Netanyahu: Likud Ministers to Resign From Cabinet on Sunday

Despite reservations by Likud ministers, party leader Netanyahu forges ahead with pledge to bolt.

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Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu announced early on Tuesday that the four remaining Likud cabinet ministers will resign from the government at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Netanyahu, who himself resigned his treasury post close to the start of the disengagement last summer, has been working since his election as party leader more than two weeks ago to convince the ministers to resign.

A number of the sitting ministers, in particular Education Minister Limor Livnat, had expressed reservations over quitting, and had advanced arguments for remaining within the cabinet until after the March elections.

After a two-hour meeting with Netanyahu Monday at Likud headquarters in Tel Aviv, the four Likud cabinet ministers agreed to resign from the government, and to let Netanyahu decide when the resignation would be.

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 had pressed for a resignation early this week, but was persuaded to hold off at least until after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon underwent a cardiac catheterization procedure scheduled for Thursday.

The Tuesday announcement was made in beeper messages sent to reporters just before the central 7 A.M. news broadcasts.

PM to appoint up to six new Kadima ministersSharon will appoint five or six Kadima Knesset members to fill some of the 11 cabinet portfolios that will be available after the departure of the Likud ministers, Livnat, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, Health Minister Dan Naveh, and Agriculture Minister Yisrael Katz.

ccording 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.

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.

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