TEL AVIV | Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he would resign from office after his Kadima party chooses a successor in a vote set for September, conceding that corruption investigations have eroded his mandate to govern.
The unexpected address to the nation, delivered from his residence in Jerusalem, spurred calls from opposition lawmakers for new parliamentary elections. It also exposed the current talks with the Palestinians and Syria to criticism that Mr. Olmert has no mandate to negotiate peace agreements.
“I’ve decided not to compete in the Kadima primary,” he said. “When there is a new chairman of Kadima, I will step down.”
Despite the announcement, Mr. Olmert said he would continue to pursue peace talks until his last days in office.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the chief Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, who said they would work as hard as it takes to reach an agreement for establishing a Palestinian state by year’s end.
“The issues are difficult, and they have always been difficult. There is nothing surprising in that, but … the goal remains the same,” Miss Rice told reporters after the meeting, which she called “very fruitful.”
Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia, said, “as Palestinians, we want to make peace with all Israelis, not with this party or that person.”
Ori Nir, spokesman for Americans for Peace Now, a pro-Israel organization that promotes Arab-Israeli negotiations, called for “responsibility and moderation” in Israel’s dealings with its neighbors during this time of political uncertainty.
“This period calls for responsibility and moderation. It calls for Israel’s leaders to refrain from provocative moves in the West Bank, such as settlement expansion, and to refrain from adventurous, belligerent actions on Israel’s other fronts - Iran, Lebanon and Syria,” he said.
Mr. Olmert’s decision shifts attention to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, the two leading candidates in the Kadima party leadership battle, and whether they’ll be able hold together the coalition in a vote of confidence.
The decision is in the hands of about 70,000 registered members of the centrist party, set up in 2005 by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Polls, which once favored Mrs. Livni, seem to be shifting toward Mr. Mofaz - a former army chief of staff who is thought to be backed by Mr. Olmert.
“It’s very difficult to say. It’s not clear what’s going on in Kadima,” said Hebrew University political science professor Gabriel Sheffer. “Some people say Mofaz has the advantage, and some people say it’s Livni.”
While Mrs. Livni is considered more dovish, Mr. Mofaz is known as a security hawk.
Whoever wins will have a grace period of about a month to shore up commitments from new coalition partners and form a government. If they fail, Israeli law requires elections within 90 days.
Such a scenario would favor center-right Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who, according to a public opinion poll conducted by Israel’s Channel 10 News, enjoys a wide advantage over Mrs. Livni or Mr. Mofaz, and over Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the leader of the center-left Labor Party.View Entire Story
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