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Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Earthquake building under Olmert's feet

Following publication of the interim Winograd report, PM Olmert's position is becoming untenable. "Only" 17% of Israelis intend to participate in the protests - that's "only" about half a million people, considering just the adult population.
Coalition Chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki spoke Tuesday with a number of Kadima MKs on the possibility of replacing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the wake of the damning report on the handling of the Second Lebanon War.
Several of those who spoke to Yitzhaki told Haaretz afterward that they had discussed the need to replace Olmert immediately.
Yitzhaki designated Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni as the preferred heir to Olmert, which the MKs said they understood to mean that the move had been coordinated with Livni.
Livni is also viewed publicly as the leading candidate to replace Olmert as Kadima chairman. Livni was barely criticized by the Winograd report, and has refrained from providing Olmert with any public support.
Yitzhaki proposed the formation of a group of lawmakers who would together ask the prime minister to resign, as Kadima's charter does not permit the dismissal of the party chairman. The charter does, however, allow for early party elections to be called, an option which is also on the table.
It is unclear how much support Yitzhaki's initiative has within Kadima. So far, Marina Solodkin is the only Kadima MK to have publicly called on Olmert to step down. In an interview Tuesday with Army Radio, Solodkin said the report "is so severe, that according to what is written their, [Olmert] must resign."
"Olmert made very serious mistakes during the war," she said. "He acted extremely irresponsibly. What happened yesterday and what is happening now cannot be ignored."
But Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit backed Olmert on Tuesday.
"I stand behind Olmert's leadership," said Dichter, during a ceremony at Olmert's office in Jerusalem to inaugurate the new head of Israel Police.
Following the ceremony, Sheetrit pointed out that the Winograd report was only a partial one, and said that "now is not the time for chopping off heads."
Kadima officials said Monday that they would call on Olmert to resign, saying they were shocked by the intensity of the criticism leveled at the prime minister in the report.
The officials said they believe it will be difficult for the prime minister to withstand the public pressure to resign until the release of the full Winograd report. The full report is expected to be made public by August.
The officials maintained however that they would do anything to avoid new elections, but would work to oust Olmert from his position.
"The writing is on the wall. It's a matter of days until someone in Kadima will clearly call for Olmert's resignation. It is not clear how [Olmert] will get himself out of this mess, and why he continues to pull down Kadima with him," a senior official said.
Labor party ministers said they believe that Olmert's chances of surviving until the release of the final report are minimal.
"Even if he is able to survive until then, it is clear, according to the interim report, that after the release of the final report he will have to resign," said a senior Labor minister.
Eitan Cabel, a Labor Party minister without portfolio, announced his resignation from the government on Tuesday.
MKs across political spectrum call for PM to go
Lawmakers and public bodies from across the political spectrum also called for the resignation of Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, with few dissenting voices after the publishing of the Winograd report.
MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said that during the Lebanon war last summer the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee had to issue ultimatums to the army to move troops to defend the Golan Heights, which had been left totally unprotected.
MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) called for mass demonstrations to demand that Olmert and Peretz step down.
MK Zevulun Orlev, the chairman of the National Religious Party, said "the prime minister, because of whose failures lives of soldiers and civilians were lost, must stop barricading himself behind his position."
Shas said that "if they had listened to Eli Yishai and flattened villages in Lebanon" fewer lives would have been lost. Yishai's media adviser Roi Lahmanovich said "Eli spoke in no uncertain terms [in the cabinet] of flattening villages, damaging roads, water and electricity."
MK Efi Eitam (National Union) said following Olmert's statement that he would not resign that "Olmert is turning the Prime Minister's Office into Ehud-grad."
The Land of Israel Legal Forum called for Olmert to fire Peretz and step down immediately thereafter. If Olmert does not resign, the organization will petition the High Court of Justice, it said.
In a letter to Olmert on Monday, Itzhak Bam of the forum wrote, "You may not ignore the findings of the report, and in light of this, it is unreasonable for you to continue as prime minister."
The forum wrote to Peretz that he was "endangering the security of Israel."
The Movement for Quality Government also called on Olmert and Peretz to resign immediately and criticized the Winograd Committee for not making a recommendation to that affect.
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has appointed a team to study the report. The IDF Spokesman said "the army is deep in the process of applying the lessons and correcting the mistakes uncovered following investigations after the war."

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