Israel will hold a national election by the end of 2008 as a result of the corruption scandals plaguing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, insisted Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday.
Netanyahu told his Likud Party that the investigation into Olmert's financial improprieties during his time as minister of industry and trade had provided the opportunity needed to remove a government that has no mandate from the Israeli public to be taking the diplomatic steps it is taking.
Netanyahu pointed out that the Israeli public opposes Olmert's planned concessions to the Palestinian Arabs as part of US President George W. Bush's push to birth a Palestinian state by the end of this year.
Earlier, Barak, whose Labor Party is Olmert's chief coalition partner, told his faction colleagues that early elections will take place this year, or during the first part of 2009 at the latest. As part of his primary election platform last year, Barak promised to pull Labor out of the government, leaving Olmert with a minority coalition. He has repeated stated that this remains his intention.
Senior members of Olmert's own Kadima Party have reportedly been trying to stave off early elections, which polls show would leave the faction with far fewer mandates in the Knesset, by replacing Olmert internally. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter are the leading candidates to take over the party reins.
Responding to mounting threats to his political career from both outside forces and members of his own party, The Jerusalem Post quoted Olmert as telling a gathering of Kadima lawmakers on Sunday that they must stick together and maintain the current power structure.