Israeli’s longest-serving PM struggles for political future

 Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu is facing the battle of his life, with crucial national elections to take place on March 2 and a corruption trial to be opened only two weeks later.

Last July, Netanyahu became the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, surpassing David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father. His election campaign focuses on how his legacy will be remembered: as a great statesman and popular leader, known by his supporters as “King Bibi,” as Bibi is Netanyahu’s often-used nickname, or as a hedonistic leader involved in corruption.

On March 17, his trial is scheduled to be opened at the Jerusalem District Court, marking the first time that an incumbent prime minister in Israel stands trial. General-Attorney Avichai Mandelblit indicted him with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in three separate corruption cases. 

In two cases, Netanyahu is suspected of providing regulatory and financial benefits to business owners of large media and telecom corporations in return for favorable media coverage. In the other case, he allegedly received expensive cigars, champagne, and jewelry worth about 1 million new shekels (293,000 U.S. dollars) from Israeli tycoon and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Netanyahu’s father, Benzion, was a Polish-born historian and a member of the nationalistic Revisionist Zionism faction. In 1956, the Netanyahu family moved to the United States, where he spent his teenage years and attended high school.

Netanyahu later returned to Israel to serve as a soldier and commander in an elite commando unit called Sayeret Matkal, before returning to the United States and obtaining academic degrees in architecture and business administration.

In 1993, he won the Likud chairmanship, becoming the official leader of the party. He expressed strong opposition to the 1993 Oslo Accords, an interim framework agreement providing the Palestinian with self-government.

In 1996, amid a wave of attacks by Palestinians which killed hundreds of Israelis, Netanyahu was elected as prime minister for the first time, beating Shimon Peres, Israel’s former president. It was a razor-thin margin victory.

Netanyahu became Israel’s youngest prime minister but was criticised for his lack of experience. Despite Netanyahu’s hawkish views against the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic contacts, he negotiated with the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1997 and signed a deal handing the control over some 80 per cent of the West Bank city of Hebron to the PA. -Xinhua

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