Prime Minister Olmert rules out shortening term

With Winograd report near, coalition members reportedly checking option of Livni succeeding.

Olmert sits back 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Olmert sits back 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Amid growing pressure ahead of the January 30 release of the Winograd Report investigating the Second Lebanon War, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ruled out on Monday any possibility that he would let political maneuvering shorten his tenure. In closed conversations, Olmert reacted to Labor chairman Ehud Barak's hints that he was seriously considering quitting and reports that Kadima and Labor officials had studied succession laws to determine under what circumstances his vice premier, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, could succeed him without forcing an election. "I will not cooperate with any initiative to advance the next election," Olmert said. "We can form a wide coalition without Barak." In Labor's faction meeting on Monday, Barak lashed out at Labor ministers who have warned against initiating early elections that, according to the polls, would bring opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu to power. "You don't have to worry about Bibi," Barak told the faction. "When the time comes, I will know how to deal with him and I will have no problem defeating him, as I have in the past. I know his weaknesses and there are more than you think, so stop building him up by talking about him." The Likud released a statement in response daring Barak to back up his words. "If Barak isn't worried about competing against Netanyahu and the Likud, he should stop looking for excuses, and keep his promise to exit the government when the final Winograd report is published at the end of the month," the party said in a statement. Barak faced criticism at the Labor faction from a group of bereaved parents of Second Lebanon War victims who surrounded him in the corner of the room and urged him to resign. He was heckled by Ronen Shoval, an IDF reservist, who called upon him to quit. The defense minister responded by vowing not to give in to pressure. "There is no place in a democratic state for reserve soldiers to tell the country's leaders before they saw the Winograd report that anyone knows what is good for the country more than we do," Barak said. Barak was backed up by his allies, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon and National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. "Why are you accusing the defense minister of being responsible for the war?" Simhon shouted back at Shoval. "Barak is being blamed even though he didn't take part in the war," Ben-Eliezer said later. "Has anyone checked what the state of the country would be if we left the government? Who would rehabilitate the army and ensure our preparedness? Has anyone checked what condition our party would be in if we left the coalition before we rehabilitate the country?" The bereaved soldiers and reservists also visited the Likud, Meretz and National Union-National Religious Party factions. In every room, they complained about Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's recent statements ruling out resigning. "Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's corruption is unprecedented," reservist Noam Aharon told the Meretz faction. "He sent people to die just in order to spin the press - for the benefit of himself and no one else. "I can't understand how he can continue to lead us." The bereaved soldiers and reservists rejected accusations from Kadima that they had coordinated their efforts with Netanyahu, who was using them to bring down Olmert. They said they had met and would continue to meet with politicians across the political spectrum until Olmert was forced out of office. "We all come from different parties," bereaved parent Moshe Muscal, a Likud central committee member, told the Likud faction. "When they drafted our sons, no one asked them what party they voted for." Another bereaved parent added: "I voted Kadima and so did my son. But unfortunately, I can't take my vote back any more than I can get him back."