Kadima in ferment after Winograd report

Channel 2 poll finds that 0% would vote for Olmert; PM vows to continue.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was critically injured by the interim Winograd Report released Monday and has no chance of surviving the final report expected in July, a senior Kadima official said on Monday. The senior official, who had intended to defend Olmert in the press, instead eulogized him privately. But no one in Kadima was willing to say on the record on Monday that the prime minister had to resign. "Olmert cannot remain prime minister after such a report," the senior official said. "The responsibility on his shoulders is too broad. The final report will be much more severe. If Olmert does not leave on his own, Kadima will have to force him out."
Minister-without-Portfolio Eitan Cabel, of Labor, suggested that Olmert should resign and hinted that he was considering quiting the government as well. "The report struck a fatal blow for Olmert but the burden of responsibility is on my shoulders as well," Cabel said. "We can't ignore what the report says about us ministers." Labor leadership candidate Ami Ayalon announced Tuesday that after finishing reading the 150 page Winograd interim report, he had decided Prime Minister Ehud Olmert must quit. Ayalon went on national TV Sunday evening to say that he did not believe Olmert should quit, but added that after reading the entire report, he decided that its conclusions were harsher than the leaks of the report that were broadcast Friday. "The report found that Olmert and the Israeli leadership had failed personally and therefore the prime minister should not be allowed to continue in that position," Ayalon said. Both Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz vowed to remain in office despite calls from across the political spectrum for them to resign for their "failures" in handling the Second Lebanon War according to the report. A Channel 2 poll taken after the report was released found that 65 percent of Israelis believe Olmert should quit and 75% that Peretz should resign. Only 14% said Olmert should remain in office and 10% that Peretz should stay. Fifty-three percent said Israel should go to elections. In a separate question on who they would vote for, the poll found that 26% of Israelis believe that Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu should be prime minister, followed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (9%), former prime minister Ehud Barak (6%), Labor MK Ami Ayalon (5%), Vice Premier Shimon Peres (4%), Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman (3%), billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak (2%) and Peretz (1%). Olmert received zero percent in the poll, Channel 2 said. Olmert convened Kadima ministers following the report's release and none of them overtly criticized him. But Livni and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter raised eyebrows in the meeting when they said they needed to read the report before expressing their opinions. Livni used the meeting to deny that she was trying to topple Olmert. "In the last few days, people have tried to drag me into a personal political fight, but I don't intend to play that game," Livni said. "There is nothing personal between me and the prime minister." Livni's loyalists said she checked with Olmert and he denied reports in the Hebrew press that he intended to fire her to avenge her recent political activity. Most Kadima MKs adopted the prime minister's line of opposing early elections but some MKs, such as Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi, refused to conform. "The prime minister must ask himself, in light of the circumstances, if he has the authority and ability to lead the government now, and if he has the power to repair the failures that were revealed," Hanegbi said. "If the answer to both these questions is negative, he will have to reach his own conclusions." Kadima MK Yoel Hasson typified the government's response, calling on the Israeli public to have patience and let the Olmert government implement the recommendations of the report. Hizbullah's Sheikh Nasrallah "did not manage to win the war - don't let him win it now," Hasson said. "The report should be read with professionalism, and not be turned into a political battering ram. The prime minister must implement necessary changes in his government and begin by studying the report, reaching conclusions and implementing lessons to prepare for coming challenges." Olmert's coalition partners gave no indication that they intend to threaten the stability of his government. Israel Beiteinu released a statement reminding voters that the party joined the coalition only after the war in an effort to fix many of the problems identified in the report. Shas leader Eli Yishai said the report must not be used as a "starting point for an internal battle. The report must provide an opportunity for a common revival of all parts of Israel." Labor MKs were hesitant to express an opinion on the report, with only the candidates that are challenging Peretz for the party leadership calling on the defense minister to step down from his post. MK Ophir Paz-Pines said that "the prime minister and the defense minister must stand up and accept responsibility and resign, and not just hang on." He said that if Olmert and Peretz didn't quit, the public should protest in the streets. Labor faction chairman MK Yoram Marciano announced that the Labor faction would gather this week to discuss the commission's report. "Israel and its leaders must learn the operational lessons as soon as possible," said Marciano. "We must not use the committee's conclusions to chop heads, but to look forward and prepare for the next war." Likud MKs led the right-wing parties in calling for the government to step down immediately, but Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu declined to enter the fray and gave no interviews. "The report leads to just one conclusion: The failed government no longer has moral validity to rule. It must return the mandate to the people immediately," said Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar. Likud MK Silvan Shalom said the report was a damning indictment against the Olmert government and called for new elections. "There's no more room for survival games and political manipulations. I will act by any means possible to bring down this government," Shalom said. Meretz Faction chairwoman MK Zehava Gal-On was the only opposition MK to criticize the report - for not issuing harsh enough recommendations. "What the commission should have said and didn't say was that 'Olmert and Peretz should go home,'" said Gal-On. "While its criticisms against the prime minister and defense minister are sharp, the minute there aren't operative conclusions and there's no eviction notice, the commission's conclusions have no moral force." Meretz chairman MK Yossi Beilin said the report's conclusions "leave no room for interpretation," and that Peretz and Olmert must resign and leave the political realm entirely.