From his lovely home in Mevasseret Zion, the newly former MK Tzachi Hanegbi observes with equanimity and humor the media-political-parliamentary fuss in the wake of the judgment in his case. The amendment to the Basic Law on the Knesset concerning MKs accused of moral turpitude - which was sponsored in the last Knesset by MK Gilad Erdan, now the environmental protection minister - forced Hanegbi to leave the Knesset immediately.
He served in the parliament for 22 years, a good part of them as a prominent troublemaker and a serial participant in affairs that had an aroma of criminality. During the past decade, signs of moderation, responsibility and fairness also have begun to sprout in Hanegbi. His abilities, the experience he accumulated in the government ministries where he served, and his position as chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee over the past five years have transformed him into a darling of the political community from both right and left.
Had Hanegbi been spared the turpitude, he would have thrown himself into his personal, national cause: dragging minority leader MK Tzipi Livni of Kadima along with the entire party into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. But even on Hanegbi's price list for Kadima joining the government, which is a lot cheaper than Livni's, a number of necessary conditions have to be fulfilled by Netanyahu: embarking on a genuine peace process, and making a significant change in the makeup of the coalition.
At the moment, Netanyahu is not there. The premier is telling his close associates: "I am going for a peace process and I want Kadima inside." In the same breath, he adds: "But I don't want to give up a single one of my coalition partners." Until the prime minister internalizes that he has to separate himself from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu, or from the ultra-Orthodox, and bring about a breakthrough in the stalled negotiations with the Palestinians - the chances of Livni becoming part of his government are lower than Defense Minister Ehud Barak's chances of being re-elected prime minister.
In three months it will be two years since the last Knesset elections. At that point the MKs generally stop looking back and start pondering the next ones. Tzipi Livni has spent two horrible years in the opposition desert. Now, with the elections already visible on the horizon, will she be open to providing the Likud government with the necessary fuel to complete its tenure? Not if it depends on her. And with Hanegbi out, it depends more on her than before.
Leaving the courthouse this week, Hanegebi assembled the reporters and announced, among other things, that he sees his Kadima faction colleague MK Shaul Mofaz as his replacement in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Was he setting a land mine for Livni?
No, he clarified the following day, to anyone who asked him. He intended for Mofaz to replace him only during the interim while Kadima and Likud squabble over the Knesset committees in his absence. Now it is Livni who will try to get rid of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in order to get the Knesset Finance Committee back in Kadima's hands. On Wednesday, upon landing in Israel from New Orleans, she called Mofaz to say there isn't anything personal here against him.
But there are certain land mines Hanegbi intends to defuse himself. Indeed, as chair of the committee, he initiated the Land Mines Law, aimed at clearing thousands of old land mines left in fields from the country's wars. This will engage him during the coming year, along with his own primary race for the Kadima list for the next Knesset.
Yesterday Hanegbi's defense attorneys sent a letter to the State Prosecutor's Office asking it not to appeal his acquittal on the political appointment charges. An appeal would likely make the case drag on another two years. The judges would have to wade through 17,000 pages of transcripts, 15,000 pages of evidence and the 1,000-page court ruling, in which it was determined that though making the appointments is a criminal offense, it wasn't in Hanegbi's case. If two years down the line his exoneration is overturned, what will this give the attorney general and his colleagues apart from personal satisfaction? Hanegbi believes the State Prosecutors' Office is out to get him.
The two central people in the Kadima political mechanism with the greatest parliamentary and ministerial experience are, regrettably, both convicted offenders who are out of the Knesset: Kadima Council head Haim Ramon and now Hanegbi, "chairman of the party affairs committee" in Kadima. A kind of party outsourcing. Livni evinces greater forgiveness and understanding toward them than she had toward Ehud Olmert, who still must be presumed innocent.
Ramon and Hanegbi have a common interest: to shorten the lifespan of Netanyahu's government, in order to come back and serve as ministers in the new government. But the two political foxes know that the opposition in Israel does not topple governments: It is the coalition that topples itself.
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