Sunday, September 21, 2008

'PM confirms he will announce his resignation today'


Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has confirmed that he would formally submit his resignation letter to President Shimon Peres on Sunday, and that he would make an announcement to this effect to ministers at the cabinet meeting, Israel Radio reported. On Saturday, Olmert's associates said the timetable for submitting the letter would be finalized in coordination with Beit Hanassi on Sunday. They said that the two most likely options were submitting the letter on Sunday or waiting until October 2, after Peres's return from the United Nations General Assembly in New York and the Rosh Hashana holiday.

Once Peres receives the letter, he will meet with the heads of the 13 Knesset factions to consult with them about whom he should appoint to form a new coalition before formally appointing new Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. She will then have 42 days to form a coalition - but her goal is to present a new government to the Knesset when it returns for its winter session on October 27.

In a speech to the Kadima faction at the party's Petah Tikva headquarters, Livni called on Olmert to keep his July 30 promise to resign in the aftermath of Wednesday's Kadima primary. Her associates said she wanted Olmert to leave the Prime Minister's Office as soon as possible.

"Olmert said a long time ago that he intended to quit after the primary," Livni said. "Because there is a country to run, we have to act quickly to set up a government, not because I want to, but because the country is facing many difficult challenges. We don't have time for political games."

Livni pledged that Kadima would continue to run the country for years to come. She said she purposely did not form a coalition-negotiating team because she wanted to handle the negotiations directly with the other party heads, and quickly.

"We entered this process because we were asked to replace our prime minister," Livni said. "There is no obligation to change the coalition. I don't see any reason for the coalition partners to try to take advantage of the process for their own gains.

"I am not afraid of elections, and we in Kadima have no reason to worry about elections," she added. "They are just unnecessary."

Defense Minister and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, who, aides said, may prefer to form a national emergency government with the Likud, met on Saturday night at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv with opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu urged Barak to help initiate a new general election rather than join Livni's government.

Barak, who is scheduled to meet separately with Livni on Sunday, will also hold talks with Shas chairman Eli Yishai.

Vice Premier Haim Ramon said Kadima should threaten its coalition partners with elections and refuse to change the coalition guidelines.

Ramon advised Livni not to ask Olmert to quit, because it would complicate efforts to form a coalition, but MK Tzahi Hanegbi said Olmert had to leave as soon as possible to advance the coalition-building effort.

In the face of threats from Labor to bring down the government, Livni said that if Labor wanted to initiate elections, the party could have done so two months ago.

Livni met on Friday with Pensioners Party chairman Rafi Eitan, who said he would support a government with her at the helm, but stressed that if additional factions joined the coalition, he would have several demands. He declined to elaborate.

In an effort to bolster the coalition, Livni also met Friday with Meretz leader Haim Oron and on Saturday night with National Religious Party chairman Zevulun Orlev.

Orlev said afterward he saw no chance of establishing a stable coalition, and he called on all parties to work for an early general election, or at the very least, for a national emergency government which would deal with the challenges facing the country over the course of one year.

National Union MK Arye Eldad slammed Orlev for meeting with Livni, saying that there was no way the NU-NRP could join a government led by a woman who has declared her support for expelling Jews from Judea and Samaria.

In her meeting with Oron, Livni said she wanted Meretz to become part of her coalition.

Oron expressed interest in joining the government if it would pursue peace with the Palestinians and with Syria and stop the judicial reforms of Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann. Livni told Oron that the peace process would continue with full force.

Kadima MK Otniel Schneller said that if Meretz joined the coalition, a right-wing party would have to join at the same time to balance it out and prevent the government from becoming too left-wing.

Likud faction head Gideon Sa'ar said Livni's invitation to Meretz to join the coalition was proof that she intended to establish what he called a "leftist" government with policies that lack the support of the majority of the public.

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