Top Peretz aide says minister won't quit

Olmert's opponents won't let Winograd report topple him - yet.

olmert peretz 298 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
olmert peretz 298 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Defense Minister Amir Peretz will remain in office irrespective of the report's conclusions, according to close associates of the defense minister, including one of his senior advisors, lawyer Rami Buglin. Buglin rejected the claims that Peretz didn't consult with senior members of the defense ministry during the war and that he didn't have sufficient experience to fulfill his role as defense minister. "Israel should be amazed at the actions of Peretz," Buglin told Israel Radio.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet with members of the Kadima faction on Monday at 6:45 p.m. in order to discuss the findings of the Winograd interim report. In the meeting, Olmert will discuss ways in which to react to the report on the mistakes of the Second Lebanon War and brief the ministers on the reactions to the press after its publication. Israel Radio reported that Olmert was expected to adopt the findings of the report but did not intend to resign. Although the five members of the Winograd Committee are expected to declare Olmert a failure, his political opponents do not intend to overthrow him right away. Olmert's associates said they expected Monday to be a difficult day. However, they were not concerned that the interim report would hasten the end of Olmert's political career, because his rivals in Kadima, Labor and Likud all have an interest in allowing him to remain prime minister, at least until release of the final Winograd report in July, which is expected to be more critical. "If anyone thought there would be an effort to overthrow Olmert within Kadima, they were wrong," a senior party official said. "Even the people who are most unsatisfied with Olmert don't think this is the right time to get rid of him." The message that has come out of the Prime Minister's Office in recent days is that Olmert has no intention of resigning in the wake of the Winograd Committee report, and that he will wage a spirited fight to defend himself both against calls to resign and against possible challenges from within his own party. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni raised eyebrows in a meeting of Kadima ministers on Sunday when she remained silent while every other minister advised Olmert on how to handle the report. Livni has recently invited many Kadima MKs and mayors to her office for private discussions about the party's future. In the meetings, she emphasized she did not intend to topple the prime minister but that she was qualified to take over the reins of the party and the country if Olmert would resign. Officials in Olmert's camp admitted that there was "frustration" inside the Prime Minister's Office with Livni's silence and the spate of political meetings she has held in recent days. "She's a politician, she is part of Kadima and she believes in the party," a political source said of Livni. "She is working to strengthen Kadima and to help her position in the party." The source said the reason for Livni's busy political schedule was not Winograd but the fact that her new political adviser, Uri Kedar, started his job on April 1. Since then, Livni has had meetings described as "very positive" with many of Kadima's most powerful figures, including the head of the Union of Local Authorities in Israel, Karmiel Mayor Adi Eldar. A senior Kadima official said that due in part to those meetings, if Olmert left office, Livni would already have a majority in the faction to replace him. The official said that contrary to many reports, the party's rules would not prevent her from becoming prime minister while seeking the Kadima chairmanship. There is no mechanism in Kadima's charter for overthrowing the party's leader, so the charter would have to be changed for Olmert to be toppled from within. If Olmert resigns, an election would be held among party members within 60 days. During that time, Kadima would be led by a temporary head, someone not running for the party leadership. Meanwhile, Acting President Dalia Itzik would have a week to meet with faction heads and hear their recommendations for Olmert's replacement as prime minister, while Olmert would remain prime minister of a transitional government. In such a scenario, the Kadima faction could recommend Livni and she would would be eligible to run for Kadima head because she would be prime minister but not the acting party chairman. Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit and Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who have each been mentioned as possible Olmert successors, both told reporters on Monday that they expected the government to survive. Thanks to the vacancy in the Finance Ministry, potential Olmert critics like Sheetrit and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz have been careful not to criticize the prime minister. "I have been part of many governments that were frequently eulogized," Sheetrit said. "It's too early for people to start tailoring their suits." Sheetrit's comment was aimed in part at Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu, who polls say would become prime minister if a general election were held. In an effort to maintain his front-runner status, Netanyahu decided not to give any interviews on Monday, staying out of the fray while other Likud MKs attack Olmert. Netanyahu has not decided whether to attend Thursday's Tel Aviv rally that will call on Olmert to resign. Meretz MKs have decided not to attend the event because even though it is being organized by dovish Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, they said it had been "taken over by Netanyahu and the Right." The two top Labor leadership contenders, MK Ami Ayalon and former prime minister Ehud Barak, are also not expected to attend the event at Kikar Rabin, because both want to become Olmert's defense minister and neither of them believe he should quit. Barak will continue his strategy of remaining silent, while Ayalon told Channel 10 that he preferred Olmert as prime minister to Netanyahu. "I'll do everything possible to prevent new elections," Ayalon said. However, on Tuesday Ayalon announced that after finishing reading the 150 page Winograd interim report, he had decided Prime Minister Ehud Olmert must quit. He said that after reading the entire report, he decided that its conclusions were harsher than the leaks of the report that were broadcast Friday. "The report found that Olmert and the Israeli leadership had failed personally and therefore the prime minister should not be allowed to continue in that position," Ayalon said. Two National Union-National Religious Party MKs intend to submit bills calling for the dispersal of the Knesset during a special session of the parliament this week. There is currently no majority for the legislation and if they fail, a similar bill cannot be introduced for six months. Herb Keinon contributed to this report.