Joe Macaron
The Middle East Times
June 4, 2008 - 5:37pm

It must be ecstatic for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to be in Washington for three days, a brief escape from a quasi political inferno.

Not only haunted by scandals and calls to step down, but by a Palestinian process devoid of substance, an inherently strained Syrian track and a puzzled observation of developments in Lebanon.

The man came to power with two enduring complexes: the lack of military heroism and subsequently the guilt to compromise.

Expected to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush today, Olmert is seeking $150 million for the third generation of Arrow missile defense system to counter Qassam rockets plus a request of F-22 jet fighters with a radar detector, pending the Congress remove its ban on this sale.

"Given the recent political developments in Israel, I hesitated as to whether it was the right time and the right thing to leave everything behind and meet with you today," said Olmert last night before the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

"I did not hesitate for too long," he affirmed.

Olmert is facing a corruption scandal, accused of allegedly taking improper funds over a decade – before he came to office – from an American fund-raiser from New York, Rabbi Morris Talansky, a case apparently leaked by his own associates.

Olmert's Kadima Party wants to avoid early elections to sustain the leverage of this centrist party, with a scenario calling for Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to replace Olmert.

But the battle for the prime ministership is already under way. Defense Minister Ehud Barak wants to end the honeymoon enjoyed by Kadima and restore the influence of the Labor party, in an eventual parliamentary election that would pave his way back into office.

But interestingly, Barak's call for Olmert to resign could work against him in the long run and extend Kadima's rule until 2010.

On the other side, Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, wants to build on his high poll numbers, which he believes would give him a landslide victory in early elections. Ultimately, Likud and Labor would like to see the demise of Kadima, returning Israeli politics to its traditional divide between the left and right.

Yet a formula needs to be found on how the three contenders can agree in conceding the premiership to another. Kadima has an unprecedented 29 seats in the Knesset, and is in no rush to change that. Labor has 19, down from the 21 seats it held in the 2003 elections; and Shas holds 12. The big blow was for Likud which lost heavily to Kadima, going from 27 seats in 2003 to 12 in 2006.

No motion to dissolve the Knesset is likely to be passed, leaving the current assembly in place until 2010. Instead of parliamentary elections, Kadima could opt for a primary where around 65,000 of its members would pick a new leader by September.

The founding of Kadima in November 2005 was former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's intent to form a national platform to push for unilateral disengagement from Gaza, remove Israeli settlements, and draw the borders of a novice Palestinian state.

In view of the lack of progress in advancing peace talks with the Palestinians, Olmert's resignation could be welcomed by the Bush administration, so long as Livni replaces Olmert and she remains faithful to Sharon's plan.

Washington might look at a swift transfer of power as an opportunity for a fresh start. Livni has been calling for Olmert to resign since May 2007, following the Winograd Commission's interim report on the summer 2006 war on Lebanon.

Already, reports highlighting her experience as a Mossad agent have surfaced. According to the London Sunday Times, Livni served as a Mossad agent in Paris in the 1980s overseeing missions to kill Palestinian militants across Europe. The report stressed that she was not "an office girl."

At this point Olmert resignation is not a matter of when, but rather a question of how.


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