Likud waiting for Netanyahu's nod to quit gov't

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 03-Jan-06 | Author: Yuval Azoulay and Aluf Benn

Israel's newly-elected Likud Party leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting with his party in Jerusalem.

The four Likud cabinet ministers yesterday agreed to resign from the government in the near future. After a two-hour meeting with party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv, they agreed to let Netanyahu decide when the resignation would be.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will appoint five or six Kadima Knesset members to fill some of the 11 cabinet portfolios that will be available after the Likud ministers leave. According to Sharon's aides, the ministerial candidates are deputy ministers Ze'ev Boim and Yaakov Edri and MKs Roni Bar-On, Shimon Peres, Haim Ramon and Dalia Itzik.

According to aides to Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Health Minister Dan Naveh, Education Minister Limor Livnat and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz could be returning their portfolios next Sunday - after Sharon's cardiac catheterization on Thursday, and during the weekly cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu is expected to announce the date for the group resignation today.

The party chair had hoped the ministers would not oppose the walkout, but one of the ministers described yesterday's meeting as "difficult."

The meeting was supposed to take only an hour but doubled in length after Livnat and Shalom voiced their resistance to an immediate resignation. Netanyahu held a 30-minute one-on-one with Shalom prior to the group meeting.

Netanyahu presented the findings of a survey of Likud members to convince the recalcitrants that voters supported the resignation, but aides to some of the ministers said the poll actually showed that most party members want the ministers to remain in the government.

Livnat argued that since the voters had given the Likud the mandate to form the government in the last election, there was no reason for its ministers to leave. Shalom said that if the Likud ministers bow out, Sharon and his new Kadima party would benefit from appearing to be in the center of the political map while Likud would seem more right-wing. Naveh also expressed reservations about Netanyahu's idea, but stressed that he would honor any decision on the issue.

Ministerial aides, who were not allowed into the meeting, confirmed that some of their bosses had pleaded with Netanyahu not to make them resign.

"Netanyahu knows that once he is authorized to lead the resignation from the cabinet, he will assume all responsibility for the move. If it turns out to be wise, he will get all the credit and if it turns out to be a mistake he'll have to take responsibility," an aide said.

In addition to the portfolios held by the four Likud ministers, Sharon is currently responsible for the following ministries: interior; construction and housing; environment; national infrastructures; communications; science and technology; and labor and social affairs.

Not all of the open positions will be filled before the March 28 elections.