Olmert to decide on his future 'very soon'

Kadima primaries set for Sep. 17; Livni: "I have the qualifications...the public is tired of Olmert."

Livni lovely 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Livni lovely 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has less than a month to decide whether to join the Kadima leadership race or become "a lame duck," after the party's election committee decided on Tuesday to set an August 24 deadline to join the race, which it scheduled for September 17. Sources close to Olmert said he would announce his decision very soon and well ahead of the deadline, because it would be clear he was not running if he did not announce his intentions in the near future. A source close to Olmert denied a report that he would make a decision over the weekend and announce it next week. But another Olmert associate said the prime minister's attacks against the state prosecution last weekend and Labor chairman Ehud Barak on Monday were part of a last-ditch effort to revitalize himself politically, and if they did not work, he was ready to throw in the towel. If none of the four Kadima leadership candidates wins 40 percent of the votes in the primary, a runoff would be held on September 24. The winner will then try to form a new government that would be ready when the Knesset returns from its summer recess at the end of October. Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi, who is close to the prime minister, told Channel 10 that contrary to reports that Olmert would try to stay in power as long as possible if he did not run, Olmert does not intend to interfere with the efforts of whoever wins the race to form a government and keep Kadima in power. However, it appeared unlikely that Olmert could transfer power smoothly if Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni won the race after they were seen publicly sparring at a Knesset session on Monday. Kadima sources said that in the argument, Livni expressed anger over the guidelines for the indirect talks with Syria currently taking place in Turkey, which she was given before entering the plenum. Kadima officials speculated that due to the ongoing tensions between the two, Olmert might fire Livni from her post of vice prime minister as a last, defiant act of revenge before he quits or suspends himself. Livni made a point of being respectful to Olmert in three radio and television interviews she gave on Tuesday, while vowing to defeat him if he decided to run in the primary. She said her continuing disputes with Olmert were over matters of principle. "I have nothing personal against the prime minister, but it's time for the public to regain faith in politics," Livni told Army Radio. "If the prime minister decides to run in the Kadima primary, which doesn't seem reasonable to me, I will beat him." Livni took the offensive for the first time in responding to charges from her main competition in the race, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, that she lacked the security experience need to lead Israel. "We need a good defense minister and there will be a good defense minister," Livni said. "But security [expertise] doesn't mean only that you served in the army. It's how you make decisions, plan strategy and think things through." Livni said she had "made decisions under pressure," and that she possessed "all the qualifications to be prime minister." "I am ready to be tested," she said, "not only on what I say, but also on what I have done." Livni referred indirectly to decisions about how to react to Iran's nuclearization in an interview with Channel 10. "There are decisions that cannot wait until the processes we are in [inside Kadima] are complete," she said. "There are matters that also cannot be expedited because of this. There are decisions on security issues that have to be made regardless of what is happening." Livni convened her campaign strategists Reuven Adler and Eyal Arad at her Tel Aviv home on Monday evening after press time and decided that her campaign would paint her as the true successor of Kadima founder Ariel Sharon. The first slogan of Livni's campaign will be "Kadima [Forward] Tzipi Livni," which was used with Sharon's name when he headed the party. Olmert's term as prime minister and party leader will be painted as an aberration in Kadima's short history that she intends to fix. Livni indirectly accused Mofaz of violating the law by signing up thousands of Kadima members en masse ahead of Thursday's deadline to join the party and vote in the primary. "People have told me in parlor meetings that they were joining the party, because they wanted to be a counterweight to all the people who joined the party illegally," Livni said. Elana Kirsh contributed to this report