Is Biden looking to see Netanyahu step aside?

Despite his deep and long-standing ties with US politics, the Israeli Prime Minister seems to have fallen out of favor in Washington

Since the attack by militarized groups associated with the Palestinian movement Hamas on Israel on October 7, and the subsequent conflict in Gaza, special attention from the media has been drawn to the transformation of relations between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the administration of US President Joseph Biden.

For experts analyzing the relationship between Netanyahu and the US authorities in historical retrospect, the current “cooling” did not come as a particular surprise. It would be useful to examine Netanyahu’s biography and political career, which is closely linked to the US.

American boy Ben Nitay

Benjamin Netanyahu, a dominant figure in Israeli politics, has had a career marked by resilience, controversy, and strategic acumen. As the longest-serving Israeli prime minister, Netanyahu’s political journey encompasses several terms in office, starting from 1996 to 1999 and then from 2009 onwards, with his leadership persisting through various coalitions and political climates.

Netanyahu was born in 1949 in Tel Aviv. His mother, Tzila Segal (1912–2000), was born in Jerusalem, and his father, Warsaw native Benzion Netanyahu (Mileikowsky; 1910–2012), was a historian specializing in the Jewish Golden Age in Spain. His paternal grandfather, Nathan Mileikowsky, was a rabbi and Zionist writer. The activities of his grandfather and father had a significant influence on the formation of Netanyahu’s nationalist ideas.

Between 1956 and 1958, and then from 1963 to 1967, his family lived in the US in Cheltenham Township, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, while his father, Benzion Netanyahu, taught at Dropsie College. After finishing high school in 1967, Netanyahu returned to Israel to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), during which time he participated in a series of military operations and was wounded multiple times. In 1972, he completed his service and was discharged.

Netanyahu returned to the US at the end of that same year to study architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). After a brief return to Israel to participate in the Yom Kippur War, he went back to the US and, under the name Ben Nitay, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in architecture in February 1975, followed by a Master of Science degree from the Sloan School of Management at MIT in June 1976. 

Simultaneously, he pursued a Ph.D. in political science until his studies were interrupted by the tragic news of his brother’s death in the same year, who had participated in the Entebbe raid, an anti-terrorist operation to free hostages taken on a flight from Tel Aviv to Paris in Uganda. Netanyahu’s close circle noted that the years of service in the IDF and then the death of his brother further hardened his position regarding the Palestinian issue. 

After spending a few months in Israel, ‘Bibi’ returned to the US again and started working as an economic consultant for the Boston Consulting Group, where he met and befriended Mitt Romney, a Republican politician who would later serve as the Massachusetts governor, run against Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, and then become the junior senator from Utah in 2019.

Thus, it can be noted that before starting out in Israeli politics, Netanyahu had formed a significant career and connections in the US, which later determined the priority directions of his foreign policy.

The rise of a young politician

In 1978, Netanyahu returned to Israel. From 1978 to 1980, he led the Jonathan Netanyahu Anti-Terrorism Institute (named after his late brother), a non-governmental organization focused on the study of terrorism. From 1980 to 1982, he was the marketing director of Rim Industries in Jerusalem. During this period, he established his first connections with several Israeli politicians, including Moshe Arens. In 1982, Arens became the Israeli ambassador to the US and took Netanyahu with him to Washington as his deputy. From 1984 to 1988, Netanyahu served as the Israeli ambassador to the UN. 

In 1988, Netanyahu returned to Israel and was elected to the Knesset as a member of the Likud party. He quickly rose through the party ranks, holding several ministerial positions, including deputy minister of foreign affairs.

In 1996, Netanyahu became the youngest person ever to hold the post of prime minister of Israel, after defeating Shimon Peres in highly competitive elections. His first term was marked by a tough stance on security issues and a cautious approach to the peace process with the Palestinians, despite signing the Hebron and Wye River agreements, which facilitated the implementation of the Oslo Accords.

After losing the 1999 election to Ehud Barak and taking a brief break from political leadership, Netanyahu returned with renewed force. He served as minister of foreign affairs and minister of finance in Ariel Sharon’s government, advocating for economic reforms and a hard line against the Palestinian intifada.

Netanyahu’s political resilience was fully demonstrated when he regained the Likud leadership and then the prime minister’s office in 2009. He then served several consecutive terms until June 2021, leading Israel through numerous challenges, including security threats, diplomatic isolation, and internal issues.

Netanyahu’s tenure has been characterized by a hard stance on security issues, particularly regarding Iran and its nuclear program, as well as a firm policy on combating terrorism. His government expanded Israeli settlements in the West Bank, leading to international criticism and tension with the Palestinians. Domestically, Netanyahu has championed a neoliberal economic policy, which spurred economic growth but also increased social inequality.

He faced numerous corruption charges, leading to widespread protests and calls for his resignation. Despite these challenges, Netanyahu has proven to be a political survivor, using his diplomatic skills, media experience, and a deep understanding of Israeli society to maintain his power.

He returned to lead the country’s government in December 2022. But this time, he decided to consolidate his power and initiated a legal reform at the beginning of 2023. This move has sparked significant controversy and protests in Israeli society. The reform involves a series of changes in the Israeli judicial system, which supporters explain as necessary to strengthen democratic principles and the balance of powers, while critics see it as a threat to democracy and the independence of the judicial system.

The cataclysms of Bibi’s relations with American authorities

Netanyahu’s relations with the US have been and remain a central aspect of his political career, reflecting a complex interplay of diplomacy, personal relations with US leaders, and at times, contentious political disagreements. These relationships have spanned the administrations of several US presidents, from Bill Clinton to Joe Biden, and have been characterized by both close cooperation and notable frictions.

Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister (1996-1999) coincided with the presidency of Bill Clinton. The two leaders had a rocky relationship, primarily due to disagreements over the peace process with the Palestinians and Israel’s settlement policy. The US sought to advance the Oslo Agreements and was often at odds with Netanyahu’s more security-oriented approach. 

Relations between Netanyahu and the US improved during George W. Bush’s presidency, especially when Netanyahu was finance minister. The Bush administration’s strong stance on combating terrorism after the September 11 attacks aligned with Netanyahu’s security policies. Moreover, Bush’s support for Israel’s right to self-defense resonated with Netanyahu’s governmental and personal philosophy.

Significant tension rose during Barack Obama’s presidency. Firstly, Bibi was displeased with Washington’s support for protest movements and state coups in the Middle East during the Arab Spring. The Israeli prime minister was convinced that the revolutions would lead to power in Arab countries falling to proponents of radical Islamist movements, which in turn would lead to problems and conflicts with his country. However, in the White House, his concerns were disregarded, and the countries’ positions on this issue were diametrically opposed.

Another major point of contention was the nuclear deal with Iran (JCPOA), which Netanyahu vehemently