Olmert determined to fight to the end

The PM's strategy: New elections would likely mean Kadima MKs lose their jobs.

Olmert worried 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Olmert worried 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's strategy for political survival became clear Tuesday: ensure that the 29 Kadima MKs realize that if he is swept from office, the coalition will fall apart. Olmert met separately Tuesday with Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, Shas chairman Eli Yishai and Gil Pensioners head Rafi Eitan - a day after the Winograd Committee's damning interim report and as the calls for his resignation grew louder, including from within the ranks of his own party. According to political sources in the Olmert camp, he left these meetings with confidence that these parties' support for Kadima was contingent on Olmert leading the party. Olmert's plan, in the period before the scheduled Kadima meeting on Thursday, is to meet with the MKs and tell them that if he was forced to resign, and was replaced within the party by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Vice Premier Shimon Peres or Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, then these parties would not stay in the coalition. This strategy is based on the assumption that the Kadima MKs do not want new elections, because of the fear that the party would be wiped out at the polls. Olmert wants the MKs to understand that if they try to replace him, new elections would inevitably follow because the current coalition would fall apart. If Livni is given Kadima's reins, Olmert plans on telling the Kadima MKs, the coalition will disintegrate. Livni, according to close associates, was still "weighing her options," and was likely to comment publicly on the Winograd report for the first time Wednesday. Livni will sit next to Olmert at the special cabinet meeting scheduled to discuss how to implement the Winograd report recommendations. Political sources said there was a great deal of tension and only limited communication between the two. Olmert also met Tuesday with Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, Mossad head Meir Dagan and National Security Council head Ilan Mizrahi to discuss how to implement the report's findings. The committee called for "substantial improvement in the functioning of the National Security Council, the establishment of a national assessment team and creating a center for crises management in the Prime Minister's Office." An attempt by Olmert to put forward a sense of "business as usual" backfired Tuesday morning when he attended the induction ceremony of Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen. He looked pale and nodded off during the ceremony, after a sleepless night spent reading the Winograd report. Olmert received words of encouragement at the ceremony from Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, who praised him for the leadership he showed when he stepped seamlessly into Ariel Sharon's shoes in January 2006. "I saw you [function] from up close," he said, referring to the five months that passed between when Sharon became incapacitated and the establishment of the new government. "I saw your leadership. I hope that everyone who is dealing today with your leadership will remember the five months until the establishment of the coalition. I remember that very well." Olmert thanked Dichter for his words, saying that although not surprised by them, he was moved by them.