PM refuses to heed Kadima call to resign

Livni urges Netanyahu to "do something moral for a change" and join in calls for Olmert to step down.

livni press 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
livni press 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
The rift between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and members of his Kadima Party is widening, with Olmert apparently working behind his finance minister's back by trying to come up with his own pension safety net plan. Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, who has been trying to present the ministry's economic stimulus package for government consideration, is probably the only Kadima minister or MK not calling on Olmert to step down - although he feels that the prime minister is undermining his authority. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who took over from Olmert as party leader several weeks ago, called on Olmert to resign during a party meeting on Thursday. This was followed over the weekend by a television interview with Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon - one of Olmert's closest friends - who called on him to resign "for his own sake." The current dispute over whether Olmert should step down reignited last week when Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz announced that the prime minister would likely be indicted for allegedly double-billing travel charges while serving as minister of industry and trade. Livni reiterated to Army Radio on Monday that she and Kadima would like to see Olmert vacate the Prime Minister's Office. "We are facing an impossible situation, where an indictment may be filed and it is wrong for the prime minister to continue making decisions," Livni said during the interview. "Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin set certain norms when he resigned [in 1977, following an overseas bank account scandal], and we can't afford to ignore these norms because of personal considerations." "I believe Olmert will take action," she added, "if the chairman of the opposition, [Likud leader] Binyamin Netanyahu, will do something moral for a change and call on him to resign, too. I can tell you that it wasn't easy for Olmert's friends in the government to join these calls," Livni said. As chairman of the opposition, Netanyahu would not want Livni to occupy the prime minister's seat during the leadup to elections in February, something that would provide her with a political advantage. Sources close to Netanyahu called Livni a hypocrite who is not acting from moral considerations. They pointed to other senior Kadima figures, such as Ramon, who was convicted in a sexual harassment case, and Tzahi Hanegbi, who was indicted for illegal political appointments made during his tenure as environment minister. Both are still members of the government. Sources close to Olmert argue that the prime minister is trying to solve a serious national issue and has remained in office not out of political motives or in an attempt to get back at Livni. "The prime minister is not running in the elections and all his considerations are professional," Ra'anan Dinur, the director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, told Army Radio on Monday. "If there are disagreements between the Treasury and the Bank of Israel, the prime minister's job is to decide in such disputes. "In the Prime Minister's Office sits a person trying to form a broader basis for determining how to handle this [financial] storm, and he is acting under conditions that few could act under," Dinur added. It is clear that Olmert is angry at the party he led for almost three years, and is the only one with anything to gain by stepping down. Kadima, and Livni in particular, believe they will gain a few Knesset seats and even beat the Likud if Livni sits in the prime minister's chair for the time left before elections. On this issue, all other parties prefer to have Olmert stick around a bit longer.