MK Naveh to head Likud decision-making team until election of new chairman

Minister Danny Naveh will head a decision-making team of Likud ministers that will lead the party until elections to replace Tzachi Hanegbi, who resigned as chairman on Wednesday to defect to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s newly-formed Kadima party. In a surprise move, Hanegbi, acting chairman of the Likud and chair of the Likud Central Committee, announced that he had decided to leave the party. Hanegbi, a confidant of Sharon’s, submitted his resignation to the Likud on Wednesday, after 17 years in the party. At the same time, he announced that he was resigning his Knesset seat. „The mandate belongs to the Likud,” he said. Speaking to a news conference on Wednesday, Hanegbi said the decision to leave the Likud and join Kadima had been a difficult one. „The heart said to remain in the Likud,” Hanegbi said. However, he added, „the logic of statesmanship said to join Sharon in his historic moves.” Hanegbi’s step also came as a new Haaretz-Dialog poll conducted on Tuesday showed that in the aftermath of the Monday suicide bombing that claimed five lives in Netanya, Kadima and the Likud had gained strength, while Labor had slipped. Police submit evidence against Hanegbi to state prosecutors Also on Wednesday, police submitted the evidence it has compiled in its ongoing investigation against Hanegbi to state prosecutors. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz ordered the investigation after a state comptroller’s report accused him of gross misconduct during his term as environment minister between 2001 and 2003, handing out dozens of jobs to friends and party members. On Tuesday, Hanegbi had slammed the group of anti-disengagement Likud rebels at a Likud fmeeting, saying that they were „always complaining” and that they „drove away Sharon and the [Knesset] mandates.” Hanegbi also strongly opposed the disengagement, but supported Sharon after the decision was taken. In his remarks on Wednesday, Hanegbi said that when „hard decisions” are needed, Sharon „is the man I can trust.” He said he would support Kadima’s and pledge to retain Israel’s „Jewish and democratic character”. Hanegbi’s defection to Kadima came amid widespread reports that the police were to recommend that he be put on trial for alleged irregularities in appointments he made while serving as environment minister from 2001-4. Hanegbi denies all wrongdoing. Likud rebel MK Ayoub Kara, referring to legal shadows over Hanegbi, MK Omri Sharon, and the prime minister, said that having a criminal record was apparently a prerequisite for joining Sharon’s party. Retired police commander Aryeh Amit, who is vying for a spot on the Labor Party’s Knesset list, said he was shocked to discover that, „Tzachi Hanegbi is being greeted with hugs by the Kadima party on the same day the police recommended trying him on corruption charges. It is frightening to see how the party can ignore issues such as proper management and public integrity.” MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) said that Kadima serves as a shelter for refugees, deserters, suspects and convicts. „It is sad to think that Shimon Peres preferred this problematic bunch over the Labor Party.” „It is sad that a man who started his political career as an ideologue is finishing it as an opportunist,” MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) said. Moshe Feiglin, who is vying for Likud chairmanship, suggested that Uzi Landau be appointed temporary party chairman instead of Hanegbi. MK Ronnie Brizon (Shinui) said it appears that all of the crazy people ended up in Kadima, along with the police sirens. „From now on party meetings can be held in the Ma’asiyahu prison,” he said. Olmert: Mofaz losing self-control Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, raising the ante in a war of words between the prime minister and Shaul Mofaz, said Wednesday that the defense minister, who is seeking to succeed Ariel Sharon as the head of the Likud, is „losing his self-control.” Mofaz was quoted in Maariv newspaper Wednesday as saying that „Sharon’s people have performed a stinking maneuver on me,” and that „Sharon is working to prevent my election” as head of the Likud. Mofaz aides have cited remarks by Sharon during a security cabinet meeting this week as being especially disparaging to the defense minister. After Mofaz detailed projected costs of protecting the Egyptian border, Sharon was quoted as asking him pointedly if he was „diplomatic, defense, or socio-economic” in orientation. Yedioth Ahronoth daily Wednesday further quoted Mofaz as charging that the prime minister had leaked lies against him in order to besmirch him as avoiding the problems of the poor. „The prime minister is above these things, the personal wars. We left the Likud to end the personal wars,” Olmert said Wednesday. „I very much respect Shaul Mofaz, but there’s a sense that he is losing his self-control a little, and that’s a shame,” Olmert said. „All of his personal attacks on the prime minister the past two weeks, and today in the newspaper, it’s undignified.” The new poll, under the supervision of Prof. Camil Fuchs, shows that Kadima would win 39 seats if the elections were held now, an increase of two seats compared to last week’s poll. Since its founding, Kadima has consistently gone up in the polls. The Likud, which will be choosing its party chairman in about 10 days, got three more seats in the current poll than it did in the last one, going up from nine seats to 12. By contrast, Amir Peretz’s Labor Party has weakened significantly, possibly as a result of Monday’s terror attack in Netanya. Since Peretz was elected as Labor chairman nearly a month ago, the party has received 26 seats in the polls, but lost four seats in the last week. Winning 22 seats would give Labor only one more seat than it has in the Knesset now. These findings reflect the assessment that was widespread in all the parties immediately after the attack, that an escalation of the security situation would serve Likud and Kadima and harm Labor. Meanwhile, 38 percent of respondents said economic-social issues top the list of topics that would most influence them if the elections were to take place now. Twenty-seven percent cited security-political issues, and 21 percent gave preference to corruption in the public sector.