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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Settler leaders welcomed the news Monday that MK Uzi Landau dropped out of the race for Likud party leadership and was throwing his support behind MK Binyamin Netanyahu.
"Uzi Landau is close to us, but he did the right thing today," said Benzi Lieberman, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu has the best chance of attracting more right-leaning voters away from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new centrist party Kadima, said Lieberman, who did not want to disclose his own party affiliations.
A show of support from Landau, who is much admired among right-wing Likud members for his opposition to the evacuation of Gaza last summer, strengthens Netanyahu, said deputy council and Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein.
This past summer, settlers leaders often argued that the "nation is with us." But in the aftermath of disengagement, and Kadima's popularity, Goldstein, who is also a Likud member, said it was clear to him that those with his views were "not in the majority."
While the council had initially called for a united bloc of Likud, Yisrael Beitenu, the National Union and the National Religious Party, some of its leaders have now changed its views. For the first time, they spoke clearly about who they would like to see lead the Likud.
It's better to have a strong Likud that will be the "light-right wing" led by Netanyahu along with the support of Landau, Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin and MKs like Michael Ratzon, said Lieberman, and then, as another front in the fight against relinquishing territory, have a united National Union and National Religious Party run on a joint list.
For those like himself, who are not members of those parties, Goldstein said, "It is important for those who opposed disengagement to work to return the Likud to its original principals." Goldstein said that to be successful the Likud had to pull on voters in Tel Aviv and Beersheba, not just from those in the territories. To do so, it must lean more toward the center. Netanyahu could do that and support the territories, he said. The Likud must draw enough mandates to form a right-leaning coalition that would leave Kadima and Labor in the opposition, he said.
Goldstein also thinks that Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, another leading contender for party leadership, has a lot to offer, even though he led the evacuation. What was important were his views about future policy decisions, rather than his past actions, said Goldstein. Goldstein hopes that Mofaz would also join forces with Netanyahu. "Mofaz is important in the political puzzle," he said.