Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed Wednesday not to quit after Defense Minister Ehud Barak called on him to "detach himself from the day-to-day leadership of the country" in light of the Morris Talansky affair.
Olmert called Kadima ministers and MKs after Barak's press conference in Jerusalem, and pleaded with them to give him the benefit of the doubt that he did not commit any crime when he accepted cash from the American financier. He said he would give his side of the story in the coming days to try to persuade the public as well.
"I will continue to function as prime minister," Olmert told southern mayors in his first public comments after Barak's press conference. "There are those who believe that every opening of an investigation requires a resignation. I don't think so, and I do not intend to resign."
In closed conversations with Kadima MKs, Olmert lashed out at Barak, who he said did not really want him to quit but was forced to demand his resignation to quell internal pressure in his Labor Party.
Olmert's associates went further, calling the press conference "amateurish and stupid" and accusing Barak of learning nothing from the mistakes of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Sources close to Olmert said Livni had harmed herself politically when she called for Olmert to resign after the release of the interim Winograd Report on the Second Lebanon War and that the same would happen to Barak now. Olmert's associates expressed doubt that anyone in Kadima would take any action against him.
The candidates to replace Olmert in Kadima declined to comment after Barak's press conference. A source close to Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said he "would not act according to Barak's dictates." An associate of another candidate said there was no reason to hurry, and an aide to a third said of Barak's press conference that "saying is not doing."
While Barak did not set a deadline for Kadima to replace Olmert, Labor secretary-general Eitan Cabel said he would ensure that an election date was set by the time the Knesset adjourned its summer session at the end of July. Barak allowed Cabel to submit a bill to dissolve the Knesset.
A similar bill, drafted by Likud MK Silvan Shalom, could be brought to a Knesset vote in as early as two weeks after Olmert returns from a planned trip to Washington. Shas chairman Eli Yishai told Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that he preferred setting an election date to forming a new government with the current Knesset led by a new prime minister from Kadima.
I have been waiting for what feels like forever for this coalition to fall so I am having a rather hard time believing this government will actually fall – even in two weeks time. I wouldn’t be surprised if both bills don’t languish indefinitely in the drafting stage.