On Golan, Likud Vows No Withdrawal

Netanyahu visits Golan in last-minute bid to win back right-wing voters who deserted to Yisrael Beiteinu.

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Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu paid a visit yesterday to the Golan Heights in a last-minute effort to win back right-wing voters that have left his camp in favor of Yisrael Beiteinu. The trip comes after an earlier push by Netanyahu to marginalize rightist Moshe Feiglin's group from within Likud's ranks for fear of alienating the center.

Accompanied by party hawks Benny Begin, former Israel Defense Forces chief Moshe Ya'alon and Golan resident Effi Eitam, Netanyahu planted two eucalyptus tress on the plateau seized by Israel from Syria during the Six-Day War in 1967 and vowed never to hand over control of the territory to Damascus.

"Gamla will not fall again," he said, referring to ancient hilltop city in the Golan Heights, where Jewish rebels fought to the death against the Romans during the a Jewish revolt 2,000 years ago.

"The Golan will remain ours only if the Likud wins. If Kadima is elected they'll hand back the Golan."

Netanyahu hopes his change in tactics will help him consolidate his predicted victory in the elections over Kadima as the largest single Knesset faction.

Eitam joined Likud after leaving the National Union party. He was dissuaded from seeking a spot on his new party's list by Netanyahu, though, who feared his candidacy would scare centrist voters. Yesterday he returned to the party spotlight alongside Begin, the son of former Likud leader and prime minister Menachem Begin.

"It's true, Menachem Begin made peace with Egypt in a move that involved giving back the Sinai peninsula," Begin told gatherers at the tree-planting ceremony yesterday. "But that same Menachem Begin imposed Israeli law and sovereignty over the Golan, because the Golan is part of the State of Israel."

At the same time that Likud's right-leaning members were put on display, other partisans, considered too "leftist," were sidelined. One such politician is Dan Meridor, whose image was quietly removed from party banners and ads.

Back in the Golan Heights, Netanyahu and his entourage continued on to the Jewish community of Keshet, where the Likud leader again evoked the historic right of the Jewish people to the territory.

"Stick a plow in the earth of the Golan Heights, do you find Palestinian or Syrian remains?" Netanyahu rhetorically asked a group of local Yeshiva students. "No. You find the ancient remains of synagogues and Jewish culture."