Tzipi wins Kadima party primary, pushes Olmert to resign

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he would resign after the Kadima party primary, Tzipi Livni said after her win in that primary last week (18 September), so let him resign. And, Livni indicated, Olmert should not wait until 2 October, after the Jewish New Year, as Olmert aides indicated — he should resign ASAP, Livni said.

Olmert’s resignation is expected at or after the weekly Sunday Cabinet meeting today.

The primary exit polls had predicted a much wider margin for Tzipi’s victory (nearly ten points), but she turned out to win by only 1.1% over runner-up Shaul Mofaz. Both Tzipi and Mofaz got more than 40% of the primary vote, so a second round of balloting was not needed.

Mofaz then declined to challenge the results, despite his supporters claims of irregularities — and said he intended to withdraw from politics for a time.

The Associated Press reported that Tzipi said after her win that: ” ‘The national responsibility (bestowed) by the public brings me to approach this job with great reverence’ … Livni will have 42 days to form a new ruling coalition. If she succeeds, she will become Israel’s first female prime minister since Golda Meir. If she fails, the country will hold elections in early 2009, a year and a half ahead of schedule. Olmert will remain as a caretaker leader until a new coalition is approved by parliament. Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said the prime minister called Livni to congratulate her on her victory and would notify the Cabinet on Sunday that he would resign. ‘After that, he will resign’, Regev said … The primary was Kadima’s first since the party was founded by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2005. Sharon suffered a debilitating stroke in early 2006, and Olmert subsequently led the party to victory in elections”. here .

The McClatchy newspaper group’s Dion Nissenbaum wrote that “Livni will have to use her diplomatic acumen to persuade skeptical political adversaries to join her in forming a new coalition government that can lead the nation. If she fails to form a coalition by early November, she’d be forced to lead the Kadima Party in national elections. And polls find her facing a difficult task in topping Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud Party leader and former prime minister, who’s taken a harder line on peace talks with Israel’s adversaries. By choosing Livni over Mofaz, Kadima voters implicitly endorsed the foreign minister’s diplomacy-before-warfare approach to tackling Israel’s biggest concerns: making peace with the Palestinians and neutering Iran’s nuclear program. Should Livni succeed in becoming the next prime minister, she’s expected to press ahead with two of Olmert’s biggest diplomatic gambits: U.S.-backed peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and nascent, indirect negotiations with Syria that are being overseen by Turkey. Both tracks face significant hurdles, and there’s a growing sense among politicians and academics in the region that there’ll be no diplomatic breakthroughs until U.S. voters choose a new president”. Dion’s analysis can be read in full here.

An article in Haaretz by Amir Oren stated that “Livni’s first priorty will be to de-Omertize the Kadima party: If she were leading a rock group, we could call it Tzipi and the Expectations [a play on words in Hebrew — see Uri Avnery below]. She is expected to form a nimble yet stable government, broad enough to avert early Knesset elections yet efficient enough to work and to make policy. Her first priority will be to briskly de-Olmertize the party and to purge the rot and corruption at the top of the government. In practice, this should mean the swift exit of Olmert’s crony culture in the Prime Minister’s Office and in the cabinet, starting with Haim Ramon and Daniel Friedmann”. This analysis/comment can be read in Haaretz here.

YNet reported that: “Shas Chairman Eli Yishai, a key potential coalition partner … said he was ‘sure that Livni knows that the public doesn’t care about her victory today, but rather, about her actions tomorrow. The elections are a means, not an end’. Shas’ chairman added that ‘If Livni addresses the issue of a million hungry children and doesn’t give away the country’s assets – with an emphasis on Jerusalem – we’ll be in her government. If not, we won’t be’ … However, Yishai added that certain Kadima members preferred to go to general election. ‘I feel that within Kadima there are those who desire elections. A government cannot be established now. We will be part of the government only if our demands are fulfilled. I don’t believe in the option of a government with 61 MKs. Either there will be a stable government with Shas, or elections’, he said”…

There was some shock when it was announced that Livni had approached Meretz to join the Government. Israeli analyists said that if Meretz would agree, then the government would have to be “balanced” by at least one of the religious parties to make it less “left-wing”. It’s too bad that the Arab parties who are represented in the Knesset have traditionally refused to serve in the government — it would be very interesting to see the country’s lead negotiator in the Annapolis-process peace talks with the Palestinian Authority leading a government in which pro-peace forces dominate, and in which Israel’s “Arab” [i.e. Palestinian] elected parliamentarians would responsibly participate … and help make a negotiated peace possible.

Tzipi takes a stand

“Tzipi”! called out Israel’s Internal (or Public) Security Minister Avi Dichter, greeting Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Thursday afternoon as she breezed into a conference room, surrounded by an unusually relaxed security escort, at Jerusalem’s Inbal Hotel – a favorite meeting place of Israel’s conservative elite – where she was scheduled to address an illustrious audience on the Challenges to Homeland Security.

Livni was glowing – confident, radiant, fit, tanned.

At the podium, she joked that when pictures of her and fellow Kadima Party politician Dichter hit the newspapers on Friday, “I can guarantee you that the papers won’t be mentioning homeland security or terror”.

In fact, the headlines were about her open break with Olmert, a bombshell she revealed to a crush of journalists in a corridor outside, just minutes before entering the conference room.

The journalists all immediately rushed off to file reports, without going into a Conference they were sure would be boring. And they missed hearing Livni tell the Homeland Security ministers of many of the main countries in the Western world that Hamas has to be deposed in the Gaza Strip before a Palestinian State is created.

Dichter, who was hosting the “First International Security Forum of Ministers of Interior and Homeland Security” at the Inbal Hotel, indicated elsewhere on Thursday that he would be among those who would run for the party leadership — if and when party primaries are held — to replace scandal-tainted Prime Minster Ehud Olmert.

Olmert himself claims that he will eventually be able to prove that he is innocent. He repeated on Thursday that he did not intend to resign, and added that he felt he is being done an injustice: “Some people think that every investigation requires a resignation. I do not agree”, he said.

Veteran Israeli journalists caution against placing too much credibility in the many leaks now coming from partisan sources close to the police investigation or to the Attorney General’s office. Olmert has survived previous reports of scandal.

But there has never previously been any reaction as significant as the gauntlet thrown down on Wednesday by Labor Party Leader Ehud Barak – Israel’s powerful Defense Minister and himself a former Prime Minister – who called on Olmert to step down “soon”.

Barak said Olmert could handle the matter in a number of ways – including by claiming disability. Olmert revealed last year that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and that he would eventually have to face surgery. But, that surgery was postponed so that Olmert could attend the Annapolis Conference last November, then so that he could host George Bush’s first visit to Israel as U.S. President in mid-January…and Olmert is scheduled to visit Washington again next week. However, Olmert may well soon decide that it is time to step aside (but not necessarily resign) to address his medical concerns.

In that case, Livni would take over as acting Prime Minister.

Livni, just before addressing the conference at the Inbal Hotel on Thursday, willingly entered a narrow – even claustrophobic — space under a stairwell to stand in a prepared spot in front of a poster for the Homeland Security meeting, where a throng of cameramen and photographers had been waiting, to make her first clear comments on the developing crisis.

Apparently referring to Ehud Barak’s statements, Livni told the journalists that “the reality has changed since yesterday … I suspect that Kadima needs to start right away acting for every eventuality, including elections.”

Livni said: “It is impossible to do nothing while Ehud Barak threatens to force early elections…”
YNet later reported that Livni said in an interview that “Kadima must set a date for primary elections as soon as possible. We must determine who will be the party’s candidate for the premiership in order to ease tensions. This has to be done. Things changed following the testimony of (American financier Morris) Talansky”.

Livni’s deliberate and pre-meditated remarks were, as the Israeli media is now reporting, an indication of the extent of the now-open rebellion in Olmert’s own Kadima party. Livni told the journalists that “In this way, we can operate to restore the trust in Kadima”.

Accusations immediately surfaced in the Israeli media of treacherous coordination (particularly coming from Livni’s Kadima rival Shaul Mofaz, Transportation Minister) between Livni and the Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, whose statements on Wednesday set in motion a new dynamic that will almost inevitably lead to early parliamentary elections (earlier, that is, than the next scheduled elections in 2010 – and perhaps even by the end of this year, as Barak has suggested).

But, Barak has denied any coordination, and Livni told the crush of journalists at the Inbal Hotel on Thursday that “The issue isn’t only legal, and the test on what is criminal and what isn’t is not only the personal business of the prime minister. It is related to the values and norms and their influence on the trust of the public. It infuriates me … and I am coming out against the attempt to impose improper norms on politics.”

Minutes later, in the Homeland Security Conference, Livni told the assembled ministers – including U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff – that new trends toward open borders and a world village was fine “when it comes to Coca Cola, but when it comes to Al-Qaeda, it is a threat to the whole world”.

She said that “national conflicts are being changed to religious conflicts … but religious conflicts are unsolvable”.

“There is no just cause for terrorism, but some groups’ agendas are ideological-religious, and they are not fighting to get rights but to deprive others of rights”.

“We are ready to fight for others to put their agendas on the table for discussion”, Livni said, referring here apparently mainly to the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – “this is part of democratic values, and I believe deeply in democratic values, but not to spread their own religious agendas”.

She added that “We are working with those who represent the national interests of the Palestinian people, but we need to de-legitimize a Hamas that cannot accept the right of Israel to exist … or accept prior agreements”.

Livni called, at the Homeland Security Conference, for a new “universal code for democratic elections”.

Groups dedicated to armed struggle should have to make a choice before standing for elections about whether or not they will continue on this path — not after elections — “Let them do it before”.

“Before the [2006 Palestinian] elections, I tried to prevent the participation of Hamas”, Livni told the Conference. “According to the Israeli political system, and to our Supreme Court, this should not have happened. It’s the same in Europe (including Spain and Turkey), and it’s part of the new constitutions of Iraq and Afghanistan. The only place in the world that it’s not is in the Palestinian areas”.

In response to the concerns she expressed about Hamas’ participation in the elections, Livni said, she got two answers:”(1) ‘Don’t worry, Hamas will only get 20% of the vote’, and (2) ‘But look at Hizballah in Lebanon – the fact that they have become a part of the political system has made them more moderate’”.

Now, she said, “We can avert a process by which a Palestinian state becomes a failed state or an Islamic state. Part of the solution is to address the situation in Gaza and change the situation on the ground before the creation of a Palestinian state”, Livni said.

In an extremely unusual gesture, Israel’s Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter had invited his Palestinian counterpart, General Abdel-Razak al-Yahya, to attend (but as an observer) the Homeland Security Conference. In an even more unusual gesture, the Inbal Hotel had very prominently displayed the Palestinian flag on the wall of the building, to the immediate right of the Israeli flags hanging over the entrance door, and in parallel with the American flag displayed to the left of the entrance door. The flags of the other ministers participating – Germany, Canada, France, Spain, Poland, Italy – were ranged on either side.

Palestinian taxi drivers in Jerusalem said they were absolutely amazed – they had never seen such a prominent display of a Palestinian flag in West Jerusalem – and not last, but in the first ranking. “Who was there?”, they asked “Was it Mahmoud Abbas?”

No, it was not Abu Mazen, it was supposed to be the Interior Minister, General Abdel-Razak al-Yehya – the man who is working with U.S. Lt. General Dayton and his Israeli counterparts to build a new, reformed, Palestinian police and security force. But even he was not there – and the Homeland Security Conference organizers said they had no idea why the Palestinian Minister had not come.

No one could be reached immediately in Ramallah to explain the Palestinian Minister’s absence, either.

U.S. Homeland Security chief Chertoff told this reporter that he thought the Conference was “very good” – but when asked if he had been expecting to meet with the Palestinian Interior Minister, Chertoff said “I don’t want to get into this with the press”, and hurried off.

Olmert's support crumbles in wake of cash payments revelations to Court

Master politician Ehud Olmert has just now had the rug pulled out from him with the public announcement at a press conference in Jerusalem by Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak, who called for Olmert’s resignation a day after dramatic testimony from an American-Jewish businessman who said he gave Olmert a total of some $150,000 in cash over a fifteen-year period.

There has so far been no “quid pro quo” indicating that Olmert actually promised or was asked to do something specific for the businessman, Morris Talansky, in exchange for this money — something that would be necessary to make it a criminal act. Further testimony is not expected until July. Olmert’s lawyers have said they were confident that they could rebut the businessman’s testimony at that time. But the firm revelation of this conduct, and its unsavory appearance, are enough to have undone Olmert’s position.

While earlier solicitations appear to have been for political campaigns, starting with Olmert’s campaign (Olmert was then a member of the Likud Party) to become mayor of Jerusalem in 1991-92, replacing Teddy Kolleck, the businessman said that Olmert increasingly requested money for his own personal expenses – a $25,000 vacation in Italy, or upgrading of his airlines reservations from business to first class, or his hotel rooms to suites, and so forth – rather than for campaign purposes.
Olmert liked luxury, and to live well, the businessman told the Court on Monday: “I only know that he loved expensive cigars. I know he loved pens, watches. I found it strange,” then shrugged.
Olmert also asked for the money as loans, the businessman testified Monday – but, these “loans” were never repaid, the businessman said.

In advance of the 2003 primaries, the businessman said, Olmert asked him for $72,500 – a sum that the businessman said he paid. It was the last payment he was willing to make, he testified.

Perhaps most damning, the businessman told the Court that Olmert asked for the money to be given in cash – a way of avoiding banking and reporting controls. On at least one occasion, the businessman paid with his own credit card a $4,700 hotel bill run up by Olmert – which would also not show up on any monitoring of such transactions.

And, Olmert apparently did wrote letters and otherwise intervened on behalf of Talansky’s various business interests, though Talansky testified that he had not specifically asked Olmert specifically to do so.

It is revealing, however, to see the amount of time Olmert was willing to devote to whether or not a hotel would conclude a contract for his patron’s mini-bars, rather than to other more pressing affairs of state.

Olmert has, for example, exhibited a curious, if perhaps overtly political, lack of leadership in significant matters affecting the country – including his non-intervention in emotional calls for revenge and retaliation that threatened an East Jerusalem family, and the country’s ethnic relations, after the attack on a nationalist yeshiva in which 8 students and the apparent assailant were killed.

Talansky said he was only invited to one reception given by the Prime Minister – but never to his home. But, he said he did receive a very nice 70th birthday card, and was also invited, at the last minute, to attend Olmert’s address to the U.S. Congress — and to attend Olmert’s son’s wedding.

In addition, Talansky said, he would visit Olmert during his trips:”Whenever [Olmert’s assistant] Shula told him I was here, no matter what, he would always come out and greet me. A hug, a big hug. He hugged me”.

According to pool reports by members of the Foreign Press Association who were assigned to cover the Court testimony, Talansky said he looked at Olmert as a man who “could accomplish a great deal…as a man who hopefully would build the city (as Mayor of Jerusalem)”, and heal the divisions.
The FPA pool report said that “Talansky talked about how Israel not priority for American Jewry, [about] giving money to hospitals and to concerts and [about] you have to pay people to come like Birthright and they don’t care so much…He appreciated Olmert’s ‘ability to articulate, his ability to reach out to the American people, the largest and richest community of Jews in the world and we are losing them at the fastest rate you can imagine. And that’s why I supported him. That’s why I gave it to him. That’s why I supported the man, that’s why I overlooked frankly and honestly, a lot of things. I overlooked them, maybe I shouldn’t have, but I overlooked them’.”

If Olmert resigns, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is positioned to replace him both as Kadima Party leader and as Prime Minister. Livni has been Israel’s most popular politician in polls over the past year,and has been Deputy Prime Minister for as least as long. Her call on Olmert to resign last year, after initial findings of the Winograd Commission about poor leadership during Israel’s “Second Lebanon War”, was brushed aside at the time with some irritation by Olmert. Her opponents — and some of her supporters — called on her to resign. To keep her busy, Olmert named her to head the Israeli negotiations team after the launch of the Annapolis Process whose aim is to make substantial progress towards the creation of a Palestinian State by the end of U.S. President George Bush’s term of office in January 2009.

If Olmert resigns and Livni takes over, there may not necessarily be early elections, at least not in the immediate future.

However, if he resists this call, defections from the current government will make early elections inevitable, even if Olmert could conceivably patch together a new coalition from various groups including the left wing Meretz party, who just may be persuaded to cooperate if it would otherwise mean a collapse of the current peace negotiations which Meretz supports and wishes would progress even faster.

Likud opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu — who opposes the whole Annapolis Process because it is supposedly stacked against Israel but who is credited with significant modernization of Israel’s economy — will be one of the principal beneficiaries of any call for early elections as a result of the current turmoil in Israeli politics.

It will be interesting to see What Barak himself will do now. It is not clear that he would throw his hat into the ring, at least immediately, if early elections are called. He may well position himself above the coming fray. As is, as Defense Minister, he exercises nearly complete control over all decisions affecting Israel’s security — a position that has been reinforced during Olmert’s term in office as a concession to keep Barak in line. Olmert recently has stated publicly that the Defense Minister effectively rules the occupied West Bank, and this has also given Barak a veto over whether or not Israel implements any part of the Roadmap is implemented — something which is said to be essential for successsful conclusion of the current peace process. Barak may be happy to remain, as he is at the moment, the major power broker in Israeli politics.

Meantime, both Syria and the Palestinian Authority have suggested that they fear Olmert’s troubles will affect the peace processes…

Palestinian Foreign Minister speaks in Tel Aviv

It may be the first time it has ever happened.

Certainly, it’s the first time in a very, very long time.  A Palestinian Minister addressed a predominantly Israeli audience in Tel Aviv last night.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki addressed an overflow audience at a Tel Aviv conference on Thursday evening.

The conference in Tel Aviv was convened to discuss the “Annapolis Middle East Peace Conference – a Diverse Range of Perspectives”, and was co-organized by the Peres Peace Center and by the Herzliya office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The discussion was moderated by the Peres Center’s Dr. Ron Pundak, who was one of the chief Israeli participants, together with Palestinian representatives Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei, in secret talks that were sponsored by Norway and that opened the way to Israeli-PLO recognition in September 1993 and the Oslo process of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.  As a result, the Palestinian Authority was established in the West Bank and Gaza – which the Olso Accords say are a single territorial unit.

As it happened, while the public conference was taking place at Tel Aviv University on Thursday evening, the heads of the Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams — Ahmed Qurei and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, respectively — were also meeting elsewhere in Tel Aviv, in private session.

Apparently, in the wake of the struggle that left Hamas in charge of Gaza but kicked out of a Palestinian National Unity government, the charm offensive toward Mahmoud Abbas’ Ramallah-based administration, some things have eased for some Palestinians: all ministers in Hamas-free emergency government now have permits to enter Israel anytime. These permits, initially issued for a three-month period, have since been extended another three months, until the end of the year. The Ramallah-based Ministers can enter Israel freely, but must just inform the Israeli soldiers of their passage at the “border crossing” checkpoint they use.

Maliki told his audience that: “I do represent the government that it is clear about its own obligations – then it will demand of Israel to do the same” . Al-Maliki, who spoke in English, said that “We are a government that comes to cooperate and not to compete – I am referring to security here. Our success in security will be an Israeli success, too.”

Earlier in the day, in an interview in Ramallah, the Palestinian Minister for Detainees and ex-Detainee Affairs, Ashraf al-Ajrami, complained that just the launch of a campaign by a re-built Palestinian security services to impose security and collect unauthorized weaponry in Nablus and in the neighboring Balata refugee camp earlier in the week, the Israeli Defense forces had then also entered Balata and “did everything to confuse our effort”.
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Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators

Here they are, the peace negotiators:

Israeli Government Press Office photo taken 26 October 2007 in Jerusalem

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and FM Tzipi Livni meet with
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and former PM Ahmad Qurei
in Jerusalem on 26 October 2007 (Photo: GPO)

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has just published a sort of background note, “Behind the Headlines: Israel prepares for Annapolis”, a sort of synthesis of remarks made over the past few days by Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Here is an excerpt: “Despite all the difficulties, Israel believes that the present situation is an opportunity that must be taken advantage of. As the Annapolis meeting approaches, Israel’s goal is to reach understanding on the widest possible common ground, in the time available. This will enable forward progress towards the realization of the two-state vision. While the Annapolis meeting will not be a place for negotiations, it will certainly be a starting point. After Annapolis, it is expected that Israel and the Palestinians will enter into vigorous, ongoing and continuing negotiations, dealing with the fundamental issues which are a condition for realizing the vision of two states living side-by-side in security and peace. Annapolis will be the jumping-off point for continued serious and in-depth negotiations in which no issue will be avoided. No division which has clouded relations between Israel and the Palestinian people for so many years will be ignored. The two-state solution is a goal shared by Israelis and moderate Palestinians, envisioning two homelands for two peoples, living side by side in peace and security”. The full position statement can be found here or here.

This makes it sound that those Palestinians who are not “moderate” will be in big trouble.

As a sign of what may be to come, it happens that, over the last 24 hours, there have been arrests of Hamas members in the West Bank both by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and by Palestinian policemen operating in Nablus and the neighboring Balata refugee camp.

Livni: There are differences of opinion over the Road Map

Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Sunday morning after meeting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice over breakfast in Jerusalem: “There are differences of opinion are over the road map. We must reach a basic understanding that the creation of a Palestinian state should occur only after Israel’s security is established”. Livni’s remarks were reported in Haaretz newspaper: “The situation is complicated,” Livni said. “One must understand that we have a shared interest with the moderates in the [Palestinian] Authority, and they need to understand that first there must be security, and only then a Palestinian state. The problem is not over making a joint declaration, but what its content would be”… The Haaretz report on Livni’s remarks after a breakfast meeting with Rice is here.

On Saturday evening, at the Saban Forum, Livni told the glitterati that attended that “Today, the Palestinians understand that terrorism harms their own interests. At the same time, there are problems with implementing the vision, given the current situation. There are problems with their ability to deliver, and we must strengthen the moderate leadership in order to improve the situation on the ground … We cannot turn a blind eye to the reality and the terrorism in the Gaza Strip. Therefore, we have decided to adopt a dual strategy – to isolate Hamas, to take steps against terrorism and, at the same time, to look for a vision and a common denominator with the Palestinian leadership and together to change the situation on the ground. The change must be on the ground and not just in theory. I believe that we must send a message to the Palestinian people that the situation does not have to be this way, that there is a choice. The duality must become reality. [emphasis added] However, as we try to find a common denominator, Israel’s security needs and the reality on the ground must be addressed. The formula we have chosen is the Roadmap. The Roadmap is based on the understanding that the path to establishing a Palestinian state passes through ensuring Israel’s security.
Continue reading Livni: There are differences of opinion over the Road Map