Likud 'Prince' Benny Begin to Return to Politics

Former cabinet minister and Likud Knesset member Benny Begin is set to announce his return to politics and to the Likud, and his intention to run in the party primary for the next Knesset list. Former IDF Spokeswoman Brigadier-General (Res.) Miri Regev already announced yesterday that she was joining the Likud.

Begin, who dropped out of politics and public life in 1999, agreed in talks with Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu over recent weeks to return to the party, after having apparently been promised a ministerial appointment should Netanyahu win the upcoming elections.

The decisive meeting between the two was held late Saturday at the home of close Netanyahu associate Reuven Rivlin, also a Likud MK, in Jerusalem. During the meeting, Netanyahu and Begin ironed out the details surrounding the latter's return to the party.

As required by law, Begin tendered his resignation from the Geological Survey of Israel, which he headed, to Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer yesterday, as it is forbidden by law for a state employee to contend in political races.

Likud faction chairman MK Gideon Sa'ar said that Begin's addition will serve as a tremendous power boost to the party.

Begin, a scientist by profession, is the son of Israel's sixth prime minister, Menachem Begin, who died in 1992.

Begin served as science minister in Netanyahu's government in 1996, when Likud returned to power, but resigned in 1997 to protest against the Wye River Memorandum, which called for redeployment of Israel Defense Forces troops in the West Bank city of Hebron. In 1999, he ran for prime minister at the helm of the right-wing Herut-The National Movement, but resigned from politics after the party failed to win more than four seats.

Netanyahu and Begin were perceived as bitter, personal rivals, scarcely capable of containing what seemed like a mutual animosity. Some of Begin's harsh statements about Netanyahu from the 1990s could therefore leave Likud exposed to criticism from campaign strategists from Begin's old party, the National Union.

"With his sinuous trail, Netanyahu has been the worst of the bad," Begin was quoted as saying in 1999, when he explained why he favored Netanyahu's loss to Labor Chairman Ehud Barak in the national elections. "After signing the Hebron agreement [with the Palestinians], who can vouch that he will not sign again?" Begin said of Netanyahu at around the same time, criticizing Netanyahu's perceived concessions to the Palestinians. "When a culture of mendacity becomes the norm and integrity becomes the exception to the norm, the lies will not stop at Judea and Samaria," Begin had gone on to say of Netanyahu.

Bad blood

However, Rivlin says the bad blood between Netanyahu and Begin was cleared a year ago. According to Rivlin, it was Begin who initiated the move to return. Netanyahu "embraced him with enthusiasm," Rivlin said.

Netanyahu has been reportedly also trying to recruit former Likud minister Dan Meridor, who also resigned from politics, and the son of former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, Yair Shamir. Uzi Landau, another ex-Likud minister, is also seen as a coveted addition to the party.

Sources within Likud told Haaretz believed that Begin's agreeing to participate in the Likud primary will make it harder for Meridor to rest assured he would be getting a ministerial post without participating.

The new acquisitions are seen by many as an attempt to garner individuals with clean political records, to counter Tzipi Livni's public image as a clean and honest politician.

Mazal Mualem contributed to this report.