Olmert: 'Kadima will rule for a very long time'

The prime minister remains defiant despite Labor ministers warning they will back bill to disperse the Knesset.

bush and olmert 224.88 (photo credit: )
bush and olmert 224.88
(photo credit: )
"We will rule the country for a very, very long time," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday in a phone call from Washington to a Kadima rally in Tirat Carmel. "I know that your backing is the basis of Kadima's strength. Not the pressures and not the intimidation but the real power of Kadima members, whose strength is spread across the country and who want a united and unified party that will lead Israel," he told supporters. Nevertheless, Olmert's optimism appeared to be misplaced, since Labor Party ministers earlier warned that their faction would support a bill to disperse the Knesset and set a November date for the next general elections if Kadima does not initiate primaries to replace Olmert. The seven ministers issued the threat at Labor's headquarters in Tel Aviv's Hatikva quarter. Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel went a step further and said Labor would support elections if Kadima did not set a date for a primary by the end of July. Likud MK Silvan Shalom intends to bring his bill to a preliminary reading at the Knesset on June 18. It would then have to pass three more times in the Knesset plenum and once in committee. Shalom's bill, which already has the support of nearly all 56 opposition MKs, is expected to have a large majority if it receives the support of Labor's 19 MKs. Shas has also indicated that it would support the bill if child welfare payments are not raised. Although passing the bill in a preliminary reading would have no effect, Kadima officials close to Olmert said such a step would warrant the firing of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and the other Labor ministers. Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On said he heard from Labor ministers that they did not really want to vote for elections, but added that if they did they would be fired. Coalition Vice Chairman Yoel Hasson suggested that Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz could replace Barak in the Defense Ministry. "Whoever votes for advancing elections cannot remain in the government," Bar-On told Israel Radio, adding "There have been minority governments in Israel in the past." A source close to Barak mocked Bar-On and expressed doubt that Olmert would fire every Labor and Shas minister that voted for the bill. The Labor ministers' decision came after three out of the four Kadima leadership candidates - Mofaz, Meir Sheetrit and Avi Dichter - indicated that they opposed initiating a Kadima primary before the July 17 cross-examination of New York financier Morris Talansky in the probe against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is the only candidate who supports an immediate initiation of the primary process, but she will apparently lack a majority when the Kadima faction convenes on Wednesday to decide on the matter. A Shvakim Panorama poll of 487 Kadima members, broadcast Thursday on Israel Radio, found that Livni is the front-runner with the support of 39 percent of Kadima members, followed by Mofaz with 30%, Dichter 11% and Sheetrit 5.6%. Fourteen percent were undecided or had no preference. In a head to head race, Livni would beat Mofaz 47.3-40.5%, with 12% having no opinion. Mofaz has reduced the gap between himself and Livni, which had been at 15% recently.