Haaretz (Editorial)
May 29, 2008 - 9:42pm

Ehud Olmert's term as prime minister, which began with Ariel Sharon's coma, is about to end with Morris Talansky's testimony. It is possible that, as in the first chapter in which Olmert served as acting prime minister until the elections, the last chapter will be a twilight zone in which his seat is vacated in fact but not in theory - due to a vacation or temporary incapacitation. But the terminology is not important. The substance is that Olmert can no longer stand at the helm of Israel's government.

The practical question that must now be asked is: What will come after Olmert? The two major alternatives were discussed in the public discourse even before the general disgust over Olmert's behavior had reached such heights during the corruption investigation. Yesterday the chairman of the Labor Party, Ehud Barak, gave political validity to the discussion of alternatives to Olmert, by saying that the ball is now in Kadima's court. The alternatives include setting up another government with the participation of Labor but with another Kadima representative at its head, or holding early elections. A third alternative, setting up a completely different government in the current Knesset, is not realistic because 61 Knesset members will not vote for it.

Barak is right to prefer the first alternative. Political and governmental stability benefit Israel more than premature elections. Olmert is the one who has totally lost the trust of his voters, without which he is not worthy of the institution known as democratic rule. He personally has lost this trust, not the Kadima-Labor combination, whose policy in security and peace, despite its weaknesses and limitations, is more correct than that of its opponents on the right. Olmert made it difficult to advance this policy, but that is not a reason to risk being embroiled in elections and forming an even more problematic government. One should not avoid elections, but first it is better to exhaust efforts to make changes in Kadima's leadership.

The opinion polls have placed Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in the top slot, and she is also the one empowered by law to take that place if the prime minister is temporarily incapacitated, because she is a deputy prime minister, as Olmert was in the Sharon government. Olmert's potential stratagem - resigning in favor of a different minister or dismissing Livni as long as another heir is appointed - should be considered an act of desperation of the "Let me die with the Philistines" type. If Livni's competitors in Kadima lend a hand to a stratagem like this, it is reasonable to assume that support for them and their party will sink to new lows.

The orderly move would be a transfer of the premiership to Livni as Kadima prepares to elect a permanent leader, especially because a temporary incapacitation and an interim prime minister are effective only for three months.

Barak did not give a binding date for an end to Kadima's wavering, but he knows that his credibility, which was severely damaged when he did not abide by his commitment to leave the government after the Winograd Report, will disappear completely if he waits for more than a few days - and with it will go his leadership of his party.

Narrow partisanship and personal considerations about who will gain and who will lose from Livni (or any other Kadima representative) becoming prime minister until the elections must be pushed aside in favor of what is best for the state.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017