Four of Israel’s most senior politicians are about to fight to take on the most important job in the country – that of prime minister.
A dramatic announcement made by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday evening shook the country’s political scene.
Olmert called for a news conference in his official residence. The conference began at 08:02 pm, at the beginning of the primetime TV newscasts. The Israeli people – and Olmert’s political rivals – heard him say he would not participate in his party’s primary elections slated for September 17. Olmert thus pulled the curtain on his political career and gave the green light for the start of the race to the premiership.
Four candidates wish to replace Olmert in leading the ruling Qadima party and the next government. There are currently two favorites: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister – the former army chief – Shaul Mofaz. The winner will have 28 days to establish a new coalition government, but estimates suggest neither Mofaz, nor Livni, will find the task easy. If they fail, the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) will be dissolved and new elections will be announced within 90 days.
The whole process may last until March 2009, and until the establishment of a new government Olmert will remain prime minister.
Meanwhile, Olmert’s recent peace negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians are to continue.
"As long as I stay in office, I will not cease my effort to continue [the peace process] and bring the negotiations between us and our neighbors to a successful ending," Olmert said in his announcement.
Absent from the news conference were Olmert’s closest diplomatic advisers, Shalom Turjeman and Yoram Turbowicz, who were on their way home from their fourth indirect talks with the Syrians.
While Olmert was delivering his speech, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was meeting United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York. Answering a reporter’s question following Olmert’s announcement, Barak made clear that Israel would "continue its basic strategies…doing whatever it can to move ahead with the peace process with the Palestinians."
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud ‘Abbas described Olmert’s decision an "internal Israeli matter" and said he would continue to work with his successor as long as they commit to the peace process.
Meanwhile, public opinion polls reveal that the leading candidate to replace Olmert as prime minister is none other than former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud Party.
Netanyahu, who served as premier between 1996 and 1999, is expected to press for early elections in order to make use of his rising popularity. Polls have repeatedly shown that Livni is the best-placed of the four Qadima candidates to defeat Netanyahu in any general election.
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