Barak to decide PM's fate this weekend

After Winograd, Barak decides to stay in gov't, but weighs pressing Kadima to replace Olmert.

Barak 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Barak 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak will neither quit the government nor push for immediate elections, but is deciding over the weekend whether to press hard for Kadima to replace Ehud Olmert with an alternative prime minister in the wake of the Winograd Report, Barak's associates said Thursday. Defense Minister Barak will announce early next week whether he intends to rebel against Olmert and keep his promise in April after the committee's interim report to insist that the prime minister step down, they said. Sources close to Barak said his course would already become clear on Saturday night, when his office will announce whether his press conference will be held on Sunday or Monday morning. If the event is set for Sunday, it would mean he wants to attract attention and perhaps say something surprising. If the event is held Monday morning, it would mean that Barak wants to avoid making headlines and to be overshadowed by Olmert's speech in a special Knesset session about the report set for later that day. Olmert's and Barak's spokespeople denied a report that they were coordinating strategy ahead of Barak's announcement. But Barak does intend to inform Olmert of his decision ahead of time. The defense minister met for an hour on Thursday night with IDF reservists Tomer Bohadana and Yakir Segev, who pleaded with him to insist on Olmert's departure. Barak gave no hint of his future in that talk or in many other conversations with confidants, Labor MKs and top party activists Thursday. A group of Labor lawmakers and activists pressing Barak to demand that Olmert quit met at the party's Tel Aviv headquarters on Thursday morning to coordinate strategy. They decided to cancel plans to hold a protest on Friday. Olmert convened Kadima ministers at his Tel Aviv office in an effort to show the public that the party was unified behind him. But Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and MK Avigdor Yitzhaki spoiled that effort when Dichter contradicted Olmert on prime time television and Yitzhaki announced that he would quit the Knesset on Monday if Barak did not join his effort to force Olmert's departure. Dichter told Channel 2 news that not all the mistakes and inadequacies revealed in the Winograd Report had been fixed. Dichter's statement contradicted one of Olmert's main arguments for remaining prime minister. "It's not possible to fix all the inadequacies in the report in a year and a half," Dichter said. "It is simply unreasonable and pretentious to say we fixed everything." Dichter did join other Kadima ministers in saying he believed that Olmert should and would remain prime minister until his term ends in November 2010. Olmert signaled that he had no intention of stepping down, despite polls showing that most Israelis still want him to resign. (See story, Page 2) "We will continue to deal with the corrections and the processes that we must undergo. It is possible to say that some of them are already under way," Olmert told the Kadima meeting. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz announced in the ministerial meeting that they would not take action against Olmert. Livni informed the prime minister of her decision ahead of the meeting. In her statement, Livni made a point of not mentioning Olmert and not joining the chorus of ministers preaching for party unity. She made an effort not to say anything that would overtly contradict the call she made for Olmert to resign after the release of the interim Winograd Report in April. "Let's not delude ourselves," Livni said Thursday. "The report is tough. The words 'the war was a missed opportunity' are words that are tough to hear for the nation. We made the decisions and the responsibility has not been removed from our shoulders." Livni said the government had to work to prove it had internalized the lessons of the report by advancing the peace process and improving Israel's security. Mofaz also said that Olmert's government should be allowed to implement the report's recommendations. "We have to show that the government is not busy surviving," Mofaz said. "We have to replace the word survival with the word stability." Olmert told the ministers that his government was already implementing the report's recommendations. He boasted of unprecedented investments being made in security. "The report is comprehensive and deep and presents questions that are not simple," Olmert said. "The government is busy, energetically fixing the inadequacies mentioned in the report." After surviving the report, Olmert is expected to make a new effort to expand his coalition and fill the vacancies in the cabinet left by Israel Beiteinu's departure. But sources in both United Torah Judaism and Shas said they did not intend to join the coalition. United Torah Judaism MK Avraham Ravitz said he had phoned both Olmert and cabinet secretary Ovad Yehezkel to congratulate them on the mildness of the Winograd Report, and that neither of them invited him to begin coalition talks. "They need us, but they know our conditions," Ravitz said. "We don't enter governments in times of crises and we don't want to join a government that would make sacrifices in Jerusalem and tell Jews where they should or should not be allowed to live." The Meretz executive met on Thursday night and decided to do everything possible to force Olmert to be replaced by another leader from Kadima. The party called upon Olmert to resign and upon Barak to insist on Olmert's departure.