- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

TEL AVIV — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert battled to keep his job yesterday amid unrest within his own party and mounting calls for his resignation, a day after an official commission condemned his handling of last summer’s war against Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.

A Cabinet minister from the Labor Party resigned in response to the commission’s findings, and Israeli press reports said that leading lawmakers from Mr. Olmert’s Kadima party were attempting a putsch.

Meanwhile, an Olmert political ally cut short a visit to the U.S. to return home to help deal with the crisis, triggered by a report released Monday by a commission headed by retired Judge Eliyahu Winograd.

Names mentioned as candidates to replace Mr. Olmert included Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz.

Right-wing lawmakers continued to push for the government’s ouster and new elections.

The attacks on Mr. Olmert spanned the left and right of Israel’s political spectrum as well as the leading daily newspapers.

In an editorial headlined, “Immediate resignation,” the daily Ha’aretz newspaper said: “There isn’t even one word of reprieve in the report that the prime minister can cling to lengthen his tenure.”

Knesset member Menachem Ben Sasson, an ally of Mr. Olmert within Kadima, said he was forced to cut short a visit to the U.S. by two days to rush back to Israel to shore up the prime minister against the growing calls for his resignation.

“Personally, he can survive. But whether he has the support around him” is not clear, said Mr. Ben Sasson. “That’s why I made the decision to cut my visit short to convince him that he has the support and we are backing him.”

The commission said that Mr. Olmert had failed to exercise sound judgment in the war, a response to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

The key to the prime minister’s immediate viability is whether he can galvanize Kadima around him, and whether he can keep the Labor Party in the coalition.

Avigdor Yitzhaki, a top Kadima lawmaker, was said to be leading the attempt to shunt Mr. Olmert aside.

In the Labor Party, Minister Eitan Cabel announced his resignation at a press conference, and a candidate in the upcoming party leadership election, Ami Ayalon, threw his support behind calls for Mr. Olmert’s resignation.

“I can no longer be a member in a government in which Ehud Olmert is at the helm,” said Mr. Cabel. “I am interested in triggering a chain reaction that will force Olmert to resign.”

Two center-right parties said they would remain in the ruling coalition.

Mr. Olmert is being propped up by the lack of a strong alternate candidate from Kadima and the widespread opposition on the left and in the center to risking a victory by Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu.

“One of the greatest strengths of Olmert is the weakness of the alternatives,” said Avraham Diskin, a political science professor at Hebrew University.

“It’s complicated, because if they want to replace him, it involves the formation of a new government, and they need to find someone to replace him.”

Opinion polls predict that if a vote were held today, Mr. Olmert’s Kadima party would retain only a fraction of its 29 seats and Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party would form the next government.

A key indicator of the public mood is expected tomorrow, when an anti-Olmert demonstration is planned for Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.

Newspaper accounts said that a coalition of settlers, bereaved parents and embittered army reservists plan to attend the rally.

Demonstrators yesterday began marching toward Tel Aviv from cities in northern and southern Israel.

“We plan to show [Olmert] the door,” said Uzi Dayan, a demonstration organizer.

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