PM, reacting to Ya'alon, says Peace Now 'not a virus'

Peace Now found an unlikely advocate on Sunday in its longtime nemesis: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. In a rare joint interview with Israel Radio and Army Radio, Netanyahu defended Peace Now from the attack on it by his vice premier, Moshe Ya'alon, two weeks ago. "It is important to clarify that the Left is not a virus and the settlers are not a cancer," Netanyahu told interviewers Yaron Deckel and Razi Barka'i. "There are legitimate disputes in Israeli society and we must maintain unity and show respect for political rivals by talking and acting in a restrained manner." Netanyahu referred in his statement to Ya'alon calling Peace Now's repeated pushing for withdrawals from territory despite Palestinian rejectionism "a virus" and former Meretz MK Yossi Sarid, Hebrew University professor Ze'ev Sternhell and other leftist activists who compared the spread of settlements in the West Bank to that of cancer. The prime minister also expressed regret for his controversial statement, whispered into the ear of the late Sephardic kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Kadourie in 1997, that "the Leftists forgot what it means to be Jewish." "Wisdom and age have changed me," Netanyahu said. "I am the prime minister of everyone now." Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Oppenheimer welcomed Netanyahu's statements but expressed regret that he did not take action to remove Ya'alon from the prestigious, six-member inner cabinet. In the interview, Netanyahu did not reveal what understandings he had reached with the Americans regarding a possible West Bank settlement freeze, but he expressed confidence that he would not face a coalition crisis over the matter. "Every decision made disappoints someone," Netanyahu said. "I will act in the way that I think protects Israeli security and advances peace with our neighbors. This balance in the end is respected by Israeli citizens and MKs in the Likud and the coalition. I think that when you act correctly, everyone knows it." Likud MK Danny Danon wrote Netanyahu a letter on Sunday complaining that he was making decisions regarding a settlement freeze without consulting the Likud faction or the cabinet. "Your advisers were not elected by the Israeli public," Danon wrote. "Making such decisions behind closed doors harms democracy."