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Likud chairman defects to Sharon”s new party | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – An opponent of Israel”s Gaza withdrawal who took over as Likud leader after Ariel Sharon quit the party joined the prime minister”s new Kadima faction on Wednesday in a surprise move ahead of the March election.

Israeli political commentators said Tzachi Hanegbi”s defection dealt another blow to the Likud, already trailing Kadima and the centre-left Labour Party in opinion polls.

Hanegbi, long a pillar of Likud”s right wing, could help Sharon appease rightists who may have been alienated by the prime minister”s recruitment of former Labour chief Shimon Peres, a key backer of the Gaza pullout completed in September.

Hanegbi voted against the withdrawal in the cabinet but opposed as counter-productive a far-right rebellion in the Likud that Sharon cited as a main reason for bolting the party last month and forming Kadima in the run-up to the March 28 ballot.

Hanegbi has been under suspicion since last year that he made illegal political appointments as environment minister from 2001 to 2004. He has denied any wrongdoing.

&#34For the good of the country, (Israel) needs the continued leadership of Ariel Sharon,&#34 Hanegbi said at a news conference, where he announced he was joining Kadima and supporting its pledge to retain Israel”s &#34Jewish and democratic character&#34. The phrase is political shorthand for territorial compromise under which the Palestinians would get a state of their own while Israel, by giving up some occupied land where several million Arabs live, would maintain its Jewish majority.

&#34I believe that when hard decisions are needed…(Sharon) is the man I can trust,&#34 Hanegbi said.


Yitzhak Herzog, a Labour legislator and former cabinet minister, predicted Hanegbi would ultimately &#34restrict Sharon and torpedo any chance of advancing in the peace process&#34.

Sharon has reaffirmed his commitment to a U.S.-backed peace &#34road map&#34 that charts reciprocal steps leading to the creation of a Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel. But he has said there could be no progress towards peace until the Palestinian Authority fulfilled the road map”s call to dismantle militant groups behind anti-Israeli violence. The plan also demands Israel halt Jewish settlement expansion.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who declared a ceasefire along with Sharon in February and is preparing for a parliamentary poll on Jan. 25, has said confronting militants would spark civil war. He wants to draw them into politics.

An opinion poll published on Wednesday, two days after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed five Israelis outside a shopping mall, showed Kadima maintaining its lead over Labour and Likud, indicating Sharon was on course to win a third term.

The Teleseker survey in Maariv newspaper gave Kadima 39 seats in the 120-member parliament, unchanged from a poll last week.

Labour was forecast to win 24 seats, down from 26 a week earlier. Likud which took 40 seats in the last election, in 2003, garnered 13 seats in the poll, up from 11 last week.