sharon in glasses 88.
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pleaded for party unity in an address to a packed crowd of more than 1,500 people at the Likudâ€™s annual holiday toast at the Kfar Hamaccabiah in Ramat Gan.
In a show of force for Sharon, most of the Likud faction came to the event, including most of the Likud rebels. Despite the disengagement plan, twice as many people showed up as last year, indicating that Sharon had succeeded in shoring up his support in the party.
Special Report: Battle for the Likud >>
â€œWe are standing before an election year and we should do everything possible for the election to take place on time, on November 7, 2006,â€ Sharon said. â€œEvery effort should be made to maintain Likud unity. It might not be easy, but the faction will have to get used to backing the government and its decisions. The current situation cannot continue.â€
In scenes that seemed unthinkable a short time ago, Sharon shook hands with his fiercest rival, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and Netanyahu sat with Sharonâ€™s son, MK Omri Sharon. The two laughed together and wished each other a good year.
Sharon was even cheered when he said that the diplomatic process would continue and that the road map peace plan would be advanced. Pandering to the crowd, Sharon bragged about his success in fighting terror and listed â€œthe settlement blocs and security zonesâ€ among the list of regions he would work to develop.
When it came to talking about the economy, Sharon did not mention Netanyahu, saying only â€œwe have economic achievements, but more work has to be done to bridge the gap.â€
Sharon will continue to try to unify the party after the holidays, by meeting with the Likud faction as a whole over dinner at his Jerusalem residence. He also invited former minister Natan Sharansky and rebel MKs Yuli Edelstein, Ehud Yatom, Moshe Kahlon and Gilad Erdan to meet with him individually.
But Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin rained on Sharonâ€™s unity parade when the two men met on Tuesday. Rivlin said he told Sharon that unity is more than a slogan and that the party is still far away from being cohesive.
â€œHow can you say we are unified when your views and mine contradict each other?â€ Rivlin said. â€œI told him that unless the faction does some serious talking, I donâ€™t see how the Likud can go together to the next election. I said that what counts is not procedural matters but the substance. What kind of Likud is there going to be?â€
Sharonâ€™s associates said there has not been a sulha between Sharon and his former confidant, but the fact that the two of them even met has significance. They said that the significance of Tuesday's toast was that Sharon had started the new year on the right foot.