MK Tzachi Hanegbi
MK Tzachi Hanegbi Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Next week will mark five years since the establishment of Kadima, the "big bang" party that changed the face of Israeli politics. It is also at this time that Kadima bids farewell to another of its potential leaders. MK Tzachi Hanegbi, charged with moral turpitude, will have to leave the Knesset where he has served for 22 years, during which he was transformed from an impudent troublemaker into an experienced politician well-respected across the board.

Almost the entire leadership of the party has disappeared over those five years. Ariel Sharon sank into a coma, Ehud Olmert sank up to his neck in criminal trials. Haim Ramon was convicted, returned and retired. Avraham Hirchson was convicted and jailed. Shimon Peres, in contrast, is enjoying his golden years in the gilded cage of the Presidential Residence. Yesterday, it was Hanegbi's turn to suffer the Kadima curse.

As opposed to his colleagues, Hanegbi is leaving in order to return. "I am staying in politics," he told his friends, with satisfaction.

On the eve of his sentencing, Hanegbi had been expecting the worst. He thought that two of the three judges would rule for moral turpitude. But he was also worried about a suspended prison sentence, or that the judges would say he could not serve as a minister in the future. He breathed a sigh of relief when he heard the opposite: He will be able to run in the next Knesset election and be appointed a minister, which he has not been able to do for the past six years. For the next 18 months, Hanegbi will do what he knows how to do best: establish an election headquarters, raise funds and enlist activists with one goal - election to the top of Kadima's list for the 19th Knesset and to become a senior minister in the next government.

Meanwhile, until he returns, Hanegbi's suspension from the Kadima faction is very significant in a number of ways: It changes the balance of power in Kadima with regard to a unity government. Hanegbi was for it almost at any price. Without him, dragging opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni into the coalition - which Hanegbi had vowed to do if he were not found guilty of moral turpitude - will be much more difficult and complicated.

Hanegbi's departure from active political life will also mean the neutralization of an important political and personal axis - with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The relationship between them was clandestine and close, more than anyone knew. And while Netanyahu does not believe a word Livni says, he was prepared to buy anything Hanegbi promised him.

Thirdly, the ultimate goal - the premiership, slipped further yesterday from Hanegbi's grasp, a great deal further. People in politics and the media say Hanegbi has everything it takes to be prime minister. However, moral turpitude makes this option theoretical.

Moreover, the legal saga is not over. The prosecution has announced it will appeal Hanegbi's acquittal on the main charges of making political appointments. Hanegbi will have to appeal both his conviction and the moral turpitude.

People who spoke to Hanegbi yesterday found him the same cool, calm man they have always known. That famous cool earned him the admiration of Ariel Sharon, who saw him as his heir. With that same cool, he planted a bomb for Livni when he announced that he favored MK Shaul Mofaz to succeed him as chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

If Livni has telepathy, she probably awoke in terror in her hotel room in New Orleans after Hanegbi's statement. After all, she wants the chairmanship of the Economic Affairs Committee, to jam spokes in the wheels of Netanyahu's government. If she is forced to keep the chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, she will certainly not want to upgrade her rival, Mofaz, with such a plum position. Livni lands back in Israel tonight, straight into parliamentary and factional turmoil.