End of the road for Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving PM

Netanyahu’s 12-year stretch as prime minister ends after opposition leader Yair Lapid forms new government without him.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently under investigation on corruption charges [File: Amit Shabi/Reuters]

Rival politicians in Israel have formed a new government to remove Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader, from power.

After four parliamentary elections in two years, opposition leader Yair Lapid, a former TV news anchor, put together a coalition with Naftali Bennett, a former settler leader and hard-right religious nationalist who has called for  the annexation of most of the occupied West Bank.

On Sunday, the Knesset voted 60-59 to approve the new coalition government, ending Netanyahu’s 12-year rule as prime minister.

Early years

Currently on trial for corruption, Netanyahu was Israel’s most right-wing prime minister to date, and the first Israel-born politician to become leader.

The son of a “Revisionist Zionist” from Poland, Netanyahu traces some of his roots to Spain.

Born in Jaffa in 1949, Netanyahu grew up in Jerusalem and went to high school in the United States.

His mother, Tzila Segal, was an Israeli-born Jew and his father, Benzion Netanyahu, was a secular Jew from Poland.

His father changed his name from Benzion Mileikowsky to Benzion Netanyahu after he settled in Palestine.

Netanyahu’s father 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.

In 1967, Benjamin Netanyahu joined the Israeli army and soon became an elite commando and served as captain during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

Rise to power

In 1982, Netanyahu was appointed deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Washington. In 1984, he was appointed Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

In 1988, Netanyahu was appointed as deputy foreign minister in the cabinet of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Rising to the post of the right-wing Likud party chairman in 1993, Netanyahu orchestrated the party’s return to political power after its defeat in the 1992 election.

He assumed various roles under Israel’s foreign ministry until winning the 1996 elections. His first stint as prime minister lasted until 1999. Later, he also emerged victorious in the 2009, 2013 and 2015 polls.

Netanyahu lost the Likud leadership to Ariel Sharon but regained it after the latter left Likud to form the Kadima party in 2005.

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.”

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

‘Three nos’

Netanyahu had a “three nos” mantra: No Palestinian state, no return of the Golan Heights to Syria and no discussion on the future status of Jerusalem.

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

His resignation in August 2005 as foreign minister came in protest against Sharon’s plan to disengage from Gaza, part of the Palestinian territory.

Jerusalem status

Netanyahu was adamant to continue the 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.

Donald Trump’s election as US president in 2016 was welcomed by Netanyahu.

Coming after a rocky eight years in US-Israel relations with Barack Obama in the White House, a Trump-Netanyahu meeting in Washington, DC, in early 2017 was intended to signal a “reset” in relations between the two sides.

Later that year, Trump broke with decades of US policy and announced that the US formally recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would begin the process of moving its embassy to the city.

Netanyahu welcomed the decision, and said it was “a historic day” for Israel.

A delay in Joe Biden’s first phone call to Netanyahu after taking office drew speculation that the US president was signalling displeasure with Netanyahu’s close ties with Trump.

But the 11-day Israeli assault on Gaza brought the two leaders together as Biden showed strong support for Netanyahu and his policies during Israel’s latest bombing campaign on the besieged enclave that killed more than 250 Palestinians, including at least 66 children.

Anti-Iran rhetoric

During his first stint as prime minister, Netanyahu told the US Congress that “time is running out” to deal with Iran.

“The deadline for attaining this goal is extremely close,” he said.

Netanyahu has said Iran posed an “existential threat” to Israel and 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].”

Corruption scandal

Netanyahu was indicted in 2019 in long-running cases involving gifts from millionaire friends and for allegedly seeking regulatory favours for media tycoons in return for favourable coverage.

The charges against him have been a central issue during the country’s recent elections. Netanyahu has denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty as the trial continues.

Coronavirus pandemic

Netanyahu, who turned Israel’s world-leading rollout of vaccines into a showcase of his campaign in the country’s fourth national poll in two years, has claimed victory over COVID-19 by making Israel a “vaccination nation”.

About half of the population has been inoculated at a pace that drew international praise for Netanyahu but also calls for Israel to do more to ensure Palestinians in the territories it occupies receive vaccines.

Political opponents have said he mishandled the pandemic from the start, pointing to the need for three national lockdowns and accusing him of turning a blind eye to violators within the ultra-Orthodox community that provides a power base for his key coalition partners.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies