(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert received a surprising endorsement on Thursday for his plan to meet in upcoming days with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas: Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu feels the same way.
Olmert told Army Radio he would meet with Abbas regardless of whether kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit was released, because Abbas supported releasing Shalit.
Netanyahu told the radio station that if he were prime minister, he would also meet with Abbas.
"The dramatic change that has occurred is the development of an alliance of extremists against the alliance of moderates to which we belong," he said. "I would try to create a diplomatic process that would initiate an alliance between us and the Palestinians, but for this to happen, Hamas must fall."
Netanyahu said the best way to strengthen Abbas was to bring about the downfall of the Hamas government in the PA. He said giving land to the Palestinians would strengthen Hamas and not Abbas.
Sources close to Netanyahu later downplayed his remarks, saying the downfall of Hamas would have to come before negotiations with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu's rivals in the Likud accused him of shifting leftward for political reasons.
"Netanyahu's presentation of the terrorist Abu Mazen [Abbas] as a moderate is a repeat of his handshake with former Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat," the Likud's Manhigut Yehudit forum said. "That handshake destroyed the nationalist camp and gave legitimacy to the Oslo process. Now again, when everyone knows there is no partner and the survival of Israel is at stake, Netanyahu is giving a certificate of kashrut to the enemy."
The Likud leader denied a report that he had asked businessman Arkady Gaydamak to form a new immigrant party that would compete with Israel Beiteinu. Netanyahu's associates said the report came from Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who wanted to block Gaydamak's entry into politics by leaking the false report.
Lieberman's spokeswoman responded that the Israel Beiteinu leader "did not have time to engage in such nonsense and media spin."
Gaydamak toured the North on Thursday, where he was greeted by residents thankful to him for building them a tent city in the South during the war in Lebanon. One woman there said she believed Gaydamak would enter politics and would one day be prime minister.
In an interview with Channel 10, Gaydamak called the reports of him entering politics "false rumors and insinuation."
"I don't see why I should run for Knesset," he said. "I think a head of state should have more qualifications than just having money."
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