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Olmert convenes Cabinet in bid to hold on to power

Olmert convenes Cabinet in bid to hold on to power

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, feverishly trying to hang on to power, told an emergency meeting of his Cabinet on Wednesday that rivals should "slow down" before trying to reap political capital from a scathing report on his handling of last year's war 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 later in the day.
The 34-day war against Hezbollah guerrillas 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.
A defiant Olmert opened the special Cabinet session by hinting that reports of his political demise were premature. "To those who are eager to take advantage of this report to reap certain political advantages, I suggest 'slow down,'" he said.
Two new polls published in Israeli newspapers Wednesday said some two-thirds of Israelis want Olmert to resign immediately. The surveys 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 together. One minister from the Labor Party, Olmert's main coalition partner, already has quit, and there have been increasing signs of eroding support within Kadima.
In a new blow, the chairman of Kadima's parliamentary faction, Avigdor Yitzhaki, called for the prime minister to step down.
"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 as coalition chairman. On Tuesday, another Kadima lawmaker, Marina Solodkin, also urged Olmert to step down.
Separately, confidants of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who also came under criticism in the war probe, said he was considering quitting. There was no confirmation from his spokesmen.
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 the party's best hope of retaining power. Livni aides said she planned to meet with Olmert later Wednesday to urge him to step down.
At the 3 1/2-hour Cabinet session, ministers agreed to carry out the report's recommendations for improved decision-making and crisis management, and to set up a committee to oversee the implementation, Cabinet Secretary Israel Maimon said.
Olmert told ministers that his government would best remedy the mistakes it made.
"We could make life easy and say 'Thank you, I was proud to serve the State of Israel,' and go," Maimon quoted him as saying. "But I know from past experience with such reports that no other government will implement this (report), only this government."
But the appointment of a new committee seemed unlikely to blunt the rising tide of demands that Olmert quit, which began shortly after the costly but inconclusive war, in which almost 4,000 Hezbollah rockets landed in Israel and 158 Israelis were killed. More than 1,000 Lebanese civilians and combatants also died, according to Lebanese officials.
The war broke out 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 he 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.
Kadima could still potentially replace Olmert without elections, but the front-runner to replace him, Livni, could encounter difficulty in keeping the current coalition together. The ultra-Orthodox Shas party would have trouble serving under a woman, while the nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party may be wary of cooperating with Livni, who is more dovish than Olmert.
Media have also said veteran statesman Shimon Peres of Kadima, an 83-year-old former prime minister, was a possible replacement.
Wednesday's polls showed that if early elections were held, Netanyahu would easily sweep to power.
The Maariv poll, conducted by the Teleseker agency, found that 73 percent of the public wants Olmert to resign while the Dahaf poll conducted for Yediot Ahronot said 65 percent favor his ouster. The first survey had a 4.6 percentage point margin of error, while the second had a 4.5 percentage point margin.
On Thursday, Olmert's opponents from all sides planned a show of strength at a demonstration in Tel Aviv. Its size and composition could go a long way toward showing Olmert whether he can weather the storm.
On May 28, Labor holds a primary election where Peretz 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.


Updated : 2020-11-30 07:03 GMT+08:00