|Netanyahu and Peres 370.(Photo by: Moshe Milner/GPO)|
Efforts to form ‘Center-Left mega-party’ gain steam
By Gil Stern Stern HOFFMAN
Olmert, Livni say they’ll decide on return to politics within two weeks; election most likely to be held on January 22.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s political opponents reported progress
Wednesday in their efforts to build a “Center-Left mega-party” that could pose a
serious challenge to him in the upcoming general election.
officially informed President Shimon Peres of his intention to advance the
elections, in a meeting at the President’s Residence on Wednesday. Peres
expressed hope that the elections would be clean.
that Netanyahu held with coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin, January 22 emerged as
the apparent date for the elections. The date is acceptable to all the coalition
parties and is just two days after the inauguration of the president of the
Netanyahu must finalize the date before the Knesset
convenes Monday for what is expected to be the first and last day of the
parliament’s winter session. He could submit a bill for early elections as soon
as Thursday, for his cabinet to approve in a vote on Sunday.
election so soon forces Netanyahu’s opponents to expedite their attempts to
unite the Center- Left camp. Former justice minister Haim Ramon and Kadima
faction chairwoman Dalia Itzik, who were among Kadima’s founders, have
spearheaded the effort.
“Someone who has the ability to beat Netanyahu
will lead our bloc,” Ramon said.
Ramon’s first preference is for former
prime minister Ehud Olmert to lead the mega-party, which would bring together
former Kadima head Tzipi Livni, current Kadima MKs and other well-known figures
on the Left. He would also want Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s party to
Olmert told a stream of visitors to his office and home on
Wednesday that he would decide whether to run within a week or two after
receiving the results of in-depth surveys.
Livni, who met recently with
Olmert, will not decide her political future until she returns from a lecture
tour in the US in the middle of next week.
While popular former IDF chief
of staff Gabi Ashkenazi is legally prevented from running for Knesset, Olmert,
who is close to Ashkenazi, would present him as his candidate for defense
minister if he chooses to make a comeback.
If Olmert heads a Center- Left
bloc he would be able to form a coalition with religious parties and with
Yisrael Beytenu, whose leader, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, met with
Olmert this week.
Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz has said in closed
conversations that he would not stand in the way of an Olmert comeback, but he
is not expected to cooperate with an effort to reinstate Livni as head of the Center-Left bloc after he defeated her by a landslide in Kadima’s
Itzik expressed confidence that Mofaz would be willing
to make political compromises for the good of the country.
“I want to see
Olmert as prime minister of Israel,” Itzik said. “At this point we need to put
fanaticism and ego aside, and consider how to team up with each other and do our
best for Israel.”
Ramon ruled out Mofaz as heading the bloc, saying he
had removed himself from consideration when he joined Netanyahu’s
“As far as I’m concerned, Netanyahu will be replaced,” Ramon
said. “We won’t make the same mistake that Mofaz made of joining a Netanyahu
government and thinking we can change it from the inside. We have been
there and we don’t care about being minor ministers.”
acquitted in July of nearly all the serious corruption charges against
He was convicted of the minor crime of breach of public trust in the
Investment Affair. In late September he received a suspended sentence of one
year and a fine, meaning no prison time.
The Jerusalem District Court
notably took a pass on ruling on the issue of moral turpitude, which could have
prevented his political comeback.
Frequent media reports and the state
prosecution’s own tone following Olmert’s verdict and sentencing have suggested
that the prosecution would appeal. Although the spokesman for the Justice
Ministry would say only that all options were being weighed, speculation has
centered around the Talansky Affair as being ripe for appeal.
of the Olmert trial involved allegations that he illegally received large
amounts of cash in envelopes from a wealthy American supporter.
Jeremy Bob and Michael Omer-Man contributed to this report.