Olmert: I have no intention at all of resigning

PM pleads with Kadima MKs to give him the benefit of the doubt; says he'll give his side of the story soon.

Barak Im gonna kill you! (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Barak Im gonna kill you!
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed Wednesday not to quit after Defense Minister Ehud Barak called on him to "detach himself from the day-to-day leadership of the country" in light of the Morris Talansky affair. Olmert called Kadima ministers and MKs after Barak's press conference in Jerusalem, and pleaded with them to give him the benefit of the doubt that he did not commit any crime when he accepted cash from the American financier. He said he would give his side of the story in the coming days to try to persuade the public as well. "I will continue to function as prime minister," Olmert told southern mayors in his first public comments after Barak's press conference. "There are those who believe that every opening of an investigation requires a resignation. I don't think so, and I do not intend to resign." In closed conversations with Kadima MKs, Olmert lashed out at Barak, who he said did not really want him to quit but was forced to demand his resignation to quell internal pressure in his Labor Party. Olmert's associates went further, calling the press conference "amateurish and stupid" and accusing Barak of learning nothing from the mistakes of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Sources close to Olmert said Livni had harmed herself politically when she called for Olmert to resign after the release of the interim Winograd Report on the Second Lebanon War and that the same would happen to Barak now. Olmert's associates expressed doubt that anyone in Kadima would take any action against him. The candidates to replace Olmert in Kadima declined to comment after Barak's press conference. A source close to Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said he "would not act according to Barak's dictates." An associate of another candidate said there was no reason to hurry, and an aide to a third said of Barak's press conference that "saying is not doing." While Barak did not set a deadline for Kadima to replace Olmert, Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel said he would ensure that an election date was set by the time the Knesset adjourned its summer session at the end of July. Barak allowed Cabel to submit a bill to dissolve the Knesset. A similar bill, drafted by Likud MK Silvan Shalom, could be brought to a Knesset vote in as early as two weeks after Olmert returns from a planned trip to Washington. Shas chairman Eli Yishai told Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that he preferred setting an election date to forming a new government with the current Knesset led by a new prime minister from Kadima. Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said Olmert planned to fly to Washington on Monday evening - as scheduled - for two days, during which he will address the annual AIPAC policy conference and meet with US President George W. Bush. The official said Olmert was continuing to carry on with the business of the state, having held a security cabinet meeting Wednesday morning, followed by an appearance in the Knesset, a meeting with Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, and meetings on economic issues, security and with mayors of communities near the Gaza Strip. On Thursday, Olmert is scheduled to meet with visiting Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and in the evening he will get together with internal security ministers from around the world here for a conference. "The prime minister is convinced that as the investigation continues, his innocence of any wrongdoing will be proven," one official said. "The question is whether the investigation will continue, or will politics trump that." The official said the investigation had just begun, and that Morris Talansky had not even been cross-examined. "Nothing has really changed, and there is no reason for the current media storm." Olmert had no intention of quitting or of calling for an early election, because he believed he was innocent and that in the end the truth would come out. He said Olmert believed he could ride this out. "He is not a quitter," the official said. "Some people in this office have a sense of deja-vu," the official went on, referring to speculation after the Second Lebanon War, and then again after the release of both the interim and final Winograd reports, that the prime minister would have to step down. Cabel, who quit the cabinet following the interim Winograd Report, defended Barak, saying that his statement was "not pareve," but was significant and would lead to an early election, most likely in November. But Labor MK Yoram Marciano said Barak's comments "lacked sufficient strength." "If he wanted to do something dramatic, he would have quit the coalition, but he didn't," Marciano said. "Barak made two mistakes - he didn't set a deadline and he gave the ball back to Kadima instead of letting Labor decide." An official Likud statement issued following Barak's remarks said, "Stop playing political games. The big challenges ahead of the state obligate elections and a new government. Likud calls on all the factions to get together and set a date for elections." MK Zevulun Orlev (National Union-National Religious Party) voiced concern that Barak would "repeat the false promises he made at Kibbutz Sdot Yam at his infamous press conference in June 2007," referring to Barak's pledge to step down from his post as defense minister after the release of the Winograd Report. "Barak will continue to fail to keep his promises," Orlev said. "Instead of taking a serious step to end Olmert's government and advance elections, Barak chose an unclear statement with no timetable."