Israel Swears In Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Installs New Government

Published April 2nd, 2009 - 05:24 GMT

Election Expert Contacts (Israel-based, U.S.-based)
Background on Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, Ehud Barak

• New Israeli government sworn in Tuesday
• Likud PM Netanyahu promises to remain a “partner in peace" with the Palestinians
• Government takes oath 30 years after Likud signed peace treaty with Egypt

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in Tuesday (March 31) as Israel’s 13th prime minister, ushering in a new right-centrist government led by the Likud party. In addition to serving as prime minister, Netanyahu took on the roles of minister of economic strategy, health and pensioner affairs. [1]
Said Netanyahu Tuesday in an address before the Knesset, "Israel has always, and today more than ever, striven to reach full peace with the entire Arab and Muslim world." Speaking about his hopes for "full peace" with the Palestinians, Netanyahu emphasized that "Under the permanent status agreement, the Palestinians will have all the authority to rule themselves." [2]

Netanyahu reiterated that his top priority as prime minister is to stop the threat of Iran. “The greatest danger to humanity, and to our country Israel, stems from the possibility of a radical regime arming itself with nuclear weapons," said Netanyahu. "We shall not allow anybody or any country to put any question mark over our existence." [3]

Israeli President Shimon Peres asked Netanyahu Feb. 20 to form Israel’s next government, following national parliamentary elections 10 days earlier. [4] He succeeded in putting together a government, garnering a 69-seat majority in the 120-seat parliament. [5]

Netanyahu succeeds Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. [6] Netanyahu formerly served as Israel’s prime minister from 1996 - 1999, at which time he lost the campaign for reelection to the Labor party’s Ehud Barak.

The new prime minister promises to remain a “partner in peace†with the Palestinians, stressing numerous times in recent weeks increased security arrangements and a continuation of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. [7] “I think that the Palestinians should understand that they have in our government a partner for peace, for security, for the rapid development of the Palestinian economy,†Netanyahu said. [8]

"Peace ... is a common and enduring goal for all Israelis and Israeli governments, mine included. This means I will negotiate with the Palestinian Authority for peace." [9] Netanyahu also said, "The government I am forming will do its utmost to achieve a just and lasting peace with all our neighbours and the Arab world in general." [10]

Netanyahu said that while continuing talks with moderate Palestinians, he would seek "to weave an economic peace alongside the political process" that "gives a stake in peace for the moderate elements in the Palestinian society."

The plan will include creating "thousands of jobs and the development of infrastructure" and the removal of Israeli roadblocks across the West Bank in order to allow Palestinian movement "without impeding Israeli society." [11]

Likud: First party to sign a peace treaty with an Arab country

Since the Likud party was founded in 1973, its leadership has made security a priority in its negotiations with the Palestinians and Israel’s neighboring Arab countries. The Likud party was responsible for signing Israel’s first peace treaty with an Arab country, Egypt.

March 26 marked the 30-year anniversary of peace between Israel and Egypt. In 1979, Likud Chairman and Prime Minister Menachem Begin returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in exchange for peace and normalized relations.

Former Foreign Minister and Vice Premier Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party narrowly won the most seats in the Feb. 10 general elections, capturing 28 seats, with Likud taking 27 seats, but Livni did not have the best ability to form a unity coalition government. [12] Rather than join Netanyahu’s center-right coalition, Livni declared that Kadima would govern from the opposition. [13]

Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s Labor Party agreed to join the Likud-led coalition, adding 13 seats to Likud’s 27. [14] Barak keeps his position as defense minister under Netanyahu’s premiership. [15]

Yisrael Beiteinu, the party led by Avigdor Lieberman, also joined the coalition with 15 seats. Lieberman serves as the new government's foreign minister. [16] Yisrael Beiteinu is Hebrew for “Israel our Home.†The Orthodox Shas party, led by Eli Yishai recently agreed to join Netanyahu’s government, bringing an additional 10 seats. [17]

Top Three Ministers in New Israeli Government

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu is chairman of the Likud Party and Israel’s 13th prime minister. He was also Israel’s ninth prime minister, serving as premier from 1996 -1999. [18]

Netanyahu was elected to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in 1988 and was appointed deputy minister of foreign affairs by then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Netanyahu was a senior member of the Israeli delegation to the Madrid Conference in 1991, an international effort to initiate a peace process between Israel and its neighbors. [19]

Netanyahu was elected Likud Party chairman in 1993, and in 1996 narrowly defeated contender Shimon Peres in a direct leadership election. [20]

As prime minister, Netanyahu continued peace negotiations with the Palestinians and signed the Wye River Memorandum, which was to lead to a withdrawal of Israeli forces in the major Palestinian population centers of the West Bank, including the city of Hebron. After initial Israeli redeployments, the Likud-led government determined that reciprocal efforts by the Palestinians to combat terrorism were insufficient and further redeployments were suspended. [21]

Netanyahu lost the prime ministerial election in 1999 to Labor leader Ehud Barak and subsequently stayed away from front-line politics. In 2002, he was appointed foreign minister by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and in 2003, after losing the Likud primary election to Sharon, was appointed finance minister, a position he held until August 2005. During this time, Netanyahu carried out a number of liberalizing reforms to the Israeli economy. [22]

Netanyahu resigned as finance minister in August 2005, in protest of Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. After Sharon left the party to form Kadima, Netanyahu again became Likud chairman. [23]

Netanyahu was born in Tel Aviv in 1949 - the first Israeli prime minister born after the state of Israel was established in 1948. He was the youngest Israeli leader ever when he won the 1996 election. Netanyahu served with current Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the ultra-elite Israeli commando unit, Sayeret Matkal, participating in the Sabena plane hostage rescue. He fought in the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and reached the rank of captain. He is married, has three children and lives in Jerusalem. [24]

Netanyahu spent his high school years in the United States and received a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s degree in management studies from M.I.T. He also studied political science at M.I.T. and Harvard University. [25]

Avigdor Lieberman

Avigdor Lieberman is chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) and Israel’s new foreign minister.

Lieberman served as the administrative head of the Likud Party from 1993-1996 and was director-general of Benjamin Netanyahu’s prime minister’s office from 1996-1997. [26] In 1999, he split from the Likud and formed Yisrael Beiteinu. Lieberman was first elected to the Knesset in 1999 as head of his new party, which took four seats. [27]

Lieberman served as national infrastructure minister from 2001 - 2002 in then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s first government and was minister for strategic affairs from 2006 - 2008 under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. [28]

Lieberman was widely noted for his outspoken campaign slogans on subjects relating to national allegiance and Israel’s relations with the Arab community.

Following the election and declarations that he rejects a two-state solution, Lieberman told The Washington Post he agreed “to vacate my settlement if there really will be a two-state solution.†[29]

Lieberman restated on other occasions that he is in favor of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, notably in interviews with The Washington Post and a column in the U.S. publication The Jewish Week [30] in which he wrote, “I…advocate the creation of a viable Palestinian state." [31]

He also wrote, “I stand at the head of the most diverse political party in the Knesset. Four out of our first 10 Knesset members are women. Three out of our first 10 have a physical disability. Hamad Amer is a pillar of the Druze community. Anastassia Michaeli is the first convert to enter the Knesset. [32]

“As part of the next government, I look forward to working with President Obama. I know that U.S.-Israel relations are as strong as ever, and that our shared values and interests make our friendship unshakable.†[33]

An important plank in Lieberman’s party platform is its advocacy of secular rights, such as instituting civil marriage. [34]

“Legislation that Yisrael Beiteinu views as essential," Lieberman said last summer, “includes legislation aimed at simplifying conversion procedures, civil marriage solutions and efforts to change the system of government." [35]

Lieberman was born in Kishinev, Moldova in 1958, then part of the USSR, and immigrated to Israel at age 20. He is married and has three children. [36]

Ehud Barak

Ehud Barak is Labor party chairman and Israel’s defense minister. Barak was Israel’s 10th prime minister, serving from 1999 - 2001. [37]

Born on Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon, Barak served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for 36 years, achieving the rank of lieutenant general and rising to chief of staff, the most senior position in the IDF. Barak was commander of the ultra-elite commando unit Sayeret Matkal, participating and directing a number of high-profile counterterrorism operations including the Sabena plane hostage rescue and the Entebbe operation in Uganda. He ended his military career as Israel’s most decorated soldier. [38]

After retiring from military service, Barak was elected to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) as a member of the Labor party in 1996 and was a leading member of the Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee. In June 1997, Barak was elected chairman of Labor and defeated Benjamin Netanyahu by a wide margin in the May 1999 direct prime ministerial elections. [39]

As prime minister, Barak oversaw Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000. He also participated in the Camp David Summit of July 2000, hosted by U.S. President Clinton, aimed at achieving a final status agreement to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. During the summit, Barak reportedly made a number of substantial concessions to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. However, the summit ultimately failed to achieve a final agreement. [40]

In September 2000, the Second Intifada erupted. In December 2000, Barak resigned as prime minister and initiated a new direct election for the post of prime minister in the face of coalition unrest. Before the election, Barak made a last-minute effort to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians at the January 2001 Taba summit, but this too was unsuccessful. Barak was defeated by Ariel Sharon in the February 2001 prime ministerial election. [41]

Barak took some time out from politics but returned in June 2007, winning the Labor primary’s race for chairman. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appointed Barak defense minister and deputy prime minister. Barak, along with IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, oversaw the overhaul of various aspects of the IDF’s training and organization, and presided over Israel’s defensive “Operation Cast Lead†from Dec. 27, 2008 to Jan. 18, 2009, aimed at damaging Iran-backed Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure. [42]

Barak earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a master's degree in economic engineering systems from Stanford University. [43]

He is married and has three daughters. [44]


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