olmert troubled 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met individually with Labor chairman Amir Peretz and Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu late Wednesday night, raising speculation that an expanded "national emergency government" could be on the way.
Former prime minister Levy Eshkol formed such a government when the Six Day War started in 1967. MKs in Kadima, Likud, Israel Beiteinu and the National Union called upon Olmert to follow suit due to the tense security situation in the North and South.
Olmert made a point of not ruling out the possibility when he was asked about it in a press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in the afternoon.
"I have not dealt with political or coalition activity but its time will come," Olmert said.
Olmert's associates said that expanding the government was unlikely at this stage but it could be considered if the security situation continues to worsen. Coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki said that he was always in favor of having as wide a coalition as possible, especially at a time of war.
Sources close to Olmert denied a report on Channel 2 that Kadima officials were interested in replacing Peretz as defense minister with Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter - a move that would likely chase Labor out of the government. Dichter's spokesman said the report was baseless and that "he was not tailoring any suits."
Netanyahu told Channel 2 that if Olmert invited him to join the cabinet, he would consider it and bring it to his Likud colleagues for approval. He said the Likud could support the government from the opposition if strong military action was taken.
His Likud rival, MK Silvan Shalom, said that if the party joined the government it should be given portfolios, unlike in 1967 when Menachem Begin joined the Eshkol government as a minister-without-portfolio. Likud MK Natan Sharansky said a unity government should only be considered if Olmert would take his West Bank realignment plan off the table.
Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and National Union MK Uri Ariel said they favored a national unity government because they wanted their party to take part in shaping the government's response to the current crises.
"The IDF has good and detailed plans of action, but the problem is the government's policy," Lieberman said. "The military response needs to be such that the perpetrators will regret ever having touched IDF soldiers."
Labor officials said they would oppose allowing right-wing parties into the government. A Labor official said he was concerned that if the Likud joined the coalition, it would remain after the military operations ended and Labor would be asked to leave.
The one Israeli politician who was uncharacteristically silent on Wednesday was former prime minister Ehud Barak. National Union leader Benny Elon and other right-wing MKs blamed the incident on the northern border on Barak's hasty departure from Lebanon in 2000.
"There is no connection between the current incident and how we left Lebanon, because Hizbullah tried to kidnap soldiers before we left then too," said Barak's former chief of staff, MK Danny Yatom. "Leaving Lebanon brought years of quiet in the North and the blossoming of the economy in the region. Terrorist organizations will continue to terrorize no matter what we do."
MKs from across the political spectrum called upon Olmert to take serious steps in Lebanon against Hizbullah. Even Meretz leader Yossi Beilin said that after Israel withdrew from Lebanon, terrorist groups had no justification targeting Israel and that the government had to respond.
Likud MK Yisrael Katz called on Olmert and Peretz to resign due to what he termed their "unsuccessful policies." Likud MKs Shalom and Yuval Steinitz urged the government to order the Israel Defense Forces to make Hizbullah, Lebanon and Syria pay a heavy price for the kidnappings.
"We can't have a situation in Lebanon where there is peace and quiet on one side and our soldiers are living in bunkers on the other," Shalom said. "We have to disarm Hizbullah. All the weapons that are being used come through Damascus. Damascus must know that we cannot tolerate this. We must act immediately." National Union-National Religious Party MK Aryeh Eldad said that Israel should launch an offensive in southern Lebanon.
"In order to stop the threat Israel has to declare war in the north and in Gaza and to exterminate terror groups," Eldad said.â€¢