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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Netanyahu Brings American Style to Israeli Right

JERUSALEM -- American-educated, telegenic, and with scant experience in public office, Benjamin Netanyahu, the man likely to be Israel's next prime minister, became a major player in Israeli politics virtually overnight.


Netanyahu, known as "Bibi,'' was elected to parliament for the first time in 1988 and quickly rose to the Likud Party leadership. At 46 he would be the country's youngest prime minister, and he stands out sharply from Israel's traditional politicians and party insiders.


Admirers and critics alike describe him as an ambitious, driven perfectionist. He is a voracious reader and has written two books on international politics, and he idolizes Winston Churchill. But he is plagued by a reputation for superficiality, in part because of his penchant for speaking in 10-second sound bites and flair for American-style politicking.


Steered by American campaign strategist Arthur Finkelstein in this election, Netanyahu pounded home his message: Shimon Peres' policies were eroding Israelis' security.


"The way of Mr. Peres brings us neither peace nor security,'' Netanyahu said this week. "It brings us fear.''


Netanyahu's standing in the polls plummeted after the Nov. 4 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish extremist. Rabin's widow, Leah, accused Netanyahu of contributing to the rancorous political atmosphere that led to the assassination.


But his popularity rebounded after the nation was shaken by a series of Islamic militant bombings that killed 63 people in Israel in February and March.


Netanyahu capitalized on the bombings in his campaign, saying the Arabs make unreliable peace partners and promising to be tougher on terrorism.


At the same time, his staunch opposition to the Israel-Palestinian peace process softened as his standing in the polls grew. He said he would accept those agreements already negotiated, and -- in a reversal of his previous position -- that he would consider meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.


But he also said he would leave the Palestinians with something far short of a state and vowed to expand settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


The son of a Cornell University professor, Netanyahu spent most of his teenage years in the United States, attending high school in a Philadelphia suburb and studying architecture and business administration at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


He returned to Israel for army duty, serving in an elite army commando unit and reaching the rank of captain.


In 1976, Netanyahu's older brother Yonatan died in the commando raid that freed passengers of a hijacked jetliner in Entebbe, Uganda. The death of Yonatan, who became an Israeli hero, strongly shaped Netanyahu. He set up the Jonathan Institute -- using the English version of his brother's name -- a foundation that studies ways to combat terrorism.


Here is how the Israeli government will be formed after the May 29 elections:


For the first time there is a direct election of a prime minister, who must win more than half the votes. He must form a government or arrange a coalition that controls a majority in the 120-member Knesset, or parliament.


He has 45 days to win the approval of parliament for his Cabinet.


If he does not present his Cabinet to parliament within the allotted time, new elections for prime minister will be held within 60 days.


If the prime minister-elect presents his Cabinet but fails to win a majority in parliament, new elections for both prime minister and the parliament are held within 60 days.


The prime minister-elect can also dissolve parliament by decree if he feels he will be unable to muster a majority for his government. In this case, new elections for parliament and prime minister are held within 60 days.


If a prime minister-elect fails to present a Cabinet to parliament within 45 days, is then re-elected in a new vote, and fails one more time to form a government in the allotted time, he cannot run for prime minister for a third time.


-- The Associated Press