Foreign minister tells Olmert to quit
By Sharmila Devi in Jerusalem
Published: May 2 2007 17:32 | Last updated: May 2 2007 17:32
Tzipi Livni, Israeli foreign minister and Ehud Olmert’s Kadima party deputy, told the prime minister on Wednesday that he should resign following a damning report on his leadership in last summer’s Lebanon war.
Ms Livni called a press conference after a meeting Mr Olmert to announce a leadership challenge, saying Kadima should hold primaries to chose a new leader if the prime minister agreed to quit. “I told him that resignation would be the right thing for him to do.”
Ms Livni, however, said she would remain in government “to ensure that improvements are carried out”, her declaration falling short of a call for an internal anti-Olmert coup.
Speaking almost a year since the present coalition was formed, she emphasised Israel did not need new elections and that parliament was capable of picking a new “broad-based government”. Under the rules of the centrist Kadima, established 18 months ago, there is no mechanism to remove the party leader.
Few members of the coalition are said to want elections that would be likely to favour Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud party, who is riding high in opinion polls. Ms Livni along with Mr Olmert defected from Likud with Ariel Sharon, then prime minister, to form Kadima.
Mr Olmert has refused to quit but has focused on the need to implement recommendations of the Winograd commission, which said in an interim report released on Monday that the prime minister bore ultimate responsibility for poor and hasty decision-making.
“Clearly the report points to very serious failings by the whole government and naturally my failings as its head,” Mr Olmert said. “It is primarily incumbent on this government, which is responsible for the failings, also to be responsible for fixing them.”
Dan Halutz, chief of staff during the war, has quit while Amir Peretz, defence minister, was said o be considering his resignation.
Pressure on Mr Olmert to go is building and thousands of Israelis were estimated to attend a protest tonight in Tel Aviv. Opinion polls published in the Israeli media showed that two-thirds wanted Mr Olmert to quit.
Ms Livni was the second Kadima colleague to criticise Mr Olmert on Wednesday. Avigdor Yitzhaki, chairman of the party’s parliamentary faction, said he would quit if Mr Olmert did not resign.
The Winograd report accused the prime minister of “a serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence” but exonerated Ms Livni. It recommended much greater liaison and co-operation between the prime minister and the foreign ministry.
Most Israelis believe they lost the 34-day war against Lebanon’s Hizbollah that killed 160 Israelis and more than 1,000 Lebanese.
There was broad public and parliamentary support, at least at the start of the conflict, which was sparked by Hizbollah’s abduction of two Israeli soldiers. But the war failed to achieve Mr Olmert’s stated aims: the release of the soldiers and the obliteration of Hizbollah.
Ms Livni said she spoke out in cabinet against a big ground offensive launched in the war’s final days but preferred to wait until the Winograd report to go public with her concerns.
The interim report dealt with only the first five days of the war and a final report is expected in July.