Calls Mount for Olmert to Step Down

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, shown at a government ceremony yesterday, will need political resilience to survive the outcry and remain in office, allies said.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, shown at a government ceremony yesterday, will need political resilience to survive the outcry and remain in office, allies said. (Pool Photo By Menahem Kahana)
By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, May 2, 2007

JERUSALEM, May 1 -- Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faced rising calls Tuesday for his resignation, a defection from his governing coalition and rumblings of insurrection within his own party a day after an official investigation found "serious failings" in his conduct of the war in Lebanon last summer.

Olmert's aides and political allies acknowledged that the Winograd Committee's interim report was unusually harsh and that the prime minister would require political resilience to survive.

"There is a group that is examining the possibility of his resignation and there is another group that does not think it is the right time," said Otniel Schneller, a lawmaker from Olmert's centrist Kadima party, describing the divide in the ranks as one member, Marina Solodkin, called publicly for him to resign.

"All in all, though, there is support for the prime minister," Schneller said.

But some Israeli analysts, citing the country's previous experience with postwar investigations, predicted that it is a matter of time before Olmert steps aside or is ousted from office, given the report's sharp indictment of the government's competence and the army's fitness.

The committee concluded that Olmert acted hastily last July in going to war against Hezbollah, an armed Lebanese Shiite Muslim movement, and never had a "detailed military plan" for securing the release of two captured Israeli soldiers or defending the country from a predictable rocket barrage during the fighting. The soldiers are still believed to be in Hezbollah's hands.

Olmert's departure would either hand the prime minister's post over to a Kadima lawmaker or trigger new elections. Either scenario would mean months of political paralysis, hampering any steps toward restarting a peace process with the Palestinians.

The Bush administration, largely alone in endorsing Olmert's decision to go to war last summer, has been promoting those talks with new energy in recent months.

"He does not think it would be best for the state of Israel right now to send it to new elections," said Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Olmert, who met Tuesday with the leaders of his coalition partners. "He doesn't think it's time to just start over."

But Israeli analysts say the depth of popular outrage, Olmert's ability to maintain the loyalty of his party, and the internal politics of his largest coalition partner, the center-left Labor Party, will determine how much longer he remains in office.

Yaron Ezrahi, a Hebrew University political science professor, said that "it took time for public anger to turn to protest" after state investigations into the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps following Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Golda Meir and Menachem Begin resigned as prime minister following those inquiries, which Israeli analysts say were less harsh than the Winograd findings.

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