“Jerusalem is Israel’s capital forever,” the prime minister added.
More than one hundred Likud members attended the intimate session, expressed their support for Sharon and his moves, and called on him to maintain the ruling party’s unity.
Sharon, meanwhile, addressed attempts to bring forward primaries for the Likud leadership and slammed his opponents within the party.
“I don’t understand this attempt to remove me,” he said. “The party is in power and they’re going against the party over something unclear. This is unprecedented.”
Participants in the meeting said the prime minister implied he intends to run for the country’s leadership as the Likud’s representative and has no plans to leave the party. Sharon’s comments regarding the importance of maintaining a united Likud were received with applause.
Sharon breaks to the right
Turning his attention to West Bank construction, Sharon said: “There’s no need to talk, we need to build, and we’re building without talking (about it.)”
Sources close to Sharon said his main rival, former Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was not mentioned at all during the meeting.
The timing of Sharon's statements, less than three weeks before the Likud’s Central Committee is set to convene and in effect decide on Sharon’s future within the party, makes it clear the prime minister is breaking to the right in an attempt to reassure Likud members and dismiss suggestions the pullout was only the beginning.
Similarly, by talking about settlement expansion, Sharon seeks to remind Likud activists of the “Old Arik,” who offered massive behind-the-scenes support to the establishment of settlements and outposts across the West Bank.
Sharon knows that his chances of surviving the vote on bringing forward the primaries hinge on his ability to convey a clear message, namely, that following the Gaza withdrawal it will be business as usual again - that is, boosting settlements and particularly the large ones.
No compromise on primaries
Earlier, Sharon met with Education Minister Limor Livnat, who is attempting to play a mediating role between the PM and his Likud opponents in a bid to come up with an agreed-upon primaries date. However, Sharon made it clear he had no intention to accept any compromise on the matter and said the primaries should not be brought forward at all.
Monday’s rally marks the first meeting between Sharon and Likud activists in the framework of his campaign for the party’s leadership. During the week, Sharon is expected to meet with more activists in an effort to fight off the proposal to bring the primaries forward.