'PM won't negotiate early elections'

Sources close to Olmert say election will "not be good for the country or the diplomatic process."

olmert face 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert face 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will not accept an attempt by Labor chairman Ehud Barak or Kadima officials to force an early election following the January 30 publication of the Winograd Report, sources close to Olmert said Sunday. Barak is reportedly considering calling upon Kadima to replace Olmert or face an early election, the date of which he would set together with the heads of opposition factions. Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said in his resignation speech last week that he would also try to set an election date. "The prime minister will not negotiate with anyone on a date for early elections," a source in the Prime Minister's Office said Sunday. "It's not good for the country or the diplomatic process. It would freeze the government's work and mire the entire political system in uncertainty." In an attempt to forestall efforts to remove Olmert after Winograd, the prime minister's supporters in Kadima sponsored a full-page ad in Hebrew newspapers under the headline, "Ehud Olmert, we believe in you." The ad was signed by 131 Kadima council members, including 61 Kadima mayors. The head of the Kadima council, Rishon Lezion Mayor Meir Nitzan, defended Olmert in a speech at the Herzliya Conference on the Balance of Israel's National Security, which was held at the Knesset on Sunday. Nitzan said there was "no failure" in the Second Lebanon War and that people who had joined efforts to remove Olmert due to his handling of the war were "unpatriotic." Two Kadima council members came out Sunday in favor of holding an early election as soon as possible to replace Olmert as head of Kadima. Neither endorsed an alternative candidate to Olmert. Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center president Uriel Reichman, who was a Kadima MK for a week, recalled that Olmert had taken over as chairman of the party without competition following Kadima founder Ariel Sharon's stroke. He said that now was the time for him to face an election against other top party leaders. "The prime minister needs a new mandate," Reichman said. "He was never elected in the first place, and since he took over, there have been problems - such as his handling of the war - that require him to seek a new vote of confidence." Moshe Konforty, a Kadima council member from Givatayim, has embarked on an effort to force a new primary in the party. Konforty, 35, heads an organization called Derech Haim, which fights traffic accidents. He said he had nothing to gain personally by fighting Olmert, but he felt he needed to do so to help the country and save the party. "I joined Kadima because I wanted to see a different kind of politics, but I have been disappointed to see the same old political hackery," Konforty said. "Today we have no leader. If Olmert thinks he is so strong, he should put himself up for elections." Olmert postponed a potentially fateful meeting Sunday with Shas chairman Eli Yishai, who has threatened to remove his party from the government and force an election if negotiations with the Palestinians on Jerusalem begin. Yishai had also intended to request a raise in child welfare payments. A source close to Yishai said he was "sure the meeting was delayed because Olmert is genuinely busy, and not for any other reason." The Prime Minister's Office said in response that a time for the meeting had never been set.