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Benny Begin set to return to politics

Benny BeginJERUSALEM — Former minister Binyamin (Benny) Begin is set to announce his return to political life, several media outlets in Israel reported on Sunday morning.

According to reports, Begin met with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu in recent days and the two agreed on his return to the party.

Begin, who is currently the director of the Geological Institute, has informed National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer of his decision to quit the institute and re-join the Likud.

Begin was known as Mr. Integrity when he left the Knesset nine years ago.

The son of former prime minister Menachem Begin, he followed in his father’s footsteps both in his modest style and his firm adherence to a right-wing ideology.

He quit his ministerial post in 1997 to protest the Hebron Agreement and he left the party altogether in 1998 in anger over its support of the Wye Agreement.

At the time he had harsh words for then-prime minister Netanyahu, whom he called a “friend” of PA President Yasir Arafat.

Of the Likud, he said it was “run by a group of power-hungry, power-intoxicated, unrestrained people headed by a man who misled and deceived his colleagues.”

He opted to revive his father’s former party Herut, and run with it for the Knesset as part of the newly created right wing party, the National Union.

When it received only four seats, he left politics for academia; stating that apparently he had no following.

So it’s a sign of the changing times for the Likud that it warmly welcomed Begin back Sunday when he announced that he planned to run for the Knesset.

Netanyahu greeted him with supportive words; having already urged his return in the last elections.

Even the liberal end of the party, recent recruit Uzi Dayan, who is also seeking a Knesset seat, said that the fact that he and Begin were both turning to the Likud meant “that something positive is happening here.”

According to polls, the party will be three times as large in the next election as it is now, and due to that has to recruit politicians representing a wider spectrum of opinions, said Dayan.

“Not everyone will think the same thing,” he said.

MK Yuval Steinitz added that historically the Likud has always had a wide spectrum, from its former MK Meir Sheetrit, who was almost center left, to politicians such as Uzi Landau and now Begin.

“The fact that so many good and gifted people are joining means that the party is on the path to victory,” said Steinitz.

Known for taking the bus to the Knesset during most of his 11 years there, Begin differed greatly in style from some of the more opulent leaders of his party.

It was in keeping with his clean-cut, incorruptible image that he initially worked for nothing as a scientist upon his return in the late 1990s to the Geological Institute, so the researcher whom he had replaced would not be fired.

Similarly he does not plan to rest on his laurels as a former prince of the Likud.

Shunning preferential treatment, Begin apparently did not ask for a slot on the Likud list to be reserved for him, preferring instead to campaign in the upcoming primaries.

His return is seen as an asset to Netanyahu, who can use Begin’s image as Mr. Clean to counter his main rival for the Prime Minister’s Office, Tzipi Livni, who is running on the Mrs. Clean ticket.

By bringing in the politician who is the cleanest of Mr. Cleans, Netanyahu hopes to blunt Livni and Kadima’s attacks on the Likud’s image as a party ruled by vote contractors [the infamous Central Committee] and to paint himself more along the model of Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni, whose popularity can be attributed in part to her corruption-free history.

Netanyahu’s expensive tastes and lifestyle is expected to be a target in the campaign. With Begin at his side, Netanyahu can can take the sting out of some of these charges.

But Avraham Diskin, a professor of political science from Hebrew University, said that Begin’s reappearance was a mixed blessing.

True, his presence helps restores an image of integrity to the Likud, but at the same time he also pushes it more to the right.

But to win the election it’s the center, not the right, that Netanyahu has to sway.

Amir Mizroch contributed to this report.

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