Meridor Buries the Hatchet, Rejoins Netanyahu's Likud

A decade after he left Likud to found the short-lived Center Party with the goal of ousting Likud chair Benjamin Netanyahu from power, Dan Meridor yesterday announced he was rejoining his former party and rival.

Meridor, 62, made the announcement at a press conference at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv, with Netanyahu at his side. This is Netanyahu's second major recruitment this month - former minister Benny Begin, son of prime minister Menachem Begin, has also returned to the party.

Meridor will not be guaranteed a spot on the Likud Knesset list, but Netanyahu promised to help him win a good seat in the party primaries.

Primaries represent a significant obstacle for Meridor: Unlike Begin, he must overcome the bitterness he faces for leaving the party in 1999 and for backing Kadima in its efforts to weaken Likud in 2006.

Still, yesterday both Netanyahu and Meridor appeared to have put the past behind them. The Likud chairman has courted Meridor for the past two years, motivated by Meridor's "clean" image, party members believe.

Netanyahu was even willing to guarantee him a spot on the party list, despite the vehement opposition of several Likud MKs.

"Dan has experience and is in my opinion one of the most talented and unique people there is - with broad horizons, clean hands and an independent mind," Netanyahu said yesterday.

"I'm taking the opportunity to call out to all Likud supporters - it's important that Dan Meridor receive the support of Likud members. He's not coming to a strange home, he's returning home. He stood at the side of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir."

Meridor lost no time in settling into his former home, lashing out at Kadima for what he called its failed leadership. "The Kadima government had two serious failures, and must go home over both: the failed war in Lebanon, and the wild attacks on the justice system," he said.

"Likud is not an extremist party. Likud is a centrist party that was the first to make peace, despite internal differences of opinion. It's not a war party," he said. Meridor also praised Netanyahu for what he called his successful term as finance minister from 2003 to 2005.

Meanwhile, former beauty queen and Knesset member Pnina Rosenblum confirmed yesterday that she would also be seeking a place on the Likud Knesset list.

Rosenblum, who built a cosmetics empire after working as an actress, model and journalist, entered politics in the mid-1990s and served as a Likud MK in the final weeks of the Sharon government.