Olmert likely to OK Kadima primaries

Kadima colleague Hanegbi calls for early elections, says coalition "impossible" to hold together.

tzahi hanegbi  224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
tzahi hanegbi 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday will make his first public statements since calls for him to leave office were made last week by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Olmert is expected to announce at the start of Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting or at the Kadima ministers' meeting that precedes it that he will not stand in the way of the party beginning a process of initiating a primary to choose his replacement. Olmert reportedly made such a commitment over the weekend in talks with senior Kadima officials. Sunday is the last day for Olmert to to comment publicly about his political situation before he leaves on Monday for a week-long trip to the United States, which will be followed by Shavuot. If nothing happens before he leaves, nothing will happen for two weeks. Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi called on Saturday for a Kadima primary and a general election to be held as soon as possible. Speaking on Channel 2's Meet the Press, he said that after the election a national unity government of Kadima, Likud and Labor should be formed to deal with strategic threats from Iran. "I consulted with Olmert and senior Kadima officials on the matter and, clearly, [I think] it is impossible to hold this crumbling coalition together," Hanegbi said. "Even if Barak does not quit, Shas will leave the coalition, and if Shas doesn't leave, Barak will." Hanegbi told The Jerusalem Post that his effort to advance the primary was coordinated with Olmert, whose approval was necessary according to party bylaws. He said it would take a month-and-a-half, which wouldn't start until Olmert returned from Washington, just to decide the procedure for holding the party's first-ever primary. Vice Premier Haim Ramon said Friday that he expected Israel to hold elections in November. Noting that the US would be holding elections then, he told the Soref Symposium of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that "I believe Israel is probably going to have elections in November as well." Ramon said that in such a scenario, he would recommend making an effort to reach an Israeli-Palestinian framework agreement that could be presented at a second international conference that would follow up on last November's Annapolis conference. Thirty-nine percent of registered Kadima members intend to vote for Livni to head the party, a Dahaf Institute poll published Friday by Yediot Aharonot revealed. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz had the support of 25% of respondents, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter 15% and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit 8%. In addition, 38% said Olmert should quit now as opposed to 52% who said he should only resign if he is indicted. Eight percent said he should not resign even if indicted. A Ma'ariv poll showed that if elections were held now, a Binyamin Netanyahu-led Likud would win 30 mandates, a Livni-led Kadima would get 25 and Labor under Barak would win 18. If Mofaz were Kadima's candidate, Likud would win 31 seats, Kadima 18 and Labor 21. Sources close to Mofaz, who met secretly with Olmert on Thursday, said they were encouraged by the polls, which show him constantly gaining on Livni. Livni was quoted over the weekend telling confidants that she preferred holding elections to the formation of an alternative government under her leadership. She said the reasons were the complimentary polls and her fears of relying on Shas, which would likely increase its demands to remain in the coalition under her leadership. Her spokesman denied that she was dealing with such issues at this stage. Responding to Mofaz's statement on Thursday that Livni was conspiring with Labor to destroy Kadima, a source close to Livni said that she "won't descend into a slandering match. We must work for Kadima's unity and for restoring the public's faith in the party."