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Likud ministers Silvan Shalom, Limor Livnat, Yisrael Katz and Dan Naveh reluctantly surrendered to an order from Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday and agreed to resign from the cabinet.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who will hold 15 portfolios when the resignations take effect, is set to appoint six Kadima ministers next week to fill the vacancies. Olmert said he would remain finance minister and that he is leaning toward appointing Justice Minister Tzipi Livni as Israel's first female foreign minister since Golda Meir.
The resignations capped a stormy day of infighting inside the Likud between Netanyahu and the ministers, who initially attempted to challenge his leadership. Livnat, Katz and Naveh submitted their resignation letters after Netanyahu threatened to work against them in Thursday's Likud central committee vote for the Likud's Knesset slate.
The minister who held out the longest was Shalom, who did not have to compete in Thursday's race, because the second slot on the Likud list has been reserved for him. Netanyahu and Shalom reconciled in a 90-minuted meeting at the Likud's Tel Aviv headquarters, deciding that Shalom would resign on Friday and hold a joint press conference with Netanyahu on Sunday to accuse Olmert of dividing Jerusalem.
Shalom slammed Netanyahu earlier in the day, accusing him of showing disrespect to the ministers when he decided late Wednesday that they would have to lose their jobs the day before the election. The ministers found out about Netanyahu's decision from the press as they were busy preparing for the race.
"Netanyahu has gone crazy," a source close to Shalom said. "He's returned to methods of intrigue and scheming that characterized him in the past. He is destroying the party from inside and harming it from outside. This isn't leadership."
Shalom has said for weeks that leaving the government would be a mistake that would weaken the Likud in the polls. But Netanyahu said that it was essential for the Likud to exit the coalition to be able to differentiate the party from Kadima.
"I appreciate the ministers' decision to resign from the government and give up all the ministerial perks for the sake of Likud unity," Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu briefly came to the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Thursday with the ministers and told central committee members to vote for them. But the ministers privately complained that they were forced into a "humiliating" photo opportunity with Netanyahu.
The ministers said that Netanyahu displayed a lack of trust in them when he rejected their request to remain in the government until Sunday. Netanyahu told his associates that he feared the ministers were trying to trick him into allowing them to remain in the cabinet until the March 28 election.
Kadima officials slammed Netanyahu, accusing him of making sudden decision to quit the coalition after seeing a report on the evening news on Wednesday that the ministers intended to complete their term in office.
"Netanyahu's brain is messed up and he didn't even have a stroke to as an excuse," a senior Kadima official said.
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