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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The Likud is not an extreme right-wing party but rather a center-right party, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu maintained Wednesday afternoon. The statement came immediately after another Likud member, this time interim party chairman Tzahi Hanegbi, announced his defection from the party in favor of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Kadima list.
Netanyahu spoke at a joint press conference with rebel leader MK Uzi Landau, who decided on Monday to quit the Likud leadership race and endorse Netanyahu's candidacy instead. In back-to-back speeches, the two established what they viewed as the Likud party's basic principles and pushed forward Netanyahu's campaign for Likud chairman.
"Don't eulogize the Likud," Netanyahu warned, "it is alive and strong."
Both Netanyahu and Landau acknowledged that they had had past disagreements, but when it came to the party ideology they had always seen eye-to-eye.
Netanyahu stressed Israel's security as the most important principle in leading the nation: "There is no Israel without unwavering strength," Netanyahu said, emphasizing his opposition to unilateral moves such as Sharon's forfeiting of the Gaza Strip. "A retreating Israel, an Israel that is willing to relinquish land is not one that achieves security," Netanyahu asserted.
Reminding voters of his stance against the disengagement, and appealing to anti-disengagement voters, Netanyahu suggested that a law be passed promoting national referendums, "so that this doesn't happen again," he said. At the height of the opposition to the plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu joined the campaign demanding that the withdrawal policy be put to the people to decide, but such a move never advanced. "The government must turn to the people to see what they want," he said Wednesday.
Netanyahu also elaborated extensively on his successes as finance minister in recuperating Israel's economy. "Lately I've heard a lot about the social agenda. Everyone is talking about poverty, talking about advancing social issues. Everyone is talking, but I acted," Netanyahu said.
Landau insisted that despite the recent eruptions within the party, the Likud was united ideologically, and he noted that the party's principles had not - and would not - change. "The principles before you are the basis of our contract with the voter," he said.
"I call on my friends to unite around Bibi and support his candidacy for the leadership of the party. Netanyahu, [Shaul] Mofaz, Silvan [Shalom], Katz and Landau - this list is a victory for the Likud," Landau hailed his colleagues. "They are the key to returning the key of this country's leadership to the Likud party."
Before the press conference, Netanyahu and Landau drew up an agreement which outlined the conditions of Landau's endorsement of Netanyahu. One of the main points of the document included fortifying the Israeli settlement in the Land of Israel, with particular attention paid to the Jordan valley. It also dismissed the possibility of unilateral concessions. The contract was meant to ensure that in exchange for Landau's support, Netanyahu does not shift to the left if elected for Likud and national leadership.