PM seeks FM's backing after Winograd

Opposition leader Netanyahu decries gov't's "exoneration" from responsibility for 2nd Lebanon War.

olmert livni cabinet  (photo credit: AP [file])
olmert livni cabinet
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert intends to pressure Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to support him following the publication of the final Winograd Report later this month, Kadima sources said Wednesday. When the Winograd Committee's interim report on the Second Lebanon War was published in April, Livni called a press conference and demanded that Olmert resign, but she faced criticism for not quitting herself. Olmert wants Livni to correct that political mistake by calling a press conference after the final report's publication, in which she would ask Olmert to stay - due to the importance of the diplomatic process and because he has implemented the interim report's recommendations. Olmert has been consulting with internal and external advisers for months about how to prepare for the report and the demands that he resign that are sure to follow. His recent meetings with the Meretz and United Torah Judaism factions, the recreation of the Religious Affairs Ministry, his interview with the comedian Eli Yatzpan, and Olmert's wife, Aliza, granting her first interview since he took office two years ago were all seen as part of his strategy to endear himself to the public and to allow him to survive politically. Getting Livni on his side would help the prime minister quell any possible rebellion in Kadima and preempt a potential decision by Labor chairman Ehud Barak to honor his campaign promise to insist, upon the publication of the Winograd Committee's final report, that Kadima replace Olmert. Sources said a Livni press conference in Olmert's favor would make it easier for Barak to justify keeping Labor in the government. Olmert's spokesman denied any intention to pressure Livni; the foreign minister's associates said that Olmert had not pressured her. A source close to her said that calling such a press conference could reopen the wounds inflicted by the first press conference instead of healing them. Opponents of Olmert in Kadima said that backing the prime minister would not be a smart decision on Livni's part. They threatened to avenge such a move by releasing potentially embarrassing information about the steps she took ahead of the release of the interim report. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who is seen as Olmert's most significant political foe in the party, does not intend to call for Olmert to quit because, as a source close to Mofaz said, "he is not the putsch type." Barring another call by Livni for Olmert to resign, the only Kadima MKs expected to push for his departure are Marina Solodkin, Ze'ev Elkin and Avigdor Yitzhaki, the former coalition whip who has vowed to quit the Knesset if Olmert is not overthrown. Political sources said Barak was interested in meeting with Livni to plan strategy for the release of the final Winograd report. Sources close to Barak said he had not met one-on-one with Livni in months. Barak said in an interview with Israel Radio's Yaron Deckel on Wednesday that his decision about whether to keep Labor in the government after the report's release had been over-dramatized. He said he would consider the situation in Gaza, Syria and Iran before making a final determination. "I will read the report and I will sit quietly and decide what would be the right thing to do for the good of the country," Barak said. "On July 12, [2006, when the Second Lebanon War began], if the government of Israel and its leaders would have sat quietly and thought about what to do and how to do it, there might not have been a need for a report." MK Amir Peretz, who was defense minister when the war broke out, took offense at that comment, and at Barak's statement to the Labor faction on Monday that the "political echelon" was at fault for the war's failures, and not the IDF. "Barak has to think twice before he says the political echelon is responsible, because he is more responsible than anyone," Peretz told Israel Radio. "With all due respect, Barak's credibility was low and it keeps falling to a new low." Peretz said Barak was foolish to promise that he would quit after Winograd's publication. He said Barak would only topple the government if the polls told him he had a chance of wining an election. MK Ophir Paz-Pines said he was disappointed that Barak had backtracked from a promise he made to him to remove Labor from the government upon the final Winograd report's publication, regardless of the report's content. Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu told Army Radio that Olmert and Barak should follow the recent example of Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball coach Oded Katash and resign.