Likud Defectors in Talks Over Return

Several Kadima MKs have looked into the possibility of returning to the Likud Party, party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday, adding he was currently engaged in negotiations with the MKs. This was the first time Netanyahu admitted to the contacts, which have been going on for the last few weeks.

He chose to make them public yesterday, because he believes the announcement will hold more significance for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his government at its present perilous junction.

By addressing the possible desertion of Kadima MKs to the Likud, Netanyahu managed the raise certain speculations that the current government could be brought down without elections - if a third of Kadima's MKs desert the party for the Likud. A Likud MK has said that Netanyahu is personally involved in some of the negotiations, and is presently following the developments closely.

The MK added there was no present framework for an organized mass desertion of Kadima MKs. Likud sources named ministers Shaul Mofaz, Meir Sheetrit and Jacob Edery as potential recruits from Kadima, as well as MKs Ruhama Avraham, Ronit Tirosh, Marina Solodkin and Eli Aflalo - who have all denied their intention to return to Likud.

A Kadima lawmaker told Haaretz that "the prime minister's current situation and that of Kadima certainly constitute a consideration, so leaving for the Likud party is nothing to dismiss offhand. We left the Likud for former prime minister Ariel Sharon, but things are different now."

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's brother left her parliamentary faction yesterday to return to the Likud. Eli Livni, a lieutenant colonel in the reserves, said yesterday the reason for his return was his disappointment in the corruption-stricken Kadima, and its "lack" of performance during the second Lebanon war. He added that he had a harsh exchange of words with his sister after he informed her of his decision.

"I came to realize that I had no confidence in Kadima's path, and Tzipi [Livni] did not answer my questions. It seems almost all of Kadima is under police investigation," he complained.

Yesterday Netanyahu told reporters, "the people have lost confidence in the government and in the prime minister, and therefore want to go to the ballots. The coalition does not want that, and so it seems the current government will be replaced by another coalition."