Hanegbi: Olmert coup in Kadima halted

Head of Kadima steering c'tee cites lack of support for primary; Mofaz: Who cares about what goyim say?

olmert hanegbi 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
olmert hanegbi 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The process of initiating a Kadima primary to overthrow Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been halted due to a lack of support in the party, MK Tzahi Hanegbi, who heads Kadima's steering committee, said Monday. Hanegbi had intended to convene the committee and the Kadima faction Wednesday to discuss advancing the party's primary, due to the demands of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. But he decided not to proceed with the process due to the opposition to advancing the primary of the overwhelming majority of the Kadima faction and three party leadership candidates other than Livni: Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit. "The primaries have been frozen," Hanegbi said. "We will have to wait until after the [June 18] vote on the bill to disperse the Knesset, which if it passes would make there be more sense in starting the primary process." Hanegbi will meet Tuesday with Olmert, who is expected to tell him that he will not give his required authorization to initiate a primary. Olmert will also convene his party's ministers, who are expected to unite around him, with the exception of Livni. "Olmert does not intend to fight against the efforts [to remove him] or join them," a source close to the prime minister said. "He saw what the three ministers [who are declared candidates] said and he will take their views into account." Kadima officials loyal to Livni said she had not given up her fight to initiate primaries and that she had received a different impression than Hanegbi from Kadima MKs, whom she expects to join her in the effort to unseat Olmert as soon as possible. Dichter, for instance, had not decided as of Monday night which side to take. Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel said Kadima's behavior would result in Labor uniting with the opposition to bring down Olmert's government. He said he would coordinate strategy with Shas to bring down Olmert without allowing ministers from either party to be fired. "If Olmert fires our ministers, that's the fastest way to an election," Cabel said. "We would vote no-confidence and Olmert and his government would fall immediately." In an interview with Yediot Aharonot published Sunday, Mofaz said that if elected Kadima chairman, he would form a new government and delay elections until their scheduled date of November 2010. "I hope there won't be a general election," Mofaz said. "All the parties in the coalition are against early elections. I can unite all the components of the coalition and lead them together in the government until November 2010. A new government headed by me will be formed this year. I have a relationship with all the parties. With my dialogue, it will be possible to form a wider coalition than the current one." Mofaz angered politicians with his statement in the interview that "if Iran continues its nuclear weapons program, we will attack it." The statement led to international condemnation and a record rise in oil prices. Barak reportedly called Mofaz's statement "irresponsible and intended for primaries." Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i, who has a long-standing feud with Mofaz, said it was "cynical and irresponsible to use the most sensitive matters of Israeli strategy for political gain, as part of a political game inside Kadima." Livni made a point of not responding to Mofaz. Mofaz's office downplayed his statements, emphasizing the word "if" and interpreting it that he still hoped that diplomatic and economic efforts against Iran would succeed. His associates defended him from the criticism. "Shaul has dedicated his life to Israeli security and has focused on the Iranian issue for 15 years," a Mofaz associate said. "To say he is hurting Israeli security for political reasons is so wrong. He said what he said for professional reasons alone." In the interview, Mofaz made clear that it did not matter to him what the world said about Israel, especially on the issue of responding to rocket attacks on Sderot. He said he recommended targeting the heads of Hamas immediately. "We always take into account what the goyim will say," Mofaz said. "I don't care what the goyim will say. I care about the security of the citizens of Israel. Do you think the pictures on CNN matter to me as much as the children and their fears and the residents of Sderot and Ashkelon who have abandoned their homes? No way!"