Thursday, January 31, 2008

Barak Studying Winograd Report, Deciding Whether to

Hillel Fendel

All eyes are now turned towards Ehud Barak, the Defense Minister and head of the Labor Party. Barak will have to decide in the coming days whether to stand by his word to quit the government after the release of the final Winograd Report, or to remain in the government despite the report's findings. If Barak chooses to leave the coalition, the result will be the toppling of the government and new elections anywhere from three months from now to next November.

What About Olmert?
The resignation of Olmert himself does not appear to be on the horizon, based on statements his aides have made since the release of the Winograd report. Interior Minister Roni Bar-On, a close friend of Olmert and the most outspoken Kadima spokesman regarding the Winograd Report, was asked why Olmert should not take responsibility and resign - and responded, "Taking responsibility doesn't always mean quitting; sometimes it means remaining in order to repair, as the Winograd Report implies as well."

Regarding Barak, Bar-On said, "The report gives Barak a very strong basis on which to decide to remain in the government, and I hope that he will do so."

Barak spent Wednesday night reading the Winograd report - including the secret chapter, which he called "grave." This morning, he went to Kerem Maharal to pay a "shiva" consolation visit to fellow Labor Party Minister Ami Ayalon, whose father died this week. The Defense Minister is expected to announce his final decision next week.

Within Labor, most Cabinet ministers support remaining in the government, while a small but vocal group of MKs think otherwise. MKs Shelly Yechimovitch, Ophir Pines-Paz, Danny Yatom and Eitan Cabel are meeting on the topic, and have called upon Barak to take the party out of the government.

Yechimovitch told Voice of Israel Radio, "I agree that Barak has a genuine dilemma. But I believe that our partnership with Kadima is wrong, and that he should leave. Despite the fear that Netanyahu might form the next government, I believe we must proceed towards new elections."

Yechimovitch, a former outspoken left-wing radio personality, had harsh words for Olmert: "I didn't need Winograd to tell me that Olmert is not a suitable Prime Minister, in the deep sense of the word. But the report told me much about the arrogant and superficial way in which the decisions were made... [In response to a question:] Yes, I am quite apprehensive that my son, who is enlisting in the army next week, will be in the hands of Olmert. It has been said that the main test of an Israeli Prime Minister is if Jewish mothers are willing to entrust their sons to him, and I think Olmert does not pass this test. He is a talented man, but not worthy morally. He sees the Prime Ministership as a job, and not as a national mission; a job without an agenda and without Zionism. He is also up to his neck in cases of corruption, and also happened to get to this job by a series of flukes which almost could have been a subject of a comedy series..."

Olmert is said not to enjoy great support within his party as well, though it has not surfaced as of yet. One Knesset Member, however, has made his opposition clear. MK Avigdor Yitzchaki of Kadima announced Thursday morning that he would quit the Knesset "if there are no political developments in three weeks." Last May, Yitzchaki resigned as the chairman of the Kadima faction in the Knesset in protest of Olmert's refusal to resign following the interim Winograd report.

In light of the danger that Labor might quit, as well as threats by the Shas party to leave the coalition, Kadima officials have opened talks with the hareidi-religious United Torah Judaism party. UTJ officials say they have no plans to join the government, however.

Former IDF Intelligence Chief Gen. (res.) Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash weighed in with a post-Winograd comment, saying, "Olmert will have to decide whether to set a national norm regarding Prime Ministers taking responsibility, just like Golda Meir and Yitzchak Rabin did in the past."

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