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Olmert's Critics: 'Nothing Has So Distinguished The Prime Minister's Term Of Office As His Leaving It'

Opposition Leader Bibi Netanyahu: 'Go To Early Election & Don't Resuscitate Current Defunct Government'

Isracast: Will Shas Mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef Now Determine Who Will Be Israel's New Prime Minister?

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

Facing a plethora of police investigations, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has finally bowed out. In his ruling Kadima Party, front runners Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz, a former defense minister and IDF Chief of Staff', are now vying openly for party leadership and the chance to lead a new government coalition without going to an early election. However, IsraCast raises the possibility that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, of the Shas ultra- orthodox Sepharadi party, may eventually determine who will become prime minister.

Tzipi Livni & Ehud Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)

The race for the Kadima party leader is now on, after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally threw in the towel with his statement to the nation that he will not run in the party primaries set for September. Will it be Tzipi Livni or Shaul Mofaz? The sixty-thousand or so Kadima party members will decide come September. For them, the name of the gameiswhich candidate will have the best chance of forming a new coalition government headed by a Kadima prime minister. After gaining the support of the Histadrut Labor Federation, Mofaz has been gaining steadily on frontrunner Livni and they are now running neck and neck. The two other declared candidates, cabinet ministers Avi Dichter and Meir Sheetrit are trailing far behind.

Rabi Ovadia - Mofaz

Shas calling the shots? Barring unforeseen circumstances, after the Kadima runoff on September 25th, President Shimon Peres will call on the new Kadima party leader to try and form a new coalition that can command a sixty-one seat majority in the 120 member Knesset. He or she will need the current coalition partners of Labor and Shas. But what if the Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef decides that it is unfitting for Shas to serve in a coalition under a female prime minister? This could induce some Kadima party members to vote for Mofaz in order to retain control of the next government. In any case, Shas could be in the driver's seat and consequently set high demands for its joining a new Kadima coalition. Shas will also be courted by Opposition leader leader Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud. Shas declared Netanyahu public enemy #1, after he slashed funding for many of Shas pet projects such as larger child allowances for big families. One Shas official has said the party is not disqualifying anyone.

Netanyahu is calling for an 'early election and not to resuscitate the current defunct vernment under a new Kadima prime minister'. An opinion poll in the Haartez newspaper shows strong public support for an early election - 61% of Israelis are in favor with only 24% backing the formation of a new coalition.The ultra -orthodox Shas party draws its support from right -wing voters and Netanyahu could make Shas an offer it would be hard to refuse. In other words, for Shas to opt for an early election rather than joining a new Kadima coalition. So, no matter who wins the Kadima leadership race, the new candidate may find it very tough to form a viable coalition and an early election may be inevitable. Until now Netanyahu has actually played a low key role in criticizing Olmert and the coalition, possibly trying to steer clear of the squalid scandals swirling around the Prime Minister? Netanyahu has also been criticized for excessive expense accounts but is lily- white compared to Olmert.

Then again, Netanyahu may have been trying to rebuild his bridges and not arousing the ire of Shas. But the fact is that although Olmert has had a disastrous performance rating, Netanyahu was not been able to arouse enough of a public groundswell to pressure Shas or Labor to bolt the Olmert-led government. The writing was long been on the wall for Olmert's eventual departure in light of the ongoing police inquiries. On July 28th, IsraCast entitled its report on his Knesset briefing as 'Olmert's Last Stand?' The Prime Minister has now been questioned by police again, this time on what has become known as 'The Olmert Tours' scandal. The Prime Minister apparently double and tripled charged for flight tickets abroad as the guest of various organizations. This and the Talansky envelopes of cash may have been the tipping point that persuaded Olmert to announce that he will not run again. Media leaks indicate there is documentation of these scams persuading him that it's game over and better to try and go gracefully by citing the national interest.

If Olmert believes he is innocent why did he not take a leave of absence to repudiate allegations rather than opting out?

Although admitting that he made mistakes during his political career for which he was truly sorry, Olmert declared that after leaving office he would devote all his time and energy to proving his innocence. But the very fact that he did not simply suspend himself temporarily to face the allegations would seem to indicate the Prime Minister feels the evidence is there. If so, don't be surprised if the whole affair is not concluded by a plea bargain that obviates the need for a long trial and possibly sending Olmert to jail.But at the same time, for the present, Olmert is staying on as prime minister. Only after Kadima elects its new leader on September 25th, will Olmert resign but that does not mean that he immediately leaves office.

Within seven days, President Shimon Peres will consult with the various political parties and then call on another Knesset member to try and form a new coalition government -that presumably will be the new leader of Kadima, the largest party. That candidate will have 28 days to do so with one extension possible. All that time, Olmert will remain in the PM's office at the head of the current government. If no candidate can form a government, an early election will be held in 90 days. In that eventuality, Olmert would remain as prime minister for another five months or so. And what of his most obvious Kadima successors, Livni and Mofaz? Both have not shown any real leadership charisma and are dull speakers.Livni is often obscure while Mofaz, the former IDF Chief of Staff, is blunt showing little diplomatic prowess - as recently revealed by his declaration that 'Israel will attack Iran if it continues its nuclear weapons program!' Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recognized Livni's abilities and gave her career a big push. Then again, Mofaz did not become IDF Chief of Staff or Sharon's defense minister without knowing the ropes. The Haaretz poll actually shows that Kadima headed by Livni would beat the Likud in an early election winning 26 seats to 25 - Labor would garner only 14 under Ehud Barak. But Livni and Mofaz will now have to step into the limelight and show not only Kadima members but also the entire if they have what it takes to be a national leader.

As for Ehud Olmert, the general feeling is that the Prime Minister has only himself to blame. The allegations about his numerous shady deals have finally caught up with him as well as his botched handling of the Second Lebanon War.His harshest critics say: 'Nothing has so distinguished Ehud Olmert's term of office as his leaving of it'. His stalwart supporters retort: 'Israelis will soon come to regret that Ehud Olmert is no longer their prime minister - he's far better than any of the alternatives'.

Tzipi Livni

Tzipora (Tzipi) Livni (born July. 1958) is a senior Israeli politician. Since her election to the Knesset as a member of the Likud party in 1999, she has served in numerous government positions. Among others, she was minister of regional cooperation, minister of agriculture, and minister of immigration. She has served as Israel's minister of justice since 10th January, 2005. Highly-rated by both right and left-wing Israelis, Livni received the "Quality of Governance" award for 2004.

Livni was born in Tel Aviv. She is the daughter of Eitan Livni , a Polish-born former ETZEL member and himself a Likud member of parliament. She served as a Lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Forces and worked for the Mossad for four years during the early 1980s. A graduate of Bar Ilan University's Faculty of Law, she has years of experience as a lawyer, specializing in public and commercial law.

Livni was an avid supporter of Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan and was generally considered to be among the key dovish members of the Likud party. She often mediated between hawkish and dovish elements inside the party, and gained publicity for her successful efforts to have the pullout from Gaza ratified by the Knesset.

On November 12. 2005, she became the first member of the Israeli right-wing to speak in the official yearly commemoration of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. Eight days later, Livni joined Sharon in his departure from the Likud and joined his new party, Kadima . She is expected to have a prominent place in this new list. She is a popular politician in Israel and received the "Abirat Hashilton" prize for honest politicians with a commitment to justice.

Since Sharon's medical problems beginning 6 weeks later, some speculate that Livni could succeed next him as head of Kadima if he is unable to continue, though the sufficiency of her experience for the position of Prime Minister is in question.

On 12 January 2006, following the decision that Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom would resign his position ahead the 28 March elections, the press reported that Livni would be appointed to fill that position. Livni resides in Tel Aviv. She is married and has two children. (from Wikipedia)

David Essing

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