Monday, September 22, 2008

Olmert Quits--and Remains PM

Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert now is officially a lame duck head of government after he resigned Sunday night. He remains in power until newly-elected Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni forms a coalition or is forced to go to the polls. His legal position has changed in that he cannot be suspended from office, but he still can fire Cabinet ministers. President Shimon Peres received Olmert's resignation by stating he appreciated "the respectful way in which he is handing over his power." The president added that several actions that Prime Minister Olmert made for the "safety of the state of Israel and the welfare of its citizens…will remain unknown."

President Peres invited all of the heads of the 13 Knesset factions for consultations, a formal act before asking Livni, as head of the largest party, to form a new coalition.

Livni already has gone into action to attempt to win over opposition parties, although she has not yet received the formal go-ahead from the President, after which she will have 42 days in which to accomplish her task. If she does not, President Peres can ask another party to form a coalition, which would be highly unlikely, or call for new elections within 90 days.

Livni has made it clear she does not intend to drag out the process. "If it soon becomes clear that a coalition cannot be formed, we will go to elections and we will win," Foreign Minister Livni said. She stated her hope for a national unity government but faces an apparent rocky road.
If it soon becomes clear that a coalition cannot be formed, we will go to elections and we will win.

Likud chairman and Opposition leader Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu has said he will not join a coalition led by Kadima, which he said would be like joining the bankrupt Lehman Brothers financial firm.

The keys to a coalition government remain in the hands of Labor party chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Industry Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai, chairman of Shas. The Labor party chairman favors a unity government, but senior party members fear that Livni will establish a power base with a new government and call spot elections.

Shas chairman Yishai has two cards in his hands--the demand for an increase in child welfare payments, or some other alternative way to help lower income families, and the status of Jerusalem. He and Foreign Minister Livni have been verbally sparring back and forth for weeks on the issue of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (PA) over the capital. He has threatened to pull his party out of the government if the Olmert proposal to divide Jerusalem reaches the discussion stage with the PA.

For its part, the PA has repeatedly claimed the issue has been discussed numerous times, but Foreign Minister Livni, the senior Israeli negotiator, has denied the charges. However, the last time the PA repeated the claim was when Prime Minister Olmert, and not Foreign Minister Livni, was present at the talks.

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