Netanyahu Unveils Likud's Old-new Prince

For half an hour - the length of his press conference with the Likud's new acquisition, Benny Begin - party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu did not stop smiling.

He could not have dreamed of a better start to his campaign than being photographed with the man who was not only once his bitterest rival, but who also, to many Israelis, symbolizes "the real Likud" - namely, the son of the late prime minister Menachem Begin. Netanyahu would have given a lot to hold the election tomorrow and be done with it.

Netanyahu and Begin did not evince any particular closeness at the press conference, which took place at Metzudat Ze'ev in Tel Aviv. But for now, each perfectly serves the other's purposes.

"If there is a different kind of politics, it is Benny Begin," Netanyahu said, using the slogan usually identified with his chief rival, Kadima Party chairwoman Tzipi Livni. "Any party would grab Benny with both hands, including those that are criticizing us today."

Netanyahu said he had not promised Begin that he would freeze negotiations with the Palestinians or the Syrians, but only that during such negotiations, he would not "give away everything" - as opposed to what has been happening in recent years, he said.

Begin said he decided to return to politics "to have an impact." He added that the wide range of opinions in the Likud is beneficial, not detrimental: "There is a big advantage to a big party. In terms of the democratic system, a big party enables a serious examination and sifting of views, after which decisions are made."

"I was not promised anything, and I didn't ask for anything," he continued. "I want to have an impact on the public, political and party debate."

Begin said his views remain what they always were. "Over the last eight years, the public has twice undergone a painful process of sobering up," he said. "In 2000, it was a sobering up from the Oslo Accord, and two years ago, it was a sobering up from the delusion of peace following the disengagement from Gaza. We need to ensure that there is no third painful sobering up.

"People say I'm an extremist because I think there is no chance of a peace agreement in Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] and the Gaza Strip. I recently read in the paper that our Nobel Prize laureate, Mr. Peres, thinks the same. Is he an extremist?" Begin said.

Regarding the harsh statements he made about Netanyahu when he, Begin, quit the Likud a decade ago, he said: "Ten years have passed, during which Bibi has grown up and I have grown older. Over the last three days, many people have rushed to the archives and taken various statements from another era, another reality, out of the attic. We are adult enough to approach a solution to the complex problems facing the state in a responsible manner."

Both Netanyahu and Begin also expressed hope that another former Likud minister, Dan Meridor, would soon rejoin the party as well.