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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held a series of meetings with Military Intelligence Research Division head Brig.-Gen. Yossi Baidatz during the Second Lebanon War without Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's knowledge, Army Radio reported on Friday morning.
Sources close to Livni claimed that she had initiated the meetings because Olmert had not included her in national security consultations.
Shortly after meeting with Baidatz, the report said, Livni began developing a diplomatic plan aimed at ending the fighting. They began meeting only two days after the war broke out.
Meanwhile, a source close to Olmert revealed Thursday that the prime minister was considering asking the Winograd Committee to let him testify a second time, to refute Livni's charges that she tried to end the war.
Olmert is incensed that Livni told the panel of her diplomatic efforts to end the war shortly after it started, according to the source.
Olmert has claimed that much of the committee's condemnation of him was based on false testimony from Livni that she had told Olmert she was trying to end the war. His aides said he was upset that the panel never asked him about the subject.
Livni's spokesman declined to comment.
In closed conversations, Olmert expressed satisfaction with the protocols of his earlier testimony that were released Thursday. His associates urged the public to read the transcript, which they said proved that Olmert presided over the war with a long-range strategic outlook and proved himself a good leader.
But Olmert's political opponents accused him of blaming the IDF for too many of the war's mistakes. They said that every time the Winograd Report is in the headlines and as long as it tops the national agenda, it hurts the prime minister and increases pressure on him to resign.
"Olmert's testimony proves that he is avoiding responsibility and passing the buck to the IDF on everything," former coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki (Kadima) said. "If he cared about political stability in Israel, he would quit as soon as possible and allow whomever Kadima selects to start stabilizing the country."
While Olmert's dispute with Livni resurfaced Thursday, his ties with Defense Minister Amir Peretz enjoyed a renaissance. After Olmert defended Peretz's appointment as defense chief to the Winograd Committee, Peretz defended Olmert and himself in a speech to the Labor executive committee at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters.
"Every public figure must know how to do his own personal soul-searching," Peretz said. "I stand before the people of Israel and say clearly that I did all of my work out of love for the land, the people and the country, and I think everyone feels this."
Peretz said Labor should trade the Defense Ministry for the Finance portfolio, no matter who wins its May 28 primary. He lashed out at former prime minister Ehud Barak for calling upon Olmert to resign, saying Labor must remain in the government to influence key issues.
"Everyone knows I have differences of opinion with Olmert," Peretz said, "but I recommend that we don't stoop to populism and try to dictate who should head another party, because it could quickly lead to a grave deterioration of our democracy."
He accused Labor rival Barak of "acting under the influence of polls."
Two polls of Labor members broadcast on Thursday indicated that Barak harmed himself by calling for Olmert to quit while leaving open the possibility of serving as his defense minister.
An Israel Radio poll of 600 Labor members found that MK Ami Ayalon would defeat Barak in a run-off for party chairman 49 percent to 30%. The gap between Ayalon and Barak has grown significantly since an April 25 survey by the same pollster, when it was 9%.
A Gal Hadash poll on Channel 10 predicted that Ayalon would beat Barak 46% to 35%.
In the race for president, the Labor executive committee decided nearly unanimously on Thursday to endorse Labor MK Colette Avital and not Vice Premier Shimon Peres of Kadima, who told Olmert on Wednesday he would seek the post.
Peres was embarrassed on Thursday when Channel 10 aired footage of an interview he gave to a foreign news outlet a few months ago in which he fell asleep in the middle of answering a question about Iran.
Peres's spokesman told Channel 10 the interview took place following a long flight from the US. He said releasing the tape ahead of the presidential race was vindictive.
Opposition MKs used the publication of the Winograd Committee's protocols to reiterate calls for Olmert and Peretz to resign.
MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), who petitioned the High Court of Justice earlier this month to release the testimonies, said the testimonies highlighted the discrepancy in the accounts by Olmert and Peretz.
"The whole truth has finally emerged from the leaders' contradictory versions of it," she said. "Now they are trying to blame their failures on each other. Up until today, we have only heard leaked information that serves the prime minister's interests. My greatest hope is that the release of the testimonies will mean Olmert and Peretz get sent home faster."
Cabinet secretary Yisrael Maimon came to Olmert's defense, saying: "The prime minister is not by any means considering resignation, and the calls today are efforts by people to get into the media."
For the second time this month, the families of the three captive soldiers refused to respond directly to the contents of the interim Winograd Report.
In a statement issued to the press Thursday, the families said their focus was on the safe return of the soldiers. On June 25, Cpl. Gilad Schalit was kidnapped by Hamas outside the Gaza Strip. On July 12, Hizbullah captured reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser near the Lebanon border.
Their families said there was nothing in the report they didn't already know.
Goldwasser's father-in-law, Omri Avni, told The Jerusalem Post the three men would not be returned as a result of the Winograd Report.
"The war is not over for us," he said.
Avni said his focus, and that of the three families, was on the future and not the past.
"When Udi and Eldad return they can read the report and respond," he said.
Avni said that, as part of their efforts to release Ehud, he and members of the Goldwasser family met Wednesday with Olmert. He said he would not discuss the contents of the meeting.
Sheera Claire Frenkel and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.
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