Prime Minister chosen by direct election, you thus had a strong mandate from the people. You attempted to expand your power by moving toward a more presidential system, creating a National Security Council and a Council of Economic Advisors based on the American model. Your firmness in distributing cabinet positions and managing the many parties within the Likud coalition showed an initial strength in office (and the fact that you grew up in America and liked its political system).  That firmness was powerfully challenged, however, by David Levy and Ariel Sharon. When the hardline General Sharon, who led Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, was passed over for a cabinet position, David Levy publicly demanded that Sharon be included, threatening to resign otherwise. This demand forced you not only to omit Levy’s name when presenting your cabinet to the Knesset, but ultimately to give Sharon a new and powerful ministry of infrastructure. Though not fatal, this episode seriously damaged your credibility. Sharon would emerge as one of your biggest challengers within the party during your tenure as Prime Minister. He was quite literally a living legend within Israel’s right wing, and only his checkered military record during the Lebanon war kept him from directly dominating the Likud from the mid-1990s onward. You might have been the technical head of Likud, but you never had the strength to truly challenge Sharon, though you were sometimes able to outmaneuver him.  Your domestic policy positions as Prime Minister reflected your ties to Israel’s business community, and the Likud’s general support of private enterprise. Drawing support from Likud´s traditional business constituency, you supported increased privatization to renew Israel’s flagging economy. Your domestic policy goals also reflected the views of the religious conservatives in the Likud coalition. You supported expanded settlements, including settlements in the West Bank (called Judea and Samaria by you and other settlement advocates). Strengthening Jewish identity and values through education and the media was also part of your domestic agenda, which was favored by your Orthodox constituents. 

The Peace Process

Though many commentators saw your election as a death knell for the peace process, others interpreted your election as the people choosing a shrewder, more pragmatic negotiator to replace your idealistic but ineffective predecessor Shimon Peres. Your main focus was on maintaining the security of the State of Israel--you supported a peace-for-peace solution to replace the land-for-peace option supported by your predecessor. Negotiation without preconditions was the central theme in most of your foreign policy comments, though many commentators, citing your refusal to give up land, saw that as hypocritical.

At the urging of US President Bill Clinton you signed a memorandum known as the “Wye River Accord” with Yasser Arafat in 1995. This agreement would have incrementally transferred Israeli-occupied territory to full Palestinian control, with the provision that Arafat work from his end to shut down Palestinian militant groups. You did not feel that Arafat upheld his end of the bargain, so the plan faltered after less than 2% of the agreed upon land exchanges had occurred. Ultimately, you failed to uphold many of the agreed upon steps of the Oslo accords, because you felt that they jeopardized the security of Israel without giving tangible results, and despite your commitment to Israel’s security, you are generally remembered less than favorably as the Prime Minister who allowed the Oslo process to derail. You were soundly beaten by Labor candidate Ehud Barak in 1999, and temporarily retired from public life.

Sharon’s Government

You returned to government in 2000, when Ariel Sharon, now the head of Likud, became the Prime Minister of Israel at a time when Israelis had lost all hope in the peace process. The al-Aqsa Intifada began soon thereafter, and you, Sharon’s foreign minister, became the public voice of an Israeli government that was focused primarily on stopping the terrorist threats of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. Your skill at public relations (especially with America) made you well suited to this job, especially after 9/11, when you successfully convinced many policy makers that America and Israel were fighting the same “Islamic Hydra,” in your colorful words. When Sharon formed his second government in 2003 you were made finance minister, where you aggressively overhauled key components of Israel’s banking system, which have since (debatably) improved Israel’s overall GDP. 

Despite your loyalty to the Likud, you never got along with Sharon, and this rift between the two of you became more pronounced during 2004, when Sharon began floating the idea of withdrawing completely from certain areas of the Occupied Territories, without any consultations with the Palestinians. As a firm supporter of the settler movement and a harsh skeptic of the Palestinian political establishment, you strenuously objected to this idea—once, you went so far as to insinuate that Sharon’s policies, less hardline than your own, actually aided suicide bombers in carrying out their missions. As Sharon moved forward on his Gaza disengagement plan through late 2004 and 2005, you became the rallying point for Likudniks who disagreed with Sharon’s plan. This disagreement became so bitter that you resigned in August 2005, shortly before Sharon’s cabinet, now supported by Labor and other leftist blocs, ordered Israeli troops to forcibly remove Israeli settlers from Gaza. For you this was the point of no return, and after August 2005 you and your close associates in the conservative wing of Likud did everything you could to oust Sharon from power. Ultimately, Ariel Sharon ousted himself.

Kadima, Olmert, and the Future

In November 2005 Sharon left Likud and founded a new political party, Kadima, which aimed to complete Sharon’s disengagement policy. He took many younger and moderate members of Likud with him, which left you as the new leader of a leaner, more ideologically conservative Likud party. Even after Sharon went into a coma in January 2006, Kadima proved a formidable political opponent, and under Sharon’s successor Ehud Olmert Kadima trounced Likud in 2006 parliamentary elections. Olmert formed a coalition government with Likud’s traditional rival, the left-wing Labor party, and this new government then swore to uphold Sharon’s policies, disengaging from the Palestinians and securely redrawing the map of Israel. Needless to say, you quickly became the leader of the parliamentary opposition.

As leader of the opposition, you had to deal with the fact that Israel faced a Palestinian Authority headed by Hamas, which won Palestine’s parliamentary elections by a landslide in 2006. You used this event to call into question the entirety of Olmert and Kadima’s Palestine policy: after Israel withdrew from Gaza, the Palestinians proceeded to elect their most radical leaders to positions of power, none of which would have been possible if Olmert hadn’t allowed the Palestinians of Gaza to organize politically in the first place. You have therefore blamed Olmert personally for the election of Hamas, and argued that Kadima’s policy of half-hearted acquiescence to Palestinian demands (even if they haven’t negotiated with the PA directly) has only rewarded Palestinian radicals, which simply puts Israel at greater risk from terrorist attacks. 

Even though you represented a small portion of the Knesset, Olmert himself actually made your job easier by seriously bungling several critical issues, the most striking of which was the July 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war, which Olmert claimed would both destroy Hezbollah and recover Israel’s kidnapped soldiers. Seeing as neither of these events occurred, and Hezbollah actually turned wartime propaganda to its political advantage, you were able to very successfully criticize the ability of Olmert’s government to defend the State of Israel, the one issue which detractors could never seriously hold against you or Likud. You capitalized on Olmert’s failure by calling for an independent commission to examine the failures of leadership which led to these inconclusive results, though Olmert’s government blocked all such attempts. Undeterred, you harped on the Hezbollah issue as a way of drawing attention to the purported nuclear threat posed by their patron, the Islamic Republic of Iran. By taking a tough stance against Iran, comparing it to Nazi Germany and its president to Hitler, you forced Olmert to also engage in tough rhetoric against the Iranian nuclear program. This ultimately played to the advantage of Likud, since Olmert’s lackluster wartime record could not seriously compare to Likud’s proven commitment to militarily deterring foes of Israel. You were especially successful at plying this anti-Iranian rhetoric to American audiences, particularly Christian conservatives, which gave you a strong international edge on your Kadima and Labor opponents. You skillfully framed the debate on how to properly confront Iran, which made you look like the kind of strong and decisive leader Israel needed. 

Your rhetoric paid off: by the time of the 2009 parliamentary elections, Likud had staged a remarkable comeback. Coming back from the political wilderness, you led Likud to a strong second place finish in the 2009 elections, and owing to wider support in the Knesset, you were awarded the first opportunity to form a government, which you did successfully. Your coalition was largely conservative, incorporating the conservative Yisrael Beitenu party, along with the religious Shas party and, to the surprise of many, the center-left Labor party, led by Ehud Barak (who retained the Defense Ministership in your coalition). 

Netanyahu II: 2009-13

Your new government was the first Israeli government in the last twenty years to not appear to be on best terms with the United States, which is an essential relationship to maintain for the state of Israel. At the beginning of your time in office, the issue of the settlements that have been growing for decades had become one of concern for President Obama. He wanted to freeze the expansion, while you have stated that a complete stoppage of the settlements is not plausible, as your people need room for natural growth. The idea of natural growth is to allow the people who live there to continue to live their lives, to build buildings and houses that they need to survive. This does not mean having more people move to the region, but rather that the people that are already there can continue to live their life as they have planned.

They can have kids, build the proper schools, hospitals, etc. to ensure a proper way of life. From the outset, President Obama was very critical of your stance on this issue, and as a result tensions continued to rise. Complicating matters was the fact that Tzipi Livni, an important and influential member of the opposing party and your chief peace negotiator during this time, agreed with President Obama. Those who oppose the settlements feel that they are the reason for lack of progress towards a two-state solution. Many on the Palestinian front are hoping for pre-1967 borders, and the settlements were part of their land then, so before peace can be discussed, the settlements must stop. The opposition wants a complete stop, no more natural growth, no growth at all. In a speech at Bar-Ilan University in June of 2009, in what many saw as a response to Obama’s speech in Cairo, you publically advocated a two-state solution for the first time, though you demanded from the Palestinians that they recognize Israel as the “state of the Jewish people,” that Palestine completely demilitarize, and that a “united Jerusalem” remain the capital of Israel. The last of these remains a stumbling block to peace, given that Palestinians envision East Jerusalem as their future capital. In addition, the 10-month settlement freeze that you announced later that year had little effect, mostly because construction continued in existing settlements, including East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu III: 2013-15

The general elections of 2013 returned you to power, this time as part of an alliance between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu. Shortly after the beginning of your term, a series of peace talks were held between Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Palestinian statesman Saeb Erekat, and US Secretary of State John Kerry. The talks began promisingly, but were derailed by several announcements of new settlement construction in the West Bank. Relations with the Palestinians took a turn for the worst when in 2014 Hamas and Fatah announced a new plan to form a unity government. From your perspective, this meant that no negotiations could proceed, since even though Abbas has repeatedly recognized Israel, the charter of Hamas still calls for its destruction.

Then, the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank (carried out by a member of Hamas, though Hamas leadership has denied involvement) led to military clashes in the West Bank, rockets launched by Hamas in Gaza, and Operation Protective Edge: an Israeli bombing campaign followed by a ground invasion. Six Israeli civilians were killed, compared to more than 1,500 civilians in Gaza. In December, you dismissed Livni and one other cabinet minister from your difficult-to-manage coalition, forcing a new election. In addition, with US-Israeli relations at a near all-time low, you accepted an invitation from John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, to address a joint session of Congress, without consulting with the Obama administration. The fact of speech was controversial, not only because of existing tensions with the White House, but because it was given during your election campaign. In substance, you mainly reiterated your fears concerning the Iranian nuclear program, particularly in light of the JCPOC deal soon to be signed in Vienna. The campaign at home was hard-fought, with polls showing your party roughly tied with the leftist Zionist Union, led by opposition leader Issac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. Some of your statements during the campaign, including the threat that “Arab voters are going to the polls in droves; Left-wing organizations are bringing them on busses,” and “If I’m elected, there will be no Palestinian state” (which you later walked back) drew criticism both at home and abroad, including from President Obama. In the end you prevailed, though the coalition that resulted from your having alienated the centrist elements of the previous government (a grouping of the political right – Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Kulanu; and the religious right – Shas, United Torah Judaism, The Jewish Home) threatened to leave you little room for flexibility or compromise.

Netanyahu IV: 2015-Present

On December 23, 2016, the United States abstained from voting on UN resolution 2334, which condemned all settlement activity (including “natural growth”) as a criminal endeavor and an obstacle to the two-state solution. You denounced the resolution, as well as John Kerry’s subsequent address in which he explained the abstention, claiming that continued settlement activity would not only kill the two-state solution, but would force a choice between a Jewish state and a democratic one. However, you have made no secret of your admiration for Donald Trump, whose statements during the campaign seemed to promise a more unambiguous support of your government’s policies, as well as an agreement on the threat posed by Iran.

On December 23, 2016, the United States abstained from voting on UN resolution 2334, which condemned all settlement activity (including “natural growth”) as a criminal endeavor and an obstacle to the two-state solution. You denounced the resolution, as well as John Kerry’s subsequent address in which he explained the abstention, claiming that continued settlement activity would not only kill the two-state solution, but would force a choice between a Jewish state and a democratic one. However, you have made no secret of your admiration for Donald Trump, whose statements during the campaign seemed to promise a more unambiguous support of your government’s policies, as well as an agreement on the threat posed by Iran.

U.S.-Israel relations have enjoyed great success during the Presidency of Donald Trump. A vocal supporter of the State of Israel, President Trump has expressed his dislike for the “Iran Deal,” endorsed Congressional funding for the Israeli military (including the Iron Dome), and most notably, moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As a close friend and ally to President Trump, you are grateful for his actions and eagerly await the unveiling of his peace plan.

Roleplaying Notes

You are suave and eloquent in English and Hebrew, and work very well in front of a TV camera. This has not always worked to your advantage, because a history of talk show interviews has made you prone to dramatic and superficial statements about Israel and its place in the world, which play directly to conservatives in America but make you something of a diplomatic pariah otherwise, especially in Europe and the Arab world, where your divisive views are seen as poisonous to any peace process. You are somewhat opportunistic, and since you are also a firm believer in your own abilities, this means you have a history of exploiting political circumstances to gain political power, as evidenced when you dramatically resigned from the Sharon government in 2005 to protest the Gaza withdrawal. All the same, you are a true believer in the security of Israel, which you feel is based on military strength and impenetrable defenses, not necessarily half-hearted diplomacy with enemy Arab states. You share this opinion with many American officials, particularly in the Bush and Trump administrations, which has made you a powerful and effective lobbyist for Israel in the US.

Domestically, however, your ability to get along with Americans is offset by the fact that many Israelis feel you were already given one chance to advance the peace process, and you botched it. It remains to be seen whether you can transcend what some consider to be your somewhat narrow interest in Israel’s security to create a political climate where peace becomes even a remote possibility in the near future, or whether such a change interests you in the slightest. In previous eras, the only times when you showed a desire to compromise with the Palestinians were when you felt pressure from the US, or when a centrist element of your governing coalition (such as Kadima) could reduce the need to appease the far right, for whom compromise is not an option. Today, neither of these elements are present. The task before you is nothing less than the forging of a lasting peace, without alienating the far right and its desire for a complete annexation of the West Bank, while at the same time maintaining your image as the greatest guarantor of Israeli national security. To do so will require you to move beyond short term political calculation, but in the absence of countervailing pressures it seems more likely that you will simply stay the course.

Works Cited ---Likudnik interview on general matters

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