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Likud Ready for Unity By: Michael Widlanski
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, February 27, 2009

JERUSALEM—Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party are actively seeking a broad national unity government, including participation by the left-of-center Kadima and Labor parties, but Netanyahu and his closest colleagues said they would not permit the Kadima Party to set the tone for government.

Likud already has a clear shot at a governing majority of 65 in the 120-seat Knesset, Israel's parliament, but Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu underscored his desire for a still broader government because of major challenges Israel faces:

  • A looming confrontation with Iran, which is aiming to produce nuclear weapons;
  • A major economic crisis brought on by the global financial collapse that began in the American housing and banking markets;
  • And continuing war situations along the borders of Lebanon and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, both of which serve as bases for continued terror attacks on Israel.

"Because at this fateful hour, the state of Israel faces enormous challenges," he said, referring to Iran's nuclear program, and Netanyahu stated he would seek a "unity government" to meet "the greatest threat to our existence since our War of Independence."

As he formally accepted the assignment to form a new government, Netanyahu explained that " Iran's terror proxies confront us in the North and South"—a reference to Hizballah and Hamas.

"For many decades, Israel has not faced an accumulation of so many great challenges at one time," added Netanyahu, offering "a full partnership" to Kadima and Labor, but his entreaties have been so far rejected by Ms. Livni, the current foreign minister who has demanded that Likud explicitly support forming a Palestinian state.

She and her Kadima colleagues have been insisting on a "rotation agreement" under which she and Netanyahu would take turns as prime minister, as well as calling for Likud to adopt Kadima's more accomodationist line in negotiations with the Palestinians and Syria. Netanyahu and his colleagues have rejected this.

Livni and some of her colleagues have demanded that Netanyahu publicly support the "two lands for two peoples"—Israel and Palestine—but most in the Likud and its religious and rightist partners seem to have no desire to do this.

"We believe in compromises, but not in being dictated to," declared Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu Sunday (Feb. 22). He stressed that he was offering major cabinet posts to Kadima chairwoman Tzippy Livni and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, but the right-of-center Likud would set the tone.

"One thing is sure," declared Dr. Ze'ev Binyamin Begin, one of Likud's top leaders, "the former policy of the Kadima-Labor government will be abandoned," speaking in an exclusive briefing to Front Page and senior Likud activists.

"The era of partial and intermediate agreements is over," said Dr. Begin, a geologist who is often referred to by his nickname "Benny." He and other Likud leaders—such as former Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom—have made it clear that there is no real negotiating option with Syria, Hamas in Gaza or even the PLO-Fatah faction led by Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.

"One of the tasks of this government is to pull people back to reality," declared Begin, explaining, "No peace agreement is possible not because of the situation in Israel but because of the position of the Arabs."

He said that this point has even been acknowledged by Shimon Peres, Israel's president (largely ceremonial post) who was one of the architects of ties with the PLO, and he said that even major advisors of the Obama Administration—such as Aaron David Miller—had admitted that negotiation options were very limited.

Dr. Begin, who is the son of Israel's late prime minister Menachem Begin, said that his own father had joined a national unity government with the Israeli Labor Party in 1967 and 1969, even though there were many differences in views. He said the key was constructing a platform for action on immediate areas of shared interest, while formulating government guidelines that permitted all parties to preserve their views.

Likud officials and even politicians of the even more right-wing/religious Ihud Leumi (National Union) Party have suggested strongly that they would have no problem in sitting in the same government with almost any other Zionist party—leftist or even far-left—because negotiating options with the Palestinians (who have been killing each other and terrorizing Israel) do not really exist.

Begin asserted that the Western countries in general and Western journalists needed to begin taking a more realistic assessment of Arab/Islamic intentions rather than applying wishful thinking to their analysis. He accused the liberal/left in Israel with producing policies which required Israel to make major military moves such as the 2006 Lebanon War and the 2008 Gaza War.

He said that in the areas of Samaria and Judea—the traditional names for the West Bank—Israel had avoided the need for such policies by keeping a constant "hands-on" military and intelligence presence.

"'War mongers' like myself want to use force in a limited and sensible fashion," said Begin, and he said that major use of aircraft had only become necessary due to Israel's unwise unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.

Dr. Michael Widlanski is a specialist in Arab politics and communication whose doctorate dealt with the Palestinian broadcast media. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively, at The New York Times, The Cox Newspapers-Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post. He has also served as a special advisor to Israeli delegations to peace talks in 1991-1992 and as Strategic Affairs Advisor to the Ministry of Public Security, editing secret PLO Archives captured in Jerusalem.

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