Israel's situation on the diplomatic front has dramatically improved, and the reception I received in the U.N. is a testament to this, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Tuesday during a Likud Party New Year's toast in Ramat-Gan.
Some 1,500 Likud members who attended the event greeted the prime minister with a round of applause and chants of “Arik, Arik.”
Ministers Shaul Mofaz, Danny Naveh, Meir Sheetrit and Yisrael Katz were also on hand; Sharon’s arch-rival MK Benjamin Netanyahu made an appearance and even shook hands with the prime minister.
Likud sources said Netanyahu’s associates had hoped the convention would fail, and even worked behind the scenes to this end.
Sharon began his speech by saying that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal and undivided capital, and later commented on the recent rift within the party, which culminated with the recent Central Committee vote on the elections for party chairmanship.
“It is time to heal the wounds, and we must do everything so the elections will take place on November 7, 2006, as planned,” he said.
“The party must support the government’s decisions; the current situation cannot continue.There has been a big improvement in the economic sphere as opposed to last year, but much work remains to be done to decrease social gaps," he added.
'We will strengthen settlement blocs'
"There's a process of improving ties with moderate Muslim countries. The war on terror will continue, and I will do my best so the diplomatic process continues as well, as it is very important for Israel. We have one plan that was approved by the government – and that is the Road Map, which can be of advantage to us if the Palestinians live up to their obligations.”
Sharon also said he would tackle the rampant violence in Israel, saying, “Today I was informed of the plan to dismiss 200 Border Guard officers - I instructed the Internal Security minister to keep the officers in the force.”
“We must focus on the battle against poverty and change the government’s priorities,” he said.
“We will continue to advance education, strengthen Jerusalem, the Negev and the Galilee, as well as the settlement blocs, the Golan Heights and the Jordan Valley.”
Just two weeks ago the Likud Central Committee supported Sharon and voted against Knesset Members Benjamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau's initiative to push the primary elections forward. The proposal was rejected by a narrow 104-vote margin.
Following the vote sources close to Sharon told Ynet they demand Netanyahu honor the Central Committee’s decision and break up the Likud “rebel” camp. They singled-out Likud Faction Chairman Gideon Sa'ar, who had presented the prime minister with an ultimatum and supported early primary elections.
Ilan Marciano contributed to this report