Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called upon Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign Wednesday, but the move appeared to backfire as the rebellion inside their Kadima Party appeared to peter out.
When Olmert convened the Kadima faction at the Knesset, only three Kadima MKs came out against him: Livni, MK Marina Solodkin and coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki. At the start of the meeting, Yitzhaki tendered his resignation and he was replaced by Olmert loyalist MK Tzahi Hanegbi.
Olmert's opponents said some lawmakers who had intended to criticize the prime minister decided at the last minute to remain silent. A defiant premier vowed to quash all attempts to force him to leave the Prime Minister's Office.
"I am not in the most comfortable situation, but I am older than 60, I've seen a lot in my life and I've learned not to run from responsibility in any situation or condition," Olmert told the lawmakers.
Olmert decided against firing Livni on Wednesday, preferring to punish her by letting her fate remain undetermined. But the prime minister was angered by her behavior and he told her in a one-on-one meeting that she could not threaten him and expect to remain his No. 2.
In a slap at Livni, Olmert told the cabinet, "Anyone who is impatient to use the Winograd Report for political gain will have to wait."
Some Olmert advisers warned him not to fire Livni because it could aid her campaign for the Kadima leadership, while others said her behavior warranted immediate dismissal.
Tal Zilberstein, Olmert's strategic adviser, condemned Livni as an "unethical coward." He said Olmert had no choice but to fire her, because "in the business world, any No. 2 who says the No. 1 should go and she should stay would be fired."
Possible replacements for Livni include Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and former justice minister Haim Ramon, but Olmert could decide to keep Livni as foreign minister while removing her title of vice premier.
Livni told reporters at her press conference that she intended to seek the Kadima leadership. If Olmert were to resign, the 25,000 Kadima members would elect a new chairman within two months.
"Kadima should elect its leader democratically in a primary, and when the time comes, I will be a candidate," Livni said. "A leader must be chosen whom the party and the public can trust."
She told Olmert that resigning was "the right thing for him to do." Livni said she was not trying to topple him but to convince him that he should quit on his own volition.
Denying reports that she had threatened to resign herself, Livni vowed to remain in the cabinet to implement the recommendations of the Winograd Committee. She asked Olmert to cooperate with her and the Foreign Ministry if he did not quit.
Asked how she could call for Olmert to quit while remaining in the cabinet herself, Livni said that if she resigned, it would "twist the results of the report," which called Olmert's management a failure and did not condemn her.
MKs slammed Livni, saying her behavior made her unworthy of serving as Israel's foreign minister.