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Likud adds star power ahead of elections

Likud adds star power ahead of elections

A string of high-profile Israelis who take a tough approach to the Arab world are streaming into Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party, adding star power and an even more hawkish edge to a faction well placed to win February elections.
The additions to the Likud's ranks include the squeaky clean son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, an outspoken former general and a one-time military spokeswoman, the Likud said Monday.
They add heft to a party that ruled Israel for the better part of three decades but was stripped of most of its stars after former Israeli leader Ariel Sharon bolted Likud in November 2005 to form the centrist Kadima, taking many of Likud's top figures with him. The new faces also suggest the party might put a halt to peace talks that resumed nearly one year ago.
"The nation is returning to the Likud and the Likud is returning to the nation," said Netanyahu, who served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999. "The nation is returning to the positions of the Likud. The nation is returning to the ways of Likud."
His spokeswoman, Dina Libster, said the new additions were not part of any recruitment strategy.
"We didn't reach out and try and get certain people to join the party. They approached us," she said. "In the current political environment they realized that Likud is the only home for them."
Today, polls show Likud and Kadima, headed by the moderate Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, running neck and neck ahead of Feb. 10 parliamentary elections.
Likud, which won 38 of parliament's 120 seats in 2003, slumped to 12 in 2006 elections but has made a dramatic comeback. Tensions with Iran, Lebanon and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have increased Israelis' sense of vulnerability, and Likud's call to stand tough has resonated among the electorate.
Kadima also has been hurt by corruption allegations against high-ranking members, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is being forced from office.
"People are very disappointed in Kadima," said political scientist Avraham Diskin. "When there is more danger individually to people and generally to the state of Israel, the immediate reaction is going to the right."
Likud's resurgence has made the party more attractive to former military and political officials looking for a home, Diskin added: "People want to join the winner."
Libster confirmed that Begin's son Benny would rejoin Likud on Tuesday in a joint press conference with Netanyahu.
The two have had a history of acrimonious relations and the younger Begin quit Netanyahu's Cabinet a decade ago because he felt the hardline Netanyahu was too lenient toward the Palestinians.
"There is no doubt that the choice being made today is between a total freeze of the political process ... and between choosing the path of promoting the political process," Livni said. "The Likud on the right wants to stop everything and on the left they maybe want to give everything but our way is to promote the process in an educated and responsible fashion."
Ehud Barak, leader of the left-of-center Labor party, which lags far behind in polls, said the Likud's path "is likely to return the country to a dead end."
Likud has been tainted in the past by cronyism and campaign irregularities. Reabsorbing Begin would be Likud's counterpoint to Livni, whose clean-hands image is a major electoral asset.
Livni became Kadima's head in a primary election forced by the corruption allegations against Olmert. Elections were called last month after she failed to keep the current coalition government intact.
Livni has led Israel's negotiations with the Palestinians and says ceding territory captured in the 1967 Mideast war would be a necessary component of any peace deal. A truce with Gaza militants, which has largely quieted rocket fire from the territory since June, could help her push a more moderate platform than Netanyahu's. But Netanyahu could benefit if that truce breaks down before the vote.
Netanyahu agrees in principle to the establishment of a Palestinian state, but on far less land than the Palestinians demand. He also opposes negotiations at this time, saying Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is too weak and that Israel should first promote economic development in the West Bank. He quit Sharon's government in 2005 to protest Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, which ended 38 years of military rule.
In addition to Begin, two other high-profile officials have announced their intention to join Likud _ former general Effi Eitam, an outspoken hard-liner who quit the religious National Union Party, and former military censor and military spokeswoman Miri Regev, a political newcomer.
Netanyahu is said to be courting former chief of staff Moshe Yaalon and former Soviet dissident and Cabinet minister Natan Sharansky, who both hold hawkish views.
But he's not only recruiting hard-liners, recognizing that he has to capture centrist votes to win a general election, Diskin noted. Several high-ranking former security officials with more moderate views have already also joined Likud.
Netanyahu is also reportedly wooing former Cabinet minister Dan Meridor, a well-regarded and moderate politician and member of a pedigreed Likud family. Meridor stomped out of Netanyahu's Cabinet after a much-publicized spat.


Updated : 2021-10-22 09:45 GMT+08:00