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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Former minister Haim Ramon's departure from the Knesset is not intended to show a lack of confidence in the staying-power of Kadima, Ramon stressed in a press conference at the legislature on Monday, in which he formally announced his resignation.
Ramon's decision to leave at a time when there is talk about a possible split in the party led to speculation that he might have been departing what he thought was a sinking ship. But Ramon said he had accepted the post of Kadima council chairman, because ironically he intended to become more politically active than ever when he was no longer an MK.
"My decision to leave doesn't reflect any lack of faith in Kadima," Ramon said. "It is completely personal. I decided I needed a break from parliamentary life. Had I not thought [Kadima had a bright future], I would have completely left politics. I am taking a leadership role in Kadima because I believe in Kadima."
Ramon predicted that Kadima would return to power under party leader Tzipi Livni "in no more than two or three years."
He said the party's political comeback was dependent on its politicians keeping its promises of putting the country first, then the party, and only then their personal good, but he said his own resignation might be an exception to that rule.
Responding to calls from Kadima's No. 2, MK Shaul Mofaz, for the party to join Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition, Ramon said Kadima had made the right decision to stay in the opposition.
"When we were in power, I was involved in efforts to try to bring a man into the last government and he didn't come, and he is prime minister today," Ramon said.
Asked at the press conference what his biggest political and personal mistakes were, he said he should have run for chairman of the Labor Party in 1996, following Yitzhak Rabin's assassination and Shimon Peres's electoral defeat. He said that had he run against eventual winner, Ehud Barak, it could have changed history.
He said his biggest personal mistake was the July 12, 2006, incident, in which he gave an unwanted kiss on the lips to a female soldier at the Prime Minister's Office, which led to his departure from the Justice Ministry and a sexual harassment conviction.
"My worst personal mistake was obviously the kiss," Ramon said. "It was wrong and I regret it, even though I don't think it was the least bit illegal."
Asked whether he might be a serious prime ministerial candidate were it not for the kiss, he said: "Becoming prime minister has to do with a lot of luck and being in the right place at the right time. I don't think I am a political flop. Many great people didn't become prime minister. I was in the Knesset for a long time and even reporters who don't like me wrote that I accomplished a lot."
In a parting shot at his nemesis, Barak, he said Barak was not worthy to be prime minister and that his mistakes at Camp David in 2000 led to the loss of life in the second intifada.
At a Kadima faction meeting prior to the press conference, Livni praised Ramon and called him "a man who always did what he thought was right even when it wasn't right for him politically or personally."
Kadima faction chairwoman Dalia Itzik, who has been close to Ramon for years, roasted him and vowed to "make his life miserable" in his new role as Kadima council chairman.
"We came to see with our own eyes that Ramon is really quitting," Itzik said. "Haim will forever remain the oldest kid I know and the youngest old fogy I know."
Ariel Zirulnick contributed to this report.