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Olmert vs. Winnograd

Prime Minister Olmert: 'I have no intention of resigning regardless of Winnograd report'

Labor party sources doubt Defense Minister Barak will keep his pledge to resign after Winnograd

IsraCast: Public opinion polls after upcoming Winnograd report will likely determine political fate of Prime Minister

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

What are the implications of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's statement this week that he will not resign even if severely criticized by the final report of the Winnograd enquiry into the Second Lebanon war? Defense minister Ehud Barak, leader of Labor, Olmert's key coalition partner indicates he has not yet decided whether he will keep his pledge to quit the government after the final Winnograd report expected in another month or so. However, IsraCast says opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu of Likud will also be tested in the Winnograd aftermath.

It should not have come as a surprise - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has stated that he will not resign even if the Winnograd inquiry again finds grave fault this time in his conduct of the final stage of the second Lebanon war. At present it appears that Olmert may again ride out the political storm the way he did the interim report last May. The report found that Olmert was responsible for the war's failures that eventually forced former Defense Minister Amir Peretz and IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz to resign.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Since then, Olmert has managed to salvage some of his lost prestige largely thanks to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi. Israel enjoys a far better security situation despite the daily rocketing of Sderot from the Gaza strip. Counter terror operations have forced Hamas to start talking about a cease-fire. In September, Israeli aircraft successfully raided a Syrian target that was reportedly a secret nuclear installation. It should have been clear that Olmert would not resign unless forced to do so legally or politically. He defused the clamoring for his resignation by defanging the public inquiry immediately after the war. He appointed a panel without the legal power to force his resignation. Instead the inquiry can only comment on what went wrong without forcing anybody to resign. Therefore Olmert has left his political fate in the hands of his political partners in his own ruling party Kadima or in Labor, Shas and Avigdor Lieberman's party.

Although Labor party leader Defense Minister Barak declared that he would resign after the final Winnograd report, there is no sign he intends to do so. In fact, Labor sources say privately that Bark will prefer to carry on as defense minister. They say although this will jeopardize his public integrity 'it's better than returning to the political wilderness' - that is likely to happen if Labor bolts the coalition triggering an earlier election that Likud leader Netanyahu would probably win.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni (Photo: Amit Shabi)

One other scenario is that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni might lead a coup in Kadima to over throw Olmert. After the war, Livni called on Olmert to do the right thing and to resign. But this would also be a risky move that could spark a power struggle in Kadima splitting the ruling party.

Olmert and his supporters have now gone on the offensive. It was in a private briefing to the left-wing Meretz party, where Olmert declared he would not resign. The Prime Minister stressed the importance of continuing his peace moves with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Moreover, the Olmert line is that he has now rectified the failings of the Lebanese war which have been placed at the door of former Defense Minister Amir Peretz and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz for failing to deliver the goods. A source close to the Prime Minister has told IsraCast that Olmert had no way of knowing the IDF was not properly trained for guerilla warfare against Hezbollah or that air-power alone could  win the war as promised by Halutz. Now they say, Olmert has turned things around and has a solid and reliable team with Barak as defense minister and even Livni, his political rival, at the foreign ministry. The bottom line was that this troika should carry on in the national interest.

Binyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

On the other hand, Olmert's critics charge it is outrageous that the Prime Minister has already declared that he will ignore the Winnograd findings when it comes to his own personal culpability. Bibi Netanyahu and others contended that Olmert has turned political ethics upside-down with Orwellian 'double-speak'. The Prime Minister was in effect saying that in his case 'past failure is a recipe for future success'.  

Two-hundred thousand Israelis rallied in Tel-Aviv's Rabin square demanding Olmert's resignation after the interim Winnograd report. They are now planning another massive demonstration after the inquiry's final findings. Many of them are reserve soldiers who say that although Olmert has not put himself above the law he is beneath contempt in dodging his public responsibility.

But when all is said and done the Prime Minister has managed to survive politically not only because of Labor's support. Bibi Netanyahu has not succeeded in persuading Shas and Avigdor Lieberman to quit the government. Now it will also be up to Netanyahu to muster public support to press these parties into toppling Ehud Olmert and risking an early election.

The latest opinion poll indicates 35% of Israelis prefer Netanyahu as Prime Minister while only 20% favor Olmert. What will count though will be the post-Winnograd poll. After the public uproar, what will the polls show then?  Will they reflect a dramatic groundswell demanding Olmert's resignation? Or will they enable the ruling Kadima as well as Labor and the other coalition partners to continue supporting Olmert as Prime Minister?

David Essing

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