Saturday, January 3, 2009

10 Names to Learn: Benjamin Netanyahu

If there's anyone on this list who might be disqualified on the basis that he is already a known world figure, it's Benjamin Netanyahu. As the hard-line Prime Minister of Israel in the 1990s, "Bibi" gained a strong reputation and the adoration of right-wing Israel supporters everywhere. Then, in a flash, the youngest Prime Minister in Israeli history was gone - pummeled in the 1999 elections by Ehud Barak of the leftist Labor Party. So, why is a well known figure from the last decade on a list of emerging world leaders? Well, don't look now, but after a decade in the political wilderness, it appears that yesterday's man will soon be back with a vengeance.

After his defeat to Barak, Netanyahu temporarily retired from politics, allowing Ariel Sharon to take over the leadership of his conservative Likud Party. However, Netanyahu would quickly return to the political melee. Sharon went on to become Prime Minister in 2001, and in 2002 he made Netanyahu as his Foreign Minister. After Sharon's 2003 re-election, Bibi moved to the Finance Ministry, where he won praise for implementing free-market reforms on Israel's economy. However, while both were having great success in government, the conservative Netanyahu and the moderate Sharon were locked in a battle for the heart and soul of the Likud Party. They fought a party leadership election in 2002 (with Sharon coming out on top), then entered a bitter feud over Sharon's plan to unilaterally withdraw all Israeli troops and settlements in the Gaza Strip. On August 7th, 2005 - days before the withdrawal was approved - Finance Minister Netanyahu tendered his resignation from Sharon's cabinet. Again, Bibi was totally out of power...or so it seemed.

Then Prime Minister Sharon shocked Israel by announcing that he was abandoning the Likud Party (whose supporters were largely against the Gaza pullout) to form a new moderate party called "Kadima" ("Forward"). Many of Likud's moderate legislators left with Sharon, and Kadima went on to win the 2006 elections under now-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (Sharon had a massive stroke and remains in a coma to this day). However, that left Netanyahu as the leader of smaller, but more conservative Likud. Still, after being decimated by both Kadima and the Labor Party in the 2006 vote, many were more inclined to see Netanyahu and his Likud as a fading force on the Israeli scene. That was before Olmert became embroiled in a corruption scandal, and the Kadima-Labor coalition government bungled the Lebanon War in 2007. With the popularity of the government tanking, Bibi quickly ceased to be "yesterday's man" as Likud surged ahead of the Labor and Kadima in opinion polls.

With an election looming in February, Likud remains ahead in most polls, and Benajmin Netanyahu could culminate his ten-year rehabilitation by storming back into the Prime Minister's office. The delicious irony is that, in order to regain power, Netanyahu will have to stare down the two forces that marginalized him in the first place - Sharon's moderate followers in Kadima (now lead by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni) and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who engineered a political comeback of his own to win the Labor Party leadership in 2007.

Should he win the election (he's currently polling neck-and-neck with Livni) , Netanyahu will likely be leading Israel's most hard-line government in recent history. While he was known for being tough on the Palestinians in his first term as PM, this time he be leading a much different governing party. Gone are Sharon, Livni, Olmert, and the other moderates who were once power players in Likud - they're all with Kadima now. Instead, Likud is has swung solidly to the right, and Netanyahu may actually be one of the more moderate members of the party. With a reborn Likud Party behind him, don't expect Prime Minister Netanyahu to take any nonsense from Hamas, Hezbollah, or Iran. Bibi has never been hesitant to defend his country using any means necessary, which means that he will not only stand up to his enemies, but also that he will stand up to the new American president if he needs to.

Any terrorist in his right mind knows better than to make Bibi angry, and that's why he earns the title of "The Enforcer".
Stay tuned tomorrow to meet "The Money Man"

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I think the interesting thing here is the parallel between Likud and our own Republican party. Both have had internal battles between moderates and conservatives. In Israel, it spawned a third party of moderates, about to lose favor to a strong conservative remnant in a time of war. Could the same happen here???