Olmert to resign after Sept. 17 vote
Olmert to resign after Sept. 17 vote
By Isabel Kershner and Graham Bowley
Published: July 30, 2008
JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel, embroiled in a high-profile corruption investigation, announced Wednesday that he would resign his office as soon as his party chose a new leader in September.
In a televised public statement made from his official residence in Jerusalem, Olmert said he would not take part in the leadership election for his Kadima Party, opening the way for the next party leader to try to form a new government.
"I have decided not to compete in the primaries in Kadima," he said. "I will resign from my role as prime minister to allow a new leader to form a new government efficiently and quickly."
Olmert had agreed with the Labor Party, his partner in the coalition, to hold the internal election in September to try to keep the coalition together as the corruption inquiry continued.
In May, Labor's chief, Ehud Barak, the defense minister, called for Olmert to step aside, pending the outcome of the police investigation and advised Olmert's colleagues in Kadima to replace him. If they did not, he warned, he would work in Parliament to move up elections scheduled for 2010. Barak could then become prime minister, if Labor won those elections.
At a rally in Jerusalem on Monday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a member of Kadima, asserted that the party had lost its way under Olmert's leadership. The next day, party leaders set Sept. 17 as the date for the first round of party elections. A runoff would be held Sept. 24 if needed, Kadima said in a statement.
"The sense of hope that had been a part of the establishment of Kadima has been lost along the way," Livni said Monday, according to a transcript released by a spokesman to Reuters. Livni first called for Olmert to resign a year ago when a commission faulted his handling of the war with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006.
Contenders for the party leadership include Livni, who leads the Israeli negotiating team in talks with the Palestinians, and Shaul Mofaz, the more hawkish transportation minister, who is a former army chief and defense minister. Mofaz is known for crushing a Palestinian uprising that erupted after peace talks failed in 2000.
Olmert has been under pressure in a high-profile investigation, suspected of illicitly receiving large sums of cash over a long period from a New York business executive. Olmert has not been indicted and denies any wrongdoing, but he has pledged to resign if charged. He vowed again in his statement Wednesday to continue to fight to prove his innocence.
The September vote will be the first leadership vote for Kadima, which was established in 2005 by Ariel Sharon, who was then the prime minister. Olmert became acting prime minister when Sharon had a stroke in January 2006 and prime minister when Kadima won general elections in March 2006.
Olmert's decision about whether to run for the Kadima leadership in September came after the preliminary cross-examination of Morris Talansky, whom prosecutors suspect gave Olmert a series of cash gifts.
Talansky, who has also denied any wrongdoing, testified in May that he had given Olmert $150,000 in cash-stuffed envelopes over 15 years.
Olmert has described the funds as legitimate contributions to election campaigns he waged before becoming prime minister in 2006.
The president of Israel, Shimon Peres, would presumably ask the new leader of Kadima, the biggest party in Parliament, to try to form a new government. If he or she failed, Peres could ask someone else. New elections, if necessary, could be held before the end of the year.
Olmert's government defeated eight no-confidence motions in Parliament on Monday, the last of many during the current session before the summer recess begins at the end of the week, Reuters said.
Graham Bowley reported from New York.
U.S. still hoping for peace
The U.S. State Department played down expectations of quick progress as new three-way talks on an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal began Wednesday, but still held out hope for an agreement this year, Reuters reported from Washington.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is pressing the sides to reach a peace deal before President George W. Bush's term ends in January. She set separate meetings with Livni and Ahmed Qurei, the former Palestinian prime minister.
Before leaving Israel, Livni told a Kadima Party forum that Israel favored the establishment of a Palestinian state on land now occupied by Israel, but objected to demands for Palestinian refugees to return to their former homes in what is now Israel, a key issue in the negotiations.