Begin, Meridor Grab Spotlight at Likud Central Committee Meet

Likud 'princes' who stormed out of Netanyahu's government return to party to applause of convention.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday recognized the faction members who had sat in the opposition with him, even as high-profile candidates for the party's Knesset list, like returning Likudnik Benny Begin, stole the spotlight at Sunday's central committee meeting.

"Take a good look at the 12 faction members - these are the people who walked with me in the political wilderness and flew the Likud flag during hard times," Netanyahu told the central committee members.

The comments appeared to be intended to diminish tensions ahead of the December 8 primary, during which many candidates are expected to displace some of the MKs who sat through Likud's time in the opposition.

Three years after Netanyahu took the power to choose the MKs out of the hands of the central committee and led Likud to one of its worst defeats, he has returned to the central committee as a victor. The central committee rarely met over the past three years, and Likud members could barely be bothered to come even to events like pre-holiday celebrations. But there was no need to convince party members to show up on Sunday - they came en masse and were embraced by an atmosphere of victory and the familiar scent of power.

Likud "princes" Begin and Dan Meridor circulated among the members after an absence of many years. Begin in particular caused a lot of excitement; every time his name was mentioned on stage, fierce applause flooded the hall. In his speech, Begin - a former minister who dropped out of politics in 1999 and announced his return to Likud earlier this month - warned against dangerous experiments like the Oslo Accords and the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.

New candidates were in attendance, like former IDF spokeswoman Miri Regev (who handed out candy), former GOC Northern Command Yossi Peled and former police commissioner Assaf Hefetz - whom Netanyahu welcomed warmly - as were former MKs who are trying to make a comeback, despite getting the cold shoulder from the Likud chairman.

In his speech, Netanyahu reiterated his call to establish a unity government led by him and in which all the Zionist parties would take part, and promised "to remove the Nakba and return Zionism and Israeli heritage."

Netanyahu was praised and embraced from all sides, from Begin to Silvan Shalom, who had previously fought bitterly with him and now praised him.

Likud faction whip Gideon Sa'ar said the party members must remember that the election wasn't over yet and that "the elections are expected to be tough."

"Our rivals won't turn up their noses at defamation and won't give up on mudslinging," said Sa'ar. "They will falsely accuse us, but we are resolved in our thoughts and desires to bring about a better future for the Jewish people. The elections are about a path. There is no difference between [Ehud] Olmert and [Tzipi] Livni, not even a microscopic difference. They're Siamese twins."