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Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Gaydamak trying to form faction of 18 MKs currently representing parties in Knesset

Gaydamak may become minister thanks to spurned Pensioners
By Lily Galili Haaretz Last update - 13:07 08/04/2008

The party of billionaire businessman Arcadi Gaydamak, Social Justice, is
expected to reach the Knesset in the next few weeks, long before
parliamentary elections.

Barring a last-minute change, Social Justice officials are expected to team
up with three members of the Pensioners Party to form the Social Justice
faction in the Knesset. According to the agreement, Social Justice will
become a Knesset-represented party on April 18.

This is the first step of Gaydamak's much-bigger plan to add MKs from
various parties to form a faction of 18 MKs by the next Knesset elections.

The new faction will be eligible to have one of its members appointed a
minister, according to the current arrangement. The minister could be one of
the three MKs quitting the Pensioners Party - Moshe Sharoni, Elhanan Glazer
or Sara Marom Shalev - one of the new members, or even Gaydamak himself.

Gaydamak, who plans to run for mayor of Jerusalem, has said he would
consider serving as minister for Jerusalem affairs. In any case, he intends
to be chairman of his party and attend the faction's Knesset sessions.

Faction chair Izhak Galenti said that there is "no ideological motive"
behind the other Pensioners party MKs move to join Gaydamak. He said that
Sharoni, who is leading the revolt against the party, is asking for a senior
ministerial position in return.

Sharoni says that his decision to leave the Pensioners party is due to the
fact that the Galenti and other party members refuse to support his bill
calling for a sharp increase in stipends for the elderly.

Up until October, Sharoni served as the faction party leader as well as the
ehad of the Knesset Welfare Committee. Sharoni was dismissed from these
positions by Pensioners Party head Rafi Eitan and replaced by Galenti. His
dismissal came after Eitan refused to back his bill to increase elderly
stipends to 20 percent of the average wage in Israel.

Soon after his dismissal, Sharoni said that he was considering establishing
his own party. To do so, he would have to gain the support of a 2 other MKs
in the party.

Regarding his contact with Gaydamak, Sharoni said that while the two did
meet last week, "it was not negotiations. Negotiations aren't done
haphazardly. I have time to think about it. Hopefully my friends in the
Pensioners party will realize that they were voted in by pensioners and they
will demand that the bill be passed. It is part of the coalition agreement
we reached.

Galenti said in response that while Sharoni acts as if he wants to stay in
the Pensioners party, he thinks that he will join Gaydama since he was
promised a top job.

Haaretz has learned that Gaydamak plans to form a faction of five by the end
of May, by adding two other MKs - at least one who would quit Kadima. Then
the faction will try to add MKs from various parties until the elections.

The Pensioners' MKs are suitable to Social Justice due to their affinity to
social causes and because they are not expected to run during the next
Knesset elections.

In addition to Knesset members who do not intend to run for the next
Knesset - and would therefore not hesitate to leave their party for Social
Justice - the new faction hopes to add several MKs after splits in Labor and
Yisrael Beiteinu.

Social Justice people are conducting intensive negotiations with MKs from
both these parties. If an entire third of a parliamentary faction splits
from the mother party and joins a new one, the MKs maintain their rights in
the new faction as well.

The new faction is offering MKs a chance to join up without having to take
part in a primary election.

The formation of the Social Justice faction was accelerated after Gaydamak's
party launched a big push for the local elections due later this year.

Gaydamak's big plan could alter the political and parliamentary scene. If
various MKs join Social Justice, it could change the current arrangement for
appointing ministers.

Gaydamak himself is going ahead with his preparations for the Jerusalem
mayoral elections.

Gaydamak told Haaretz on Monday that he would consider being a minister for
Jerusalem and Diaspora affairs.

"This is a post I think I am suitable for," he said.

"The Maariv poll that said the public prefers me to [Ehud] Barak for prime
minister reflects the public's confusion and frustration. In the absence of
experience in security affairs, I am not suitable to be prime minister," he

"On the other hand I am very suitable to be a minister who would bring peace
and prosperity to Jerusalem and unite the Jewish people in the Diaspora
around a feeling of solidarity for Israel."

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