Vice Premier Silvan Shalom became the first minister in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's cabinet to criticize his landmark speech to Congress on Wednesday when he told an audience in Kiryat Arba that the prime minister had defied the policies of their Likud party.

Until Shalom's remarks Netanyahu had been backed up by even the most right-wing ministers in his cabinet while MKs from parties on the Left and the National Union on the hard Right took turns bashing him. Tzipi Hotovely and Danny Danon were the only Likud MKs who had  criticized Netanyahu in the aftermath of the speech.

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Speaking at a Bible quiz contest for high school-aged girls, Shalom took issue with Netanyahu's statement that "in any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel's borders."

Shalom said that leaving Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria under Palestinian control was "not my view and not the policy of the Likud." He also called for keeping Hebron in any agreement with the Palestinians and for adding Joseph's Tomb in Nablus to a list of national heritage sites.

Upon his arrival in Israel Tuesday evening, Netanyahu characterized his visit to the US as "important," and said that he found wide American support for Israel's basic demands: "First and foremost a recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people; the need for secure borders, and complete rejection of Hamas."

Netanyahu said he laid the foundations in the US for a diplomatic program around which the vast majority of Israelis could unite. "The time has also come for the Zionist parties to unite around this principle," he said. 

Likewise, he said, the time has come for the Palestinian Authority to recognize Israel's just claims.

Netanyahu was greeted upon his return to Jerusalem by a small group of young Likud activists who protested the concessions he made in his speech to Congress. But even the top hawks in the Likud defended Netanyahu in interviews on Wednesday.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said that even though he himself would never lift his hand in favor of relinquishing territory he understood the need for negotiations and he appreciated Netanyahu setting red lines in his speech to Congress.

Vice premier Moshe Ya'alon said that Israel was not isolated internationally and that the United States wants to see a strong Israel.

Environment Minister Gilad Erdan called upon Kadima to "look at the wider national interest instead of its narrow political interests" and join a national-unity government. Kadima immediately rejected the offer.

A Telesker poll published in Ma'ariv on Wednesday found that the Likud continued to strengthen against Kadima. The poll predicted that the Likud would win 30 seats, Kadima 27, Israel Beiteinu 16, Shas 10, and Labor eight.

Asked who was more fit to be prime minister, 36.9 percent said Netanyahu, 28.3% said opposition leader Tzipi Livni, 9.2% said Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, 2.6% said Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and 18.2% answered none of the above.

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