Kadima officials say end of realignment plan should allow right-wing parties to join coalition.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will dedicate the first branch of his Kadima Party on Tuesday, some nine months after the party was established and a day after Olmert confirmed in the Knesset the demise of the unilateral realignment plan that the party was formed to implement.
Kadima officials said it was ironic that the party was restarting formal political activity the day after it lost its raison d'etre. But they said it was fitting that the dedication would be held in Tiberias, symbolizing the Kadima government's new top priority of rebuilding the North.
"Disengagement was never officially the diplomatic plan of Kadima anyway," one Kadima MK said. "It's not in the party platform." Olmert convened dozens of Kadima mayors at his Jerusalem residence on Monday and spoke about his plans for the North and not his plans for the West Bank. Olmert's aides said he was determined to keep the party alive long after his plan ceased to exist.
To that end, Olmert will dedicate the first of 21 new regional party branches that will be called "Kadima houses" to emphasize their role in their communities. The branches will host local socioeconomic projects while coordinating political activities in each region.
The "Kadima houses" are intended to be different from Likud and Labor branches where internal turf wars and battles over funding and political patronage positions are the norm. Unlike Labor and Likud, that each operate dozens of branches nationwide, Kadima will save money by only renting additional offices across the country to serve as campaign headquarters ahead of an election.
The opening of the branches was supposed to begin with a festive event hosted by Olmert on July 3, but Gilad Shalit's June 25 kidnapping delayed the formal launching of the party's political activity by more than two months.
Kadima director-general Yohanan Plessner said he hoped the opening of the branches would be "a significant breakthrough toward the building of the party and establishing it in the public consciousness." Ramat Hanegev Regional Council Mayor Shmuel Riffman, who attended the meeting with Olmert on Monday, said he was not upset that he left Labor for Kadima.
"I didn't join Kadima for disengagement or realignment but because it's more fitting than a leftist Labor Party," Riffman said. "Olmert was right to say that realignment should be delayed and reconsidered so there won't be Katyushas falling on the center of the country. I support Olmert and his diplomatic path, which is attempting to reach an agreement with the Palestinians and being willing to take other steps if it is not possible."
Kadima officials said they hoped that Olmert's statements about the end of the realignment plan would allow right-wing parties to join the coalition. Likud MK Limor Livnat said she believes her party should consider joining a national emergency government out of what she termed national responsibility.
Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik has sent letters to the heads of opposition factions urging the formation of such a government. Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman replied in a letter to Itzik that his party could only join the government if a state commission of inquiry into the Lebanon war was formed, disengagement was formally declared dead, the dismantling of settlement outposts was frozen, efforts were made to establish a presidential system of government and civil marriage was instituted.
Peace Now issued a statement calling for the toppling of the government due to Olmert's statement about realignment.
"Without a diplomatic plan, there is no reason for the Olmert-Peretz government to continue to exist," Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer said. "Labor should reconsider its place in a government that is acting like a right-wing government in every way."
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