Biden met with Israel's controversial former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Who is he?

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President Joe Biden's trip to the Middle East began Thursday in Israel, a close ally to the United States.

The trip's primary focus is security. Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Thursday jointly signed a "Jerusalem Declaration," which commits the two nations to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and using "all elements of its (U.S.) national power" to achieve that outcome, according to the Times of Israel.

Lapid and Biden share a centrist approach to politics. But a shakeup in Israel's government may bring Israel's former prime minister, conservative hardliner Benjamin Netanyahu, back into the fold.

Here's what you need to know about Israel's former prime minister.

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Who is Netanyahu?

Benjamin, or "Bibi," Netanyahu was Israel's longest serving prime minister. The 72-year-old politician is the current opposition leader of Israel's right-wing Likud party.

Netanyahu was first elected to political office in 1988 as a member of Israel's unicameral legislature, the Knesset, from the Likud party and was appointed deputy minister of foreign affairs, according to the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise's Jewish Virtual Library's records.

Nearly a decade later, Netanyahu was elected as prime minister and served his first term from 1996 to 1999. He served four more terms as prime minister, from 2009 to 2021.

What are his politics?

Netanyahu is a right-wing populist, who frequently rails against the "amorphous elite" and portrays himself as a target of the political left and the media, according to the Brookings Institute.

His constituents love him or hate him: Among his devoted voters and allies he is hailed as "King Bibi," while his opponents accuse him of rampant misconduct. He currently stands trial in three different corruption cases.

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What did he achieve in office?

Netanyahu's policies of privatization, deregulation, tax cuts, bureaucratic reductions and banking reforms helped boost economic growth in Israel, according to Foreign Affairs magazine, which described his approach to policy as "Reaganesque."

But his efforts to undermine a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often led to violence, including a fight that left 250 Palestinians dead and nearly 2,000 others wounded, plus at least thirteen Israelis dead, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

When did he leave office?

Netanyahu was ousted from office in June 2021 when a coalition government, including eight separate parties across the political spectrum, gained control. Naftali Bennett and Lapid, the current prime minister, led the charge and agreed to a rotation for holding the prime minister's office.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on June 14th, 2021.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on June 14th, 2021.

Why is Biden meeting with him?

Though Netanyahu took a liking to former President Donald Trump, his relationship with Biden goes back decades.

Netanyahu said Biden was the only American politician to write him a letter after losing his bid for prime minister in 1999, and former President Obama often used Biden to defuse tensions between the two administrations when needed, according to the New York Times.

The leaders' relationship may have best been described by Biden himself when he recalled signing a photograph for Netanyahu with this blunt note: "Bibi, I don't agree with a damn thing you say but I love you."

The president's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said it’s “standard protocol” for the president to meet with leaders “across the Israeli political spectrum.”

What did they discuss?

Biden's meeting with Netanyahu took place Thursday. In a statement, Netanyahu described the conversation as a "warm and excellent meeting,” the New York Times reported.

According to the Times, Netanyahu told Biden that regarding Iran's nuclear program, Israel needs a "credible offensive military option," not just economic sanctions or defensive military options.

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Could Netanyahu retake office?

A political comeback for Netanyahu would be historic.

His re-election campaign is focused on two main themes, USA TODAY previously reported: claiming Lapid is relying on "terror supporters" to win the election, referring to the Israeli-Arab parties in parliament, and promising to lower Israel's consumer prices.

Netanyahu hopes to best his political rivals by utilizing social media; he has already taken to posting clips of himself talking to Israelis about the cost of living in Jerusalem malls and markets.

Contributing: Maureen Groppe, Jotam Confino and Deirdre Shesgreen

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who is Benjamin 'Bibi' Netanyahu, Israel's former prime minister ?