Kadima, Labor both claim to have vanquished the other

Barak aide boasts that Olmert was forced to dig his own grave; Olmert camp: PM won at least three more months in just three hours.

olmert kadima 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
olmert kadima 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Hours after the ink had dried on the agreement between Kadima and Labor, signed at 1:26 a.m. at Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak's luxury Tel Aviv apartment, senior officials in each party competed to persuade the press that their party had gotten the better deal. The agreement came about after three hours of negotiations between Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi and Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel. Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon joined the negotiations midway through, and Barak was heavily involved in drafting the handwritten document. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert approved the deal after Hanegbi read it to him over the phone. Labor agreed to support the government and not to vote in favor of bills intended to dissolve the Knesset and initiate early elections. Kadima agreed to advance the process of initiating a primary to replace Olmert. At Labor's request, the Kadima steering committee met Wednesday, its faction will meet Monday and its governing council will meet July 10 to set a date no later than September 18 for the Kadima race. If a runoff is held between the two top finishers, it will be held by September 25. The steering committee and Labor's faction ratified the deal. Barak said in closed conversations that Olmert had given in to the ultimatum the Labor leader issued last month and boasted that the agreement would eventually lead to the destruction of Kadima. "Olmert was forced to do something he didn't want to do, and that's dig his own grave," a Barak associate said. "Barak helped Kadima get to a point of primaries. If Barak hadn't done anything, there wouldn't be primaries in Kadima." However, a Kadima minister said the party had "humiliated Barak and forced his surrender" in the deal. The minister said there were many loopholes in the agreement that could result in the primary being delayed. "Olmert won at least three more months in power in just three hours," an Olmert associate said. Kadima officials emphasized that it was Barak who had initiated the negotiations by inviting Hanegbi for what was billed as a meeting on security issues. They said this proved that Barak had backed down and not Kadima. "Israel has been extricated from an unnecessary election," Hanegbi said. "This will allow us to continue policies representing a consensus of the Israeli public, which is especially important now because [Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah and [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad are not dealing with primaries." At the start of the steering committee meeting, Hanegbi expressed hope that "a new page had been opened between the heads of the parties of the coalition who can now focus on getting things done for the state." Kadima leadership candidate Shaul Mofaz said the agreement was "good for the nation." But Kadima MK Shai Hermesh criticized the deal, because as a resident of the rocket-stricken Kibbutz Kfar Aza he was hoping Barak would be replaced. The agreement also faced criticism in Labor. MK Danny Yatom told Barak in the Labor faction meeting that Labor MKs had given him support for a move to replace Olmert, but that he had not kept his promise. "We missed out on a great opportunity," Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines told Barak in the faction meeting. "The deal contradicts what you said last month: that Olmert is unable to run the country and he has no ethical right to do so. Now you are letting him run the country for months. This bogus deal is a fiasco." Barak responded that the agreement would "begin the process of setting new public norms" and that it was irreversible. "Our top priority was stability and ensuring that a new government could be formed after Olmert is replaced, and that looks more likely now," Cabel said. "Until late last night, I was sure there would be a vote [on the Knesset dispersal bill], but Olmert realized we wouldn't back down."