Olmert: Opposition doesn't want peace

PM: Opposition has no alternative to coalition's agenda; Sa'ar speech cut short by speaker.

gideon saar 248.88 (photo credit: Ori Porat [file])
gideon saar 248.88
(photo credit: Ori Porat [file])
A late-night deal may have aborted the high drama of a vote to dissolve the government, but tempers ran high on the Knesset floor on Wednesday afternoon as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was summoned to answer assertions by the opposition that his government has "reached the end of its road." The signatures of 40 MKs were enough to bring the prime minister, fresh from a temporary reprieve in his fight for survival, to address the house. "When I began in the Knesset, I was a member of the opposition. I understand the role of the opposition, because there is nothing more natural than the desire of the opposition to serve as an alternative to the government," Olmert said, adding that in this case, the opposition had failed to assert an alternative agenda other than opposing negotiations for peace. "You don't want peace. That must be said," the prime minister said in response to calls from MKs Gilad Erdan (Likud) and Tzvi Hendel (National Union-National Religious Party), accusing him of negotiating "surrender" and not peace. In the course of the heated exchanges, acting Knesset Speaker MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) ordered MK Tzvi Hendel out of the plenum after repeated interruptions. Olmert argued that the government had an organized plan, to which MK Gideon Sa'ar responded: "Your criminal investigations. The corruption probes. Not peace, and not anything else." "Our agenda is very clear..." Olmert attempted to continue, but was again interrupted, this time by MK Arye Eldad (NU/NRP) yelling: "From investigation to investigation." Unlike the "90-second speech" delivered by the prime minister the last time he was forced to address the Knesset, this time Olmert did address his foreign policy. "We will make an effort to initiate negotiations for peace with the Palestinians and with any Arab state that will be ready to engage in negotiations such as these. We manage serious negotiations, responsible and real, of a sort that have not been held for years, with the Palestinian Authority," he said. He also struck back against charges that the May 21 announcement regarding the ongoing indirect negotiations with Syria had been cleverly timed to take attention away from American donor Morris Talansky's testimony against him. "The negotiations with Syria were not initiated on one day or in one month, but over many long months. If anybody wants to argue that the Syrian government and the Turkish government decided to speak on one particular day according to an order from Jerusalem to release identical announcements about the existence of negotiations to help the Israeli prime minister - a compliment like that I haven't received in a long time." The calls against Olmert that punctuated his speech were far from the only fireworks on the Knesset floor during the afternoon session. After coalition MKs Danny Yatom (Labor), Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor), Marina Solodkin (Kadima) and Ze'ev Elkin (Kadima) voted against approving Olmert's words, acting coalition chairman MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima) lashed out at Elkin, accusing him of betraying his party. Coalition Chairman Eli Aflalo (Kadima) threatened to take punitive measures against the longtime Kadima rebel, telling Elkin that he would prevent him from addressing the plenum, submitting bills or asking questions from the Knesset floor. In addition, he threatened to submit a formal complaint against Elkin to the Kadima disciplinary committee, asking for the rogue MK to be dismissed from the party ranks. "They couldn't close my mouth when I participated in an underground Jewish youth group in the Soviet Union," Elkin said, defending his right to vote against Olmert. "And they certainly won't manage to silence me now." Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar faced off against Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik of Kadima before Olmert's speech, with tensions between the two rising after Sa'ar described coalition lawmakers as "dishrags from the land of dishrags who once again preferred their seats over the good of the country." Sa'ar was eventually forced off of the podium by Itzik, a move that raised the ire of opposition MKs, who accused the speaker of interfering with Sa'ar's right to address the Knesset. "We view as very serious Itzik's decision to remove MK Sa'ar from this podium," Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu said during his response to Olmert's address. Netanyahu went on to slam the cabinet ministers, whom he described as "a government that doesn't care, and are stuck to their chairs," and particularly Labor Chairman Ehud Barak, who he slammed for his inconsistency in backing down from the demand that Olmert leave his post in the near future.