Olmert, Barak and Yishai: We won't give in

Leaders of the three largest parties in the coalition continue on their collision course toward elections.

olmert barak yishai 224 (photo credit: )
olmert barak yishai 224
(photo credit: )
The leaders of the three largest parties in the coalition continued on their collision course toward elections on Monday when each of them vowed not to surrender their threats, even at the cost of going to elections that none of them wants. Olmert told some 200 Kadima activists in a rally at his Jerusalem residence Monday night that he would fire every Labor minister if the Labor faction exercised the decision it made Monday to vote in favor of Wednesday's preliminary reading of a bill that would disperse the Knesset and set a November election date. Olmert said he would also fire Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is not an MK. "Kadima does not want to go to elections, but we will if we are forced to," Olmert told the crowd. "I will not tolerate a situation whereby Labor ministers work to topple the government while they try to stay a part of it. Whoever wants to topple the government will not remain in it. Whoever wants to leave the government can go." Olmert spoke longingly about countries where heads of state automatically last four years and complained that the political crisis was preventing him from focusing his full attention on more serious issues. He recalled past challenges he had overcome and vowed to overcome the current crisis as well. "These days are not easy for me personally," Olmert said. "I promise you that I will deal with it with full force and there is no one who can break me." Olmert will continue to try to reach an agreement with Shas ahead of Wednesday's vote in an effort to prevent the Knesset dispersal bill from passing. Olmert's associates reportedly offered Shas chairman Eli Yishai a package of benefits for his constituencies totaling NIS 1.5 billion, but he turned it down, saying that he would only be satisfied if child welfare payments were raised. Sources close to Olmert expressed optimism that Shas would accept a deal at the last minute ahead of Wednesday's vote. But Yishai said no compromise was likely. Barak hinted during Monday's Labor faction meeting that if Olmert reached a deal with Shas, Labor would have to reconsider its decision to vote for dispersing the Knesset, which passed with the support of 15 Labor MKs and ministers. The only MKs who did not vote in favor were Education Minister Yuli Tamir; Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle and MKs Amir Peretz, Yoram Marciano and Nadia Hilou. "Our position has not changed," Barak told the faction. "The ball is in the court of the prime minister. We are facing a test of our leadership in the public. There are moments of truth when if a party cannot work together, it cannot ask for the public's support." Barak's plea persuaded MKs who would have otherwise preferred to vote against dispersing the Knesset. MK Avishay Braverman, for instance, said he believed Olmert should be given a chance to prove his innocence in court in the face of corruption charges, but that he voted in favor in order to not embarrass Barak. Peretz, Tamir and Marciano appealed to Labor's internal court, asking it to rule the faction's decision illegal. The court is expected to decide Tuesday. Marciano said he would not consider himself obligated by the faction's decision, because there was no secret ballot vote. "The faction voted to kiss up to the chairman of the party," Marciano said. I don't kiss up. I represent the Labor voters and the polls show that only 7 percent of them are in favor of dispersing the Knesset." MK Shelly Yacimovich spoke out against Olmert, saying that "the entire country is being held hostage in order to ensure the survival of a man with no values. "Olmert wants to take everyone down with him," Yacimovich said. "He has nothing to lose, but the country is at stake. It is forbidden for us to cooperate with him. The longer we stay in such a destructive government, led by someone so corrupt, without protesting, the more we will fall both morally and politically en route to political suicide."