A Forceful Leader

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JERUSALEM: With his piercing blue eyes, American accent, and polished appearance, many Israelis feel that Benjamin Netanyahu, known affectionately as "Bibi," is too smooth to be taken seriously. But the man who, at 46, may become Israel's youngest Prime Minister, is tougher than he looks. Elected in 1988 to the Knesset, Netanyahu beat out five rivals just five years later to take over the leadership of the Likud from Yitzhak Shamir. Born in Jerusalem, raised in Tel-Aviv, he was educated in the U.S. from age 14, when his father accepted a teaching post at Dropsie College in Philadelphia. Netanyahu's American accent and colloquialisms contributed to his dashing appearances on U.S television during the Gulf War. Between high school and college, Netanyahu served with distinction for five years in Sayeret Matkal, an elite special forces unit in the Israeli army. His brother, killed while leading the 1976 rescue raid on Entebbe, is remembered as an Israeli national hero. Netanyahu inherited his right wing politics from his father, a disciple of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the founder of the Revisionist movement, a vigilant, nationalistic brand of Zionism.

Netanyahu's tough policies may have helped him in an election where the Israeli electorate is weighing the benefits of peace against security concerns. Netanyahu played up the issue of Israeli security following a spate of suicide bombings which claimed the lives of 59 Israelis, promising that he would put security ahead of visionary peacemaking. He has pledged to close PLO headquarters in Jerusalem, end the building freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and authorize Israeli troops to pursue suspected terrorists within areas under PLO authority. He has also said during the campaign that he will not honor Israeli commitments to withdraw from the West Bank city of Hebron. As both Israelis and the world wait the final confirmation of the election results, questions of the future of Middle East peace hang in the balance. Much will depend on Netanyahu's ability to form coalitions in the newly elected Knesset, which is the most fractured parliament in Israel's history. The new prime minister -->