Netanyahu to Haaretz: Likud is behind me; Feiglin will soon disappear
Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu reassured his supporters yesterday after the primary that produced a particularly right-wing list. He has also launched a campaign to calm down the international community and ease concerns about the peace process should Netanyahu become prime minister after the February election.
Concerns increased this week after far-right-winger Moshe Feiglin and many of his supporters did well in the primary.
In a series of consultations, Netanyau said the "Feiglin effect" would fade and the party would soon regain what few Knesset seats it might lose from the recent negative publicity.
"The entire faction is with me," he told confidants.
"They all called today and expressed their support. Feiglin will fade away very quickly. They can blow it up more and more, but even this lemon doesn't have much juice left in it," he said.
Netanyahu launched a campaign to allay fears in the United States, Europe and the Arab world for the fate of the peace process.
Today Netanyahu will meet 27 European Union ambassadors to Israel and tell them that he is committed to continuing the peace talks with Syria and the Palestinians.
Netanyahu has recently sent dovish messages to officials in the international community, his aides say. Netanyahu met Egyptian ambassador to Israel Yasser Reda last week and told him that if he won the elections he would not stop the peace process, only add components such as his "economic peace" plan.
He conveyed similar messages to the Czech foreign minister, whose country will take on the rotating EU presidency in January.
The meeting with the EU ambassadors had been scheduled for several weeks ago, but Netanyahu asked to postpone it until after the primary.
Though Netanyahu will assure the ambassadors that he will continue the talks with the Syrians and Palestinians, he will say he needs to study the talks that took place during Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's term, because these negotiations were covert.
Since he is keen to focus on achievements, he will continue negotiations he believes can lead to progress and suspend others, he is expected to say.
Netanyahu will outline his "economic peace" plan and say he wants to raise the Palestinians' living standards, improve their economy, build government institutions and strengthen their defense capabilities.
He will not rule out security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority and passing on more West Bank cities to forces led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
He will say that this process, which can lead to faster achievements, will not be at the expense of the peace talks but in addition to them.
This approach is similar to the one favored by Barack Obama's national security adviser James Jones and Quartet envoy Tony Blair, Netanyahu will say, according to his aides.
He will say that in view of Hamas' control of the Gaza Strip, it is difficult to find a partner on the Palestinian side who can assert his authority there. He will urge the international community to join Israel in isolating Hamas.
In recent weeks officials abroad have voiced concerns about Netanyahu's plans on the peace process.
A senior EU official told Haaretz that "Netanyahu's victory [in the election] could strike a fatal blow to the peace process."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed the "economic peace" plan at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels last week, saying that the goal is to reach a two-state solution.
Former U.S. president Bill Clinton, whose wife Hillary will be secretary of state under Obama, has also criticized Netanyahu's position. Last week, at the Saban Forum debates in Washington, Clinton said there would be no chance for economic progress in the PA, except as part of talks leading to a comprehensive final settlement.
A source close to Netanyahu said yesterday that the fears in Europe and the United States about him stem in part from a campaign Livni's people are conducting overseas.
"They're inciting the whole world against us, spreading fears that we will bring disaster," the source said.
A source close to Livni said that "the world remembers very well who Netanyahu is and needs no reminders of it from us."