NEW DELHI: Israel’s PM Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu believes in acting on his beliefs even if it means taking a risk or two. Knowing fully well that Barack Obama saw the US-Iran nuclear deal as a legacy of his term in office, Bibi still went ahead and lobbied Congress against the pact in March, 2015 on a Republican invite.
With an election looming in Israel, his actions were naturally seen in a political light too. But not all Israeli leaders would have bucked the US president and faced being put in the freezer thereafter. In the event, Netanyahu won a fourth term as PM and looks set to be the leader to serve longest in the post.
The charismatic and controversial leader is well known in the West, particularly in the US where he schooled, and after a period of distinguished military service, completed an undergraduate and masters degree from MIT at Boston. He is little less known in India, perhaps because of the rare visits of top ranked leaders from Israel.
The big bang visit of PM Narendra Modi to Israel that got under way on Tuesday is likely to change this. Bibi is going to be Modi’s constant host+ and his words of welcome of “swagat hai mere dost”+ is likely to go some way in making him more recognisable in India, where Israel is perceived as an innovative and tenacious nation.
Netanyahu is seen as a hard-liner and opinion on him is often split on political lines though he is not averse to cutting a deal. His stand on settlements is seen linked to a security mindset and desire to contain Hamas, but Netanyahu needs to cater to far right allies — a necessity born of Israel’s proportional representation system. An offensive he ordered against rocket attacks in 2014 left thousands of Palestinians dead.
In his negotiations with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a profile in Israeli daily Haaretz points out, Natanyahu set out “three nos” that were: no withdrawal from Golan Heights, no discussion regarding Jerusalem and no preconditioned negotiations. The talks stalled but he returned most of Hebron to Palestinian control.
After losing an election for PM, he returned to office in 2009. He clashed with Obama over construction in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem. His flamboyant style has made him popular even as his critics see him as inflexible, he can be quite pragmatic.