Labor chairman called for a 2008 general election in a speech to Labor's central committee at party's Tel Aviv headquarters.
By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
Labor chairman Ehud Barak inadvertently caused a political storm Tuesday when he called for a 2008 general election in a speech to Labor's central committee at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters.
Barak had said repeatedly in political speeches over the past few months that he thought elections would be held sometime in 2008. But his associates said he had intended to use the Labor Party's NIS 140 million debt as an excuse to delay leaving the government and initiating the next general election.
Nevertheless, the Hebrew press highlighted the statement about elections in 2008. Barak's political opponents attacked him while his allies tried to downplay the statement.
Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu reacted by daring Barak to keep his promise and set an election date together with him and the heads of other opposition parties.
"2008? Why not 2007?" Netanyahu said in an interview with Amit Segal on Army Radio. "If Barak wants to keep his promise, I am ready to meet with him and set a date for the election. I think he should quit the government now. The nation is waiting for it."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's close Kadima ally, Vice Premier Haim Ramon, said he would do everything possible to ensure that the next general election would be held on time in November 2010. He said he was sure that most of Labor's leaders realized that they would regret toppling the government prematurely.
"I think advancing the election would be a big mistake," Ramon told Israel Radio's Yaron Deckel. "The main problem with our political system is the lack of stability. It's wrong to have a defense minister for only a few months with so many security challenges ahead. It's not serious, it's not right for Israel and it's not right for the Labor Party."
Labor ministers said privately that Barak should be more careful not to commit himself too firmly to advancing the election. They said anything can happen in Israeli politics and it was likely that diplomatic or security reasons would require the party to remain in the coalition.
MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) said he was concerned that Barak would find a pretense to delay the election, which he believes should be held immediately. He said the party's debts were not an acceptable excuse.
"Elections are not won with money," Paz-Pines said. "They are won with the vision and the agenda of a worthy leadership that presents the best possible alternative. The longer we stay in this government, the more we will be weakened."
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