Defense Minister Ehud Barak has called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down, saying the prime minister was incapable of leading the country while dealing with his personal matters at the same time.
“I don't think the prime minister can at the same time lead the government and handle his own affairs. Therefore, acting out of concern for the good of the country, and for fitting norms, I believe the prime minister must disconnect himself from the day-to-day running of the government,” Barak said.
Barak called a news conference on Wednesday, a day after the testimony of wealthy American Jew Morris Talansky who testified in court to giving Olmert $150,000 in cash to fund his political ambitions and perhaps his lifestyle. Since the investigation was brought to light in recent weeks, parliament members from both the left and right, including from Olmert’s own party, Kadima, have called on the prime minister to step down.
Barak, a former prime minister himself, said Olmert should not be dealing with Israel’s challenges, such as prisoner swaps, daily assaults from Gaza and negotiations with Syria “and run his personal affairs at the same time.”
“The Labor Party will not hold a stopwatch in Kadima's face, but things have to happen as soon as possible,” he said.
Barak, who’s Labor party is Kadima’s largest ally in the government coalition, expressed these sentiments personally to Olmert earlier in the day. He did not call on Olmert to resign from government, but to step aside and let someone else from his ruling party fill the role of prime minister. He called on Kadima to do some soul-searching and take action.
“We are not going to decide for him,” Barak said. “If Kadima does not act to remove Olmert from the party chairmanship, Labor will move to call early elections.”
Opposition leader former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Olmert should quit. Legally, Olmert doesn't have to resign until convicted, and government elections aren’t scheduled until 2010. He has already said he would not resign unless indicted.
Olmert could take a 100-day leave of absence due to an “inability to govern,” during which Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as deputy prime minister, would fill in. If he quits, Kadima could appoint Livni as premier and avoid early elections.