Activists in Israel, donors in US, Canada "disappointed" over his quitting.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMANLikud MK Uzi Landau spent Monday evening calling supporters in Israel and around the world who were upset by his decision to quit the Likud leadership race and endorse former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Sources close to Landau said activists who worked on his behalf in Israel and donors in the United States and Canada were "disappointed, but they understood that he did it to protect the Right." They said that Landau would call American millionaire Irving Moskowitz, who was among Landau's top donors and expressed his disappointment over the decision to Landau's staff.
Landau called a press conference in the Knesset to announce that he was quitting the race after months of insisting that he would not drop out. The Jerusalem Post asked Landau how he would explain his endorsement of Netanyahu to people like Moskowitz, who said he supported him because he, unlike Netanyahu, "consistently opposed the Oslo, Hebron and Wye accords, the road map, and the disengagement."
"I don't hide my disagreements with Bibi but it's the best decision possible under the circumstances," Landau replied.
Landau explained that he decided to quit because he had no chance of winning and because Netanyahu offered him a series of commitments that reassured him that he would be loyal to right-wing ideology if elected prime minister. Netanyahu and Landau, who studied together at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will present their 17-point agreement in a press conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
In the deal, Netanyahu promised never to withdraw unilaterally from settlements, to bring any major decision to a Likud faction vote or a national referendum and to appoint Landau to head a ministerial committee that would help Gush Katif evacuees. Netanyahu would not commit to keeping the Likud out of a government led by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, but Landau said he believed Netanyahu would keep the Likud in the opposition if it loses the March 28 election.
The agreement between Landau and Netanyahu was reached at 5 a.m. Monday after negotiations at the Tel Aviv Hilton and the home of a Tel Aviv businessman who is friends with both men. Netanyahu's campaign manager Yoav Horowitz and Landau's bureau chief Shimon Gafsou drew up the document.
Netanyahu told the Likud faction that he respected Landau for "putting the interests of the state and the party ahead of his own." A source close to Netanyahu said that Landau's campaign donors have started calling Netanyahu to offer support.
Landau briefly led Netanyahu in the polls, but his support waned after Sharon left the Likud and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz joined the race.
"I intended to stay in the race until the end but things have changed with Sharon leaving, Peretz winning in Labor and the Likud crashing," Landau said. "The Likud is an emergency situation, perhaps its worst crisis ever. There are those trying to destroy the Likud from outside and burn down our home. This makes a man have to decide how best to save the home. I decided that the best way is to unite behind the chairman who advances the party, believes in its principles and can bring it to victory."
Landau called upon the remaining five Likud leadership candidates to join him in backing Netanyahu, but none appeared willing to accept his offer.
Katz issued a statement saying that he was now the only candidate for Likud leadership who consistently voted against disengagement and that he believed most of Landau's supporters would switch over to him.
Shalom said he would defeat Netanyahu despite Landau's support. Mofaz warned that a Netanyahu and Landau-led Likud would be too far-right to have a chance of winning the election.
Likud activist Moshe Feiglin said that Landau was making a mistake by endorsing Netanyahu. "Netanyahu is the man responsible for turning over Hebron to Palestinian control and signing the Wye Accord and he warmly shook the hand of Yasser Arafat," Feiglin said.
Sharon's associates denied reports on Monday that the prime minister or his son, MK Omri Sharon, ordered their allies in the Likud central committee to work on behalf of Shalom. They said that most of Sharon's advisers want Netanyahu to win because they believe he would bring the Likud the least amount of mandates.
"I left the Likud and I have no more connections in the Likud," Omri told Army Radio. "I am not interfering. I don't understand the attempts to drag me into the race. My friends in the Likud are supporting different candidates and I am not involved."
Meanwhile, in the Likud faction, MKs expressed outrage to interim Likud Chairman Tzahi Hanegbi about a decision to advance slots on the Likud list reserved for newcomers to the 19th slot on the list from the 26th. Hanegbi stood by the decision and even offered to quit his post over the move.
"You should have thought about this before you banished a man who would give us 40 mandates," Hanegbi said referring to Sharon. "Don't be surprised if you aren't in the next Knesset."
Elsewhere, after a tumultuous day of negotiations, the National Religious Party broke off talks with the National Union about running on a joint Knesset list in the upcoming elections.
NRP leader Zevulun Orlev said the National Union has missed "an historic opportunity" for the two parties to join forces.
His spokesman said the NRP would now run on its own for the Knesset. He blamed the National Union for the breakdown of talks, explaining it did not change its agenda or make concessions on issues of leadership or new faces in the Knesset.
The NRP was asking that the two parties agree on a joint platform that prioritize education, Jewish identity and social justice over matters relating to the territories, said a spokesman. It also wanted the party leadership issue decided on the basis of polling of party members.
But National Union leader Benny Elon told The Jerusalem Post that the two parties agreed upon all issues, expect that of party leadership. He said the NRP was insisting that Orlev lead the list, whereas he believes that he should top it.
He called the situations a "crisis" but said he didn't believe talks had broken down. "They will continue tomorrow," he added.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.