(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Whether in anticipation or in fear, the words "domino effect" were on the lips of MKs Wednesday as they discussed the resignation of IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz.
There have been repeated calls for Halutz, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz to resign since last summer's war with Hizbullah. On Wednesday, many lawmakers said responsibility for the war's failures should be equally placed on all three leaders.
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MK Zehava Gal-On, chairwoman of the Meretz faction, said "the political echelon" also bore responsibility for a war that she said had been wrong from the start.
While she welcomed Halutz's resignation, she added, "The political echelon, who accepted the irresponsible decision to go to war, must also go home."
On the opposite end of the political spectrum, MK Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) also called for others to follow Halutz's lead. "It doesn't make sense for the chief of General Staff to carry all the blame, while his supervisors at the political level - those responsible for the failures of the war - escape responsibility and continue in their positions," he said.
MK Arye Eldad (NU-NRP) said it was a "shame that [Halutz] wasted four precious months needed to rehabilitate the IDF" before quitting. "Now, Peretz and Ehud Olmert have to go, because the entire country, and not just the IDF, needs to be purified."
According to several legislators, Halutz's successor should be chosen by the Knesset, not by the defense minister in coordination with the prime minister.
Indeed, MK Gilad Erdan (Likud) said the defense minister and the prime minister should be excluded from the post-Halutz rebuilding process, and that Halutz's replacement should be chosen by a panel of experts appointed by the Knesset. "Olmert's and Peretz's understanding of national security is close to nil, and their input on the selection of the next chief of General Staff, at this point, would likely be based on political calculations," he said.
MK Yisrael Katz (Likud) suggested that rather than rushing to appoint a new chief of General Staff, a temporary emergency government should be formed and elections called, in order to replace the current government's "entire failed system."
The MKs used a Knesset plenum Wednesday on Olmert's failure to appoint another minister to the Social Affairs portfolio and for not advancing the government's socioeconomic agenda to attack the prime minister in connection to those issues, as well as Halutz's resignation.
However, Olmert successfully defended his position as social affairs minister during the Knesset session.
Forty Knesset members had called on the prime minister to appear before the plenum to debate the need for a separate social affairs minister. This is the third time since being elected to office that the matter has been raised, but the Olmert came out ahead with 50 MKs showing their support and 26 voting against in a non-binding vote.
Olmert responded to the criticism saying that there was currently a minister filling the role - himself. He asserted that the recently passed 2007 state budget had been the most "socially conscious" one in recent years and highlighted his financial commitments to social causes.
Earlier this month he pledged NIS 30 million to combat sexual violence and prostitution and has allotted NIS 400 m. for children-at-risk projects over the next two years.
However, the debate became heated at times with some MKs calling for Olmert to follow the lead of Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz and resign from his position.
Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines told the forum that it was impossible for a prime minister, who had other important commitments, to undertake a portfolio that was so important. The country has been waiting for 11 months for the prime minister to appoint a minister but that "is clearly not going to happen now," said Paz-Pines.
"They say this is the best year for Israel economically, but when will it be the best year for Israel socially," he said.
According to statistics published last August by the National Insurance Institute, 26.2 percent of Israelis or 1.6 million people and one-third of the country's children lived below the poverty line in 2005.
"What an embarrassment that our party sits in the government while there is no minister of social affairs," said Paz-Pines, a point that was raised by several other MKs.
They questioned why the Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz, a champion of social causes with no experience in army matters, was holding onto the Defense portfolio.
Last month, the Labor Party issued an ultimatum that it would leave the coalition by January 1 if Olmert did not appoint a minister of social affairs. However, that date passed and the party remained united with Olmert.
MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) disrupted the discussions numerous times and during her address to the plenum she called for the prime minister to resign from his post.
In his response, Olmert said he did not understand why the Knesset was dedicating so much time to this issue.
"I remember governments that did not appoint a defense minister and there was very little protest," he said, adding that many of the 40 MKs who had put their name to Wednesday's petition were not even present to back it up, emphasizing his point that the matter was not one of great urgency.
During his speech Olmert refused to name MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor), who initiated the petition. Both MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) and MK Uri Ariel (National Union-National Religious Party ) criticized Olmert for not mentioning Yacimovich by name.
"What, do MKs not have names anymore?" Gal-On said.
Olmert responded that Gal-On had a personal problem with him, "You aren't the only MK in the world, nor the most interesting. I wasn't talking to you."
Gal-On then called the prime minister "pathetic" and accused him of "poverty of spirit" to which the prime minister retorted that it was Gal-On herself who was pathetic.
"Your hubris will be the death of you," said Olmert." If I were you, I'd sit quietly and not preach against condescension or arrogance."
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