House C'tee to Vote Whether Breakaway Pensioners Party MKs Can Found Own Party

Meretz-Yahad and most of the coalition factions are planning to block three breakaway Pensioners Party MKs from founding their own party, against the advice of the House Committee's legal adviser. The issue is due to come up for a vote in the committee today.

If the breakaway party does not get approved, the matter could go to the High Court of Justice for a decision.

The Knesset Elections Law states that the House Committee should approve a breakaway party as long as the breakaway MKs constitute at least a third of the original party's members. The Pensioners MKs seeking to split off from their seven-member party meet this criterion.

The House Committee legal adviser, Arbel Astrachan, said the panel should approve the split.

Meanwhile, Pensioners Party faction chairman Yitzhak Galanti said yesterday that if the Knesset approved the party founded by the breakaway MKs, then by that token, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could also "buy" a Knesset faction.

Galanti was referring to the incident two weeks ago when Knesset members Elhanan Glazer and Sara Marom Shalev followed in MK Moshe Sharoni's footsteps in establishing the Justice for Pensioners faction. The new faction will represent billionaire Arcadi Gaydamak's party. But it seems chances are low that the breakaway MKs will succeed in their bid to depart from the coalition.

MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima), who is serving as interim coalition head, announced yesterday that his faction opposed the deal set forth by the breakaways and said his sentiments were shared by most, if not all, parties.

In a letter to the Knesset committee that will decide whether to approve the new faction, Galanti wrote that approving the new party would pose a "danger to democracy, to society and to Israel's security."

Galanti mentioned in the letter that in the agreement between Sharoni and the Justice for Pensioners Party it was "stipulated explicitly that Gaydamak will fund the party's institutions in both the 17th and the 18th Knesset, in addition to funds supplied by the government by law. It is also stipulated that any ministerial position will be offered to MK Sharoni first."

"Gaydamak's Social Justice party promises to deposit into the parties' joint bank account a sum equal to the government party financing and to pay the salaries of the 22 Social Justice party employees who will be selected by the Justice for Pensioners party members," the letter stated.

Galanti wrote: "Is this not a form of overt bribery in exchange for legal representation in the 17th Knesset and its committees? Isn't this a conflict of interest or immediate/future compensation for a bribe?"

The letter went on to say that "an MK who receives a pen or a box of chocolates as a gift asks the ethics committee whether to approve or reject it. Since there is gossip surrounding the receipt of an Audi A8 vehicle, or any other vehicle, to be used by one of the MKs or one of his relatives - the question must be asked: Is this not a violation of the rules of ethics?"

Galanti also mentioned that "there is a more than likely possibility that Gaydamak will split additional Knesset factions [it is already common knowledge that intensive talks are underway between Gaydamak and central MKs who do not belong to the Pensioners Party]. A nod from the Knesset committee could give Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad or our enemies from within endless ideas of buying political parties, factions and even individual MKs."