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.

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