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PM Olmert for Another Eight Months?

 

02 August 2008

By Yisrael Ne'eman

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert announced this past week he will not seek the chairmanship of his Kadima faction in the Sept. 17 primaries. As soon as a replacement will be voted in, Olmert is to resign the premiership. Demands for the beleaguered PM’s resignation are a result of six different corruption investigations and continuing criticism of Israel’s failure to defeat the Hezbollah in the 2006 Second War in Lebanon. But most likely Olmert will be PM until March or even April.

The scenario is such:

To win the Sept. 17 primaries the candidate must obtain at least 40% of the vote. Failure to do so leads to a runoff on Sept. 24, the most reasonable possibility at the moment since there are four candidates in the running. Full official results should be known two days later.

Assuming Olmert resigns, the government falls and the new Kadima chairman/woman (either Shaul Mofaz or Tzipi Livni are expected to win) will have 45 days to establish a new coalition, figure by Nov. 10.

Upon failure to slap together another government, elections will be held in 90 days. Olmert is still PM in a transition government. We are now in early February 2009 holding general elections. By the second week of February the full results will be known and now a month and a half of haggling to form a coalition will commence. Most likely Benyamin Netanyahu and the Likud will win (but who knows?), gluing together a government by April 1.

It appears Olmert will be PM for another eight months, meaning he will have been PM for over three years - adding in that he was acting prime minister for several months after Ariel Sharon’s stroke in early January 2006. That is the same span as Netanyahu’s term (1996 – 99), Yitzhak Rabin’s first term (1974 – 77) and longer that Ehud Barak (1999 – 2001), Shimon Peres (1984 – 86), Yitzchak Shamir’s first term (1983 – 84) or Moshe Sharett (1954 – 55). David Ben Gurion’s first government (1949 – 51) lasted only two and a half years. So much for statistics.

Israel faces crucial issues over the next eight months such as how to handle Iran’s nuclear program, Hezbollah’s rearmament with the help of Syria and Iran (in particular the possible acquisition of the latest surface to air missiles), Palestinian instability in both Gaza and the West Bank and Knesset approval for the 2009 state budget. Furthermore there are peace negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) of the Palestinian Authority and indirect talks with the Syrians through Turkish mediation.

But it can get more complicated as Olmert may be indicted in at least one, but most likely two cases within a month. Will he lead a transition government while under indictment? He cannot technically leave office although he can refuse to function as PM and take a leave of absence. His Kadima successor will then become “acting” prime minister, but not officially.

 

A bit of advice: whoever is supposedly at the helm during the transition period until the elections should organize a national unity framework where the opposition is a full partner in making policy. This will demand temporary concessions by all involved but no need for a division of ministerial portfolios. Such a step will give Israel administrative stability which is so crucial during these trying times.

Livni, Mofaz, Barak, Netanyahu and Lieberman, are you listening?