A week before general elections, the front-runner in the polls Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that he plans to appoint Yisrael Beitenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman to a pivotal ministerial position in the government that he will establish once elected.
Speaking at a conference attended by some 1,000 people, Netanyahu refrained from attacking Lieberman, his main rival for the Russian sector's vote, and tried to send a message to Israel's Russian immigrants that only he, as prime minister, will be able to address their needs.
This policy of not attacking Lieberman is not entirely acceptable among the Likud's Russian members, who criticized the attempt to pass the Likud off as a "central" party rather than right wing.
Asia Antov, the head of the volunteer headquarters and the coordinator of Likud activists in West Bank settlements told Haaretz that the Russian speakers are looking to vote for an ideological right wing party, and mistakenly think that Lieberman's party is what they're looking for.
Antov added that she discovered that among the Russian speaking crowd, the Likud suffered losses when it pushed extreme right winger Moshe Feiglin to a low number on the party's list. She said that she believed that recent revelation that Lieberman had been a member of Kahane's extreme-right outlawed Kach movement will only garner him votes within this sector.
In efforts to sell the party to the Russian public, Netanyahu, along with Russian speaking Likud members Yuli Edelstein and Zeev Elkin, tried to explain to the conference attendants that Netanyahu's victory is not certain, and reiterated the notion that only Netanyahu will be able to resolve the issues dearest to the Russian immigrants.
Netanyahu dedicated the bulk of his speech to specific issues facing the immigrant population ? public housing, employment, absorption and most importantly, breaking the glass ceiling.
Another name that was mentioned frequently during the conference was Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. While Kadima's campaign has all but ignored Olmert, Likud is more than happy to bring up the partnership between Netanyahu's main rival Tzipi Livni and the unpopular outgoing prime minister, who was never liked among Russian Israelis.
Netanyahu says he's looking to form a unity government
On Tuesday, Netanyahu shot from the hip in all directions during his speech at the Herzliyah Conference.
"In a number of days, the citizens of Israel will run to finish the era of weakness and begin the era of empowerment. They will put an end to the era of illusions and weakening and usher in the way of recognizing reality," Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu vowed that if he is chosen as Israel's next prime minister he will "bring together all of the central forces [in Israel] as part of a national unity government as much as possible."
He added that his first step would be to turn to nationalist parties, but clarified that such a move "is not enough", and he will therefore call on "all of the Zionist parties to join the unity government."
Netanyahu said his call for unity is driven by the fact that "before the unprecedented challenges Israel faces, we must stand together to bring the best people in the country, the most experienced and serious people in order to ensure our future."
The Likud Chief repeated the party's slogans during his speech, adding that as early as three years ago he predicted that missiles would be able to reach Ashdod and Ashkelon. He also said that as long as 12 years ago he predicted the growing threat of Iran.
Netanyahu said that he had spoken to U.S. President Barack Obama and come away with the clear impression that Obama "understands well the threat that Iran poses to Israel," and added that in his mind the Iranian threat is the biggest facing Israel and that it will be his biggest mission if elected.
Netanyahu also spoke against the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, saying that if Israel wanted to remove the missiles militants fire regularly from the salient, "we have no choice but to remove the Iranian-backed regime in Gaza."
Kadima party MK Yoel Hasson issued a response to Netanyahu's speech, saying "How does Bibi [Netanyahu] expect us to believe that he can recruit the Obama administration to his side, and work against Iran, if when it comes to the Palestinian issue he differs 180 degrees from the Israeli government position and refuses to offer hopeful policy.
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