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Olmert convenes Cabinet in desperate bid to hold on to power

Olmert convenes Cabinet in desperate bid to hold on to power

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called an emergency meeting of his Cabinet Wednesday morning in a desperate attempt to hold on to power after a scathing report on his handling of last year's war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
This week's report has fueled a growing chorus of calls for Olmert's resignation, including from members of his coalition government. A top lawmaker in Olmert's Kadima Party became the highest-ranking official to urge Olmert to step down, and party officials said Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a party heavyweight, would follow suit.
The 34-day war has been widely perceived as a failure. Monday's report said Olmert bore ultimate responsibility, accusing him of poor judgment, hasty decision making and lack of vision.
Two new polls published in Israeli newspapers Wednesday said some two-thirds of Israelis want Olmert to resign immediately. The surveys indicated indicated that the hawkish former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu of the opposition Likud Party, would likely win handily if new elections were held.
Since the report was issued, Olmert has been scrambling to hold his coalition government together. One minister from the Labor Party, the junior coalition partner, already has quit, and there have been increasing signs of eroding support within Kadima.
In a new blow to Olmert, the chairman of Kadima's parliamentary faction, Avigdor Yitzhaki, called for the prime minister's head.
"In order for Kadima to return to being a legitimate ruling party and for the sake of the Prime Minister and for the sake of the entire country, I think the prime minister has to resign," he told Israel Radio. "He has to take this responsibility and resign."
Yitzhaki said if Olmert failed to do so immediately he would resign his post as chairman of his coalition. On Tuesday, another Kadima lawmaker, Marina Solodkin, also urged Olmert to step down.
But Livni, the foreign minister, was emerging as the biggest threat to Olmert's survival. Livni, who has stayed silent since the explosive report was released, is Kadima's most popular politician and may be seen as the party's best hope of retaining power. Livni aides said she planned to meet with Olmert later Wednesday.
At Wednesday's Cabinet session, Olmert was expected to appoint a committee to look into the findings of the report, which was compiled by a five-member commission headed by a retired judge.
But the appointment of a new committee seemed unlikely to overshadow the rising tide of demands that he quit, which began not long after the costly but inconclusive war, in which almost 4,000 Hezbollah rockets landed in Israel and nearly 160 Israelis were killed.
The war broke out last July 12 after Hezbollah guerrillas crossed into Israel, killed three soldiers and captured two others. Olmert's public support, high in the early days of the war, nose-dived after the fighting ended without Israel's achieving the two goals Olmert declared _ crushing Hezbollah and recovering the captured soldiers.
Olmert aides, speaking after a long day of talks and calculations Tuesday, said the prime minister knew he might be nearing the end of his reign because of the extent of the public protest. The aides, speaking on condition of anonymity because their consultations were private, said Olmert felt if he does resign, Israel would be thrown into an election campaign, because no one else could set up an alternative government.
Wednesday's polls showed that if early elections were held, Netanyahu would easily sweep to power.
A poll published in the Maariv daily said 73 percent of the public wants Olmert to resign, while the Yediot Ahronot daily said 65 percent favor his ouster.
The Maariv poll, conducted by the Teleseker agency, showed Netanyahu's Likud would score more than 30 seats in the 120-seat parliament, far more than either Kadima or Labor, and become the new ruling party.
When asked who was best suited to serve as prime minister, Netanyahu scored 32 percent, following by Livni at 15 percent. The survey polled 501 adult Israelis and had a 4.6 percentage point margin of error.
A Dahaf poll conducted for Yediot said more than half the public wanted early elections. When asked who they want as prime minister, Netanyahu scored 29 percent, following by Livni at 20 percent. The poll had a 4.5 point of error.
On Thursday, Olmert's opponents from all sides planned a show of strength at a demonstration in downtown Tel Aviv. Its size and composition could go a long way toward showing Olmert whether he can weather the storm.
On May 28, the Labor Party, Olmert's main coalition partner, holds a primary election where Defense Minister Amir Peretz, also a target of criticism from the inquiry commission, is likely to be replaced.
Two of the four candidates opposing Peretz have called on Olmert to resign, and Labor could well leave his coalition, probably forcing elections.