Labor Party Secretary-General Eitan Cabel became the first minister to leave Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government in the wake of the Winograd Report on Tuesday; he said he hopes his move will trigger a chain reaction in the cabinet that will force Olmert to resign.
Cabel, who was a minister-without-portfolio, told a press conference at Labor's Tel Aviv headquarters he stayed awake all night reading the report and decided that Olmert's mismanagement of the Second Lebanon War should disqualify him from continuing to serve as prime minister.
"I cannot sit in a government that Olmert heads anymore," Cabel said. "There have been enough scandals in the government's short existence, but the war tops them all. I feel the pain of the public, which has lost its faith in Olmert's leadership."
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Cabel said he would organize a meeting of the Labor central committee as soon as possible, to vote on leaving the coalition. He also called upon his candidate for the Labor leadership, former prime minister Ehud Barak, to remain outside Olmert's government if he was chosen party chairman in the May 28 primary.
Labor Party officials said Cabel resignation was a political maneuver designed to win votes for Barak in the primary.
Sources in the party also said Barak should announce he would not join a government headed by Olmert, in light of the severe conclusions in the Winograd Report.
"By taking himself out of the government, [Cabel] has effectively said that Barak would take Labor out of the government... he is setting up that camp as the moral alternative to [party chairman] Peretz," said a high-ranking Labor official who does not support Barak's candidacy. The official added that most in the party believe that both Barak and MK Ami Ayalon, the front-runner in the race for chairman, would take Labor out of the government.
Barak has denied that Cabel was operating as his proxy, and told supporters that Cabel's decision to resign so quickly after the report was released was rash.
The harsh conclusions of the Winograd Report may force Barak to reconsider his plan to serve as defense minister in Olmert's government and to use the post as a way station to the Prime Minister's Office.
Cabel said that if Olmert resigned and another Kadima MK became prime minister, he could return to the cabinet. Cabel has said in the past that he was considering quitting politics, but on Tuesday he said he would remain in the Knesset and that his political future remained undecided.
I don't see my decision [to quit] as populist," Cabel said. "I see it as ethical and principled."
Meanwhile, an source close to Ayalon said that if elected Labor chairman, he would demand that the party's ministers resign from the cabinet.
Meretz faction head MK Zehava Gal-On praised Cabel for resigning and called on the rest of the cabinet to follow suit.
Meretz chairman Yossi Beilin also praised Cabel, adding that it was inappropriate for any Labor ministers to remain in the government.
"All of the Labor ministers should follow in the footsteps of [Labor's recently resigned science, technology, culture and sport minister] Ophir Paz-Pines and Eitan Cabel and leave the failing government that has lost its moral legitimacy," said Beilin. "I applaud Cabel's move. The Labor ministers remaining in the government are serving there out of a sick devotion."
National Union/National Religious Party MK Arye Eldad, meanwhile, said that he hoped there were Kadima and Labor lawmakers who understood that morality required them to resign and to force the leaders who made a mess of the situation to let others fix what they has destroyed.
In 10 days, the Labor central committee is set to discuss a proposal by Paz-Pines for the party to leave the government.