Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz kicked off his Likud primaries campaign in Tel Aviv with a vow to strengthen Israeli settlement blocs.
"We must strengthen the blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria," Mofaz told a few hundred activists who received him warmly. The crowd chanted "Shaul king of Israel" and called for the defense minister to become the next prime minister.
Mofaz's campaign slogan, "Mofaz – a safe leadership for the Likud," will head his bid to become Likud leader.
"My diplomatic plan is clear to all," said Mofaz. "Judea and Samaria are not Gaza, and I am against unilateral steps. We have a national security interest in Judea and Samaria, the Jordan valley, and in the Golan Heights. We must make very effort to safeguard Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel, and to strengthen the settlements in Judea and Samaria."
Turning to the other contestants in the Likud primaries, Mofaz said: "I want to tell (Benjamin) Netanyahu and (Foreign Minister) Silvan (Shalom), and to all the other candidates – come and unite behind my leadership. You all have a role, and together we can bring victory."
Mofaz kicks off his campaign (Photo: Eli Elgarat)
He added: "(Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon and (Labor Chairman Amir) Peretz are praying for us to lose mandates, for the Likud movement to turn into a small, fourth party among the leading parties, that can't influence what will happen, but I won't let that happen. Every day that we invest in internal leadership contests is wasted, since it could be spent on winning the elections."
'If Israel is important to you, join me'
Directly addressing Netanyahu, Mofaz said: "If the Likud movement and the State of Israel are important to you – come and join me." He also attacked Sharon, albeit in a minor way. "We are a democratic movement that is not dependent on the vision of one man; we won't let one man bring the party to ruin. Saron's party is undemocratic."
The defense minister also attacked Netanyahu's economic policies, saying: "Economy must work for society, not at the expense of society. His policy leadership is socially insensitive and it harmed the weaker segments of society. We must extend a hand to close gaps that have been created. I promise to get rid of soup kitchens, because charity shouldn't take the place of social justice. It's the State that must take care of citizens, not soup kitchens."
Renowned Israeli singer Haim Moshe came to Mofaz's convention to sing the national anthem.
He told Ynet that "artists are earning from the political shake up; they are constantly being invited to perform."