Likud chairman defects to Kadima
In shock move, Likud Chairman Tzachi Hanegbi announces he will be quitting Likud for Prime Minister Sharon's Kadima Party; few hours later, police recommend he be indicted for irregular appointments of political associates; Hanegbi has opposed Likud rebels for 'pushing PM out of the party;' Kadima aide says move ‘decisive blow to Likud’
Only a few hours after Likud Party Chairman Tzachi Hanegbi announced his intention to join Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Kadima party, police recommend to the State Prosecutor's Office that he be indicted for irregular political appointments.
Hanegbi was under a police investigation after a highly severe report by the State Comptroller accused him of appointing political associates and friends during his tenure as environment minister.
Following the police recommendation, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and State Prosecutor Eran Shendar said that a decision on Hanegbi's investigation file will be made as soon as possible and regardless of the election period.
"All of my acts have been legitimate. Likud members are entitled to be appointed to serve the state if they have the skills, this is my view and I've never hidden it," Hanegbi said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon, in which he explained his decision to defect to Kadima.
Highly secret talks have been taking place between Kadima officials and Hanegbi in recent days, and the move is considered by party members as a "decisive blow against Likud."
Hanegbi said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approached him prior to forming the Kadima party and asked him to join.
“My heart was telling me to stay in my political home, but national logic told me to join the historic political move alongside the prime minister,” Hanegbi told a Tel Aviv press conference.
“I did not conceal my deep belief that the good of the country dictates that Sharon be reelected; I could not remain in a party that wants to elect a leader to compete with Sharon, who I trust as a leader,” he added.
'Not in love with the disengagement'
“During this past year Likud MKs, senior ministers included, waged a personal, aggressive battle against the prime minister. The elementary rules of the game were violated. I repeatedly warned my fellow Likud members that their votes and statements would lead to a devastating split.”
Hanegbi stressed that, “I am not in love with the disengagement (from Gaza), and I heard the prime minister say that he opposes additional unilateral pullouts.”
“I do not see an ideological abyss between Sharon, (Benjamin) Netanyahu, (Defense Minister Shaul) Mofaz and (Foreign Minister Silvan) Shalom,” Hanegbi continued.
“I would prefer a Kadima-Labor-Likud coalition; these parties are stable and can advance significant moves. I would also like to see (Labor Chairman) Amir Peretz in this government so he may head a social agenda."
Kadima Party President Avigdor Yitzhaki said prior to the official announcement, "Tzachi Hanegbi is one of the most talented ministers in Israel. He has contributed much to the leadership of the country."
'This is a hard blow for Likud'
"With that, I can't confirm or deny that Hanegbi will be the one who will stand at the center of the press conference in Tel Aviv," he said.
The appointment of Hanegbi constitutes a surprising move on Kadima’s part. Sources in the party have confirmed that Hanegbi will be the man at the center of a Tel Aviv press conference this afternoon, where he will announce his decision to join Likud and support the prime minister.
A party source said that Hanegbi has been assured an honorable place in the party.
"This is a hard blow for the Likud. Hanegbi could have been voted first or second in that party, and now he announces that Kadima is his home," said a source.
Hangebi: Son of veteran member of nationalist right
Minister Hanegbi, 48, is the son of former Knesset Member Geula Cohen, a veteran member of the nationalist right in Israel.
Leaving home. Hanegbi at his Likud office. (Photo: Yossi Zigler)
After his investigation, Hanegbi served as a minister in the Prime Minister's Office. He returned from strategic talks with the Americans in Washington over the weekend, where he represented Ariel Sharon.
In the past week, Hanegbi criticized Likud rebels for forcing the prime minister out of the party on a national television chat show.
Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz said in response to the defection, "I say again that the Likud is stronger than all of its detractors," he added.
"Everyone who has left the Likud in the past has lost, and has disappeared from the political map," said Katz.
Katz has requested an urgent Likud secretarial meeting in light of Hanegbi's resignation.
Aides to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hanegbi defected due to the impending indictment against him.
“It is a move that was taken out of personal distress,” an aide said.
Labor MK Matan Vilnai commented on Hanegbi’s defection to Kadima, labeling Sharon’s new party as a sanctuary.
“There is no timing more symbolic and unfortunate than the decision of a public figure indicted this morning to join Kadima,” Vilani said.
“It seems Kadima is turning into a sanctuary transmitting an image of disgrace to public transparency and values,” he added.
Likud primaries hopeful Moshe Feiglin called for the immediate appointment of Uzi Landau to the post of Central Committee chairman following Hanegbi’s departure.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report