Olmert hits back at Livni and Barak

PM says no one will dictate Kadima timetables; Opponents accuse him of harming Israel by stalling.

olmert kadima 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
olmert kadima 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert struck back at Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday, accusing them of being motivated by politics and not by the country's best interests. In his first public reaction to Livni's and Barak's calls last week for him to leave office, Olmert defiantly vowed to continue running the government and making key decisions on diplomatic, security and socioeconomic issues. "I know the political events of the last few days have put pressure on people from outside and from inside [Kadima]," Olmert said at the party's faction meeting symbolically held on the eve of Jerusalem Day at the capital's Ammunition Hill. "I recommend against acting under pressure. The people who are stressed should relax and continue to act as a united and strong party so we can continue to be the ruling party for many years to come." Olmert added an additional message to Labor's Barak that "no one from outside can dictate our schedule." He pleaded with members of his faction and the public not to decide his fate before he is given a chance in court to respond to the testimony of New York financier Morris Talansky. "Regarding myself, I have to say that I will be given an opportunity and I will say what needs to be said and explain what needs to be explained in a clear way," the prime minister said. Olmert's political foes reacted to his speech by accusing him of harming the country by delaying his inevitable departure from the Prime Minister's Office. They said Olmert's week-long trip to Washington and Shavuot would unnecessarily delay the process of removing him from office. "He is bringing his party down and he could bring the country down by not leaving," an Olmert political adversary said. "If he thinks there are big issues facing the country, he should leave so that they can be dealt with." In Sunday's Kadima ministerial meeting, Kadima leadership candidate Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz slammed Barak's security policies and the ethical challenges he had issued to Kadima in recent speeches. "Labor cannot teach us about morality," Mofaz told the ministers. Mofaz said in radio interviews Sunday morning that if he wins the next Kadima primary, he believes he can form a government with the current Knesset and avoid an immediate general election. Mofaz said that he would support holding a Kadima primary in September. He told Olmert on Thursday that holding a primary then could delay a general election. "I believe on principle that we should not be afraid of a general election, which we can win, but I think it is possible to maintain the current coalition and form a national unity government," Mofaz said. "When Israel is facing tough challenges and needs to make key decisions, a stable government is necessary and a national unity government would be ideal." Shas officials, who just last week said the only option was an early election, speculated Sunday that if Mofaz won the primary and raised child welfare allowances, the party could stay in the government. Shas chairman Eli Yishai relayed the message to Mofaz in the last few days. The Shas Council of Torah Sages will meet later this week to reconsider the party's place in the coalition. No operative decision is expected at the meeting, which will take place at the home of party mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in Jerusalem's Har Nof neighborhood. Livni was quoted telling confidantes over the weekend that she preferred holding an immediate election after a primary because of polls that showed she had a chance of winning, and because she feared that if she formed a government with the current Knesset, Shas would escalate its demands. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, who is running third in the Kadima polls, told Olmert in the ministerial meeting that before he left for the US on Monday, he should talk to ministers about a date for a primary. Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, who is running fourth in Kadima polls, suggested holding a general election on November 11, combining it with municipal races already set for that day. Likud MK Silvan Shalom intends to bring his bill to dissolve the Knesset and set a November election date to a vote on June 18. If it passes the necessary readings by the time the Knesset's summer session ends at the end of July, it will not be possible for a Kadima primary winner to form a government before the election. But it is possible Kadima can stop Shalom's bill from passing its third and final reading, which would allow whoever wins a Kadima race to form a government before elections could be called.