At Likud event, PM says Israel wants peace but won't be fooled; calls West Bank settlers "loyal citizens."
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reached out to residents of Judea and Samaria in a pre-Rosh Hashana toast for Likud activists at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Thursday night.
Netanyahu said the Likud had proven time after time that it was willing to take steps to make peace, but its leaders would not be fooled by anyone and would not be "suckers."
He made a point of speaking directly to the settlers, even though Likud activists from Judea and Samaria boycotted the event and there were almost no crocheted kippot in the crowd.
"You are loyal residents of Israel and you deserve to lead normal lives," the prime minister said. "We will simultaneously advance the diplomatic process while allowing you to lead normal lives."
Reassuring Likud activists on the Right, Netanyahu promised to not allow a second "Hamastan" to be created in the center of the country that could be used to fire upon Ben-Gurion Airport and the hall where he was speaking. He did not mention a proposed freeze on settlement construction in his speech.
Turning to the four legislators who attended a pro-settlements rally at the Likud's Tel Aviv headquarters on Wednesday night, Netanyahu preached the need for unity in the party.
"Unity is always important, but now when we are facing challenges that cannot be underestimated, we especially need unity to succeed," he said. "There are energetic MKs in the faction, sometimes too energetic, but I appreciate their work on behalf of the state of Israel and the land of Israel."
MKs Tzipi Hotovely and Danny Danon, who organized Wednesday's rally, said they considered Netanyahu's reference to them a compliment.
Earlier, the Likud secretariat decided not to vote on a proposal, supported by the prime minister, to cancel a 16-month Likud membership requirement to vote for the party's MKs. Netanyahu's critics charged that he supported the move in order to bring in thousands of new members from the Left.
A Shvakim Panorama poll on Thursday found that 44.7 percent of respondents supported a temporary settlement freeze in return for restarting talks with the Palestinians and gestures from Arab countries and 38% opposed it. Among Likud voters, 44.5% oppose the move and 33.5% are in favor.
The poll found that 65% of Israelis gave Netanyahu a positive approval rating and 25% a negative one. Defense Minister Ehud Barak received a positive rating of 60%. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's rating was higher than that of opposition leader Tzipi Livni, 49-47%.
If an election were held today, the Likud would rise from 27 Knesset seats to 32 and Kadima would fall from 28 to 24.
But at Kadima's toast, MKs predicted that Kadima leader Tzipi Livni would be prime minister by next Rosh Hashana. Livni said she was not waiting for Netanyahu to fail.
Livni's No. 2, MK Shaul Mofaz, raised eyebrows by not attending the event. His associates said he was attending an event for families of bereaved soldiers that had been scheduled before the Kadima event was announced.
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