Israel's former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the guest at two Jewish functions in Los Angeles this week, on a schedule that included a closed dinner in Palm Springs and a number of private meetings. Netanyahu, who served as Israel's premier from 1996-1999, left for Denver on Tuesday, and was headed back to Israel this week.
His trip this month around the United States left him far away from the debate in Israel concerning his future. Last week, Likud Party officials in Israel reportedly proposed rotating the premiership between current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu if the party wins the next national election. Likud members close to Sharon made the proposal for fear of a rupture in the party, should Netanyahu decide to run for the party leadership, the daily Ha'aretz reported. The proposal's supporters said its chances of acceptance were slim.
In Los Angeles this week -- at the Chabad of the Marina and the Golan Fund Humanitarian Award Dinner -- Netanyahu didn't comment specifically on plans to run, but he did speak generally about security in Israel and the world.
In an eloquent speech to some 600 friends of Chabad of the Marina at The Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel on Sunday night, Netanyahu focused on refuting the Palestinian claim that "the Jews have stolen our land" from a historical, legal, political and demographic perspective. The event was dedicated to the deeds and teachings of Rabbi Menachem. M. Schneerson, and Netanyahu recalled a conversation he had with the Lubavicher Rebbe in the 1980s. "He urged me to light a candle of truth in the House of Lies, by which he meant the United Nations," said Netanyahu, who closed his address by exhorting his listeners to "light a candle for truth, for the Rebbe, for Israel and for the future of our people."
The following night at the swank Beverly Hills Hotel, Netanyahu awarded producer Jerry Weintraub ("Ocean's Eleven") with the Golan Fund Humanitarian award. The year-old fund intends to raise $3 million to support the development of the region, which was captured in 1967 and was formally annexed to Israel 20 years ago.
"When we didn't have the Golan Heights, we were attacked," Netanyahu told the audience of nearly 400 people. In the past three decades, he said, "We've had a perfect peace -- no shots were fired across the Golan Heights." Netanyahu went on to compare this type of "defensive" peace with the one Israel should strive for today, the one that the United States embarked on in the Cold War.
After America's wins the war on terrorism -- "because it will be won, when it's understood that terrorism is either punished or terrorist regimes are replaced, [America] will change the map of the world," Netanyahu said.
Israel's leader must have an "inspired direction," and a broad coalition, he said, hinting at his own plan for future leadership. Netanyahu bowed out of the last race against Sharon in December 2000, because though he had a 70 percent approval rating, he did not want to force new parliament elections, which might have caused the party to lose votes, he said. "I said I could come back another time."
Tom Tugend contributed to this report.