Olmert won't resign over war report

Source:ap.org Author:MARK LAVIE Date:03/25/14 Click:

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signaled Thursday that he has no intention of stepping down after an inquiry held his government and the military responsible for the failures of Israel's war against Hezbollah.

Polls show most Israelis want Olmert to resign, and a hard-line opposition leader demanded that he leave office.

But Olmert showed no signs of backing down Thursday at a meeting of his Kadima party. His hold on power appears firm, with his main coalition partner unlikely to pull out of the government for fear of losing the majority to the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud in the elections that would likely result.

That gives Olmert some room to pursue the Palestinian peace treaty he pledged to try to broker by the end of the year.

Netanyahu on Thursday demanded Olmert's resignation. "He refuses to take responsibility, he refuses to display personal integrity or leadership and refuses to do what the overwhelming majority of the public expect him to do," Netanyahu said.

A poll published Thursday by the Maagar Mohot agency found 60 percent of Israelis thought Olmert should resign, while 19 percent thought he should remain in office. The poll questioned 474 Israelis and had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

A poll in the Maariv daily had similar findings.

But Olmert's party and allies are sticking by him after concluding that doing otherwise could mean being voted out of office themselves.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak, the head of Labor, had said he would remove Olmert's main partner from the coalition if Olmert did not resign after the Winograd Commission's final report was issued this week.

That would remove Olmert's parliamentary majority and probably force an election.

But polls indicate that if elections were held now, Olmert's centrist Kadima and the dovish Labor would both lose strength, handing victory to Likud.

Barak now says he will study the report and act in the best interests of the nation.

The politicians who had called for Olmert's resignation last year after a scathing interim report by the commission either lined up behind him Thursday or reserved judgment.

Olmert's main party rival, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, backed away from her demand then that Olmert resign.

"We should act to implement the conclusions of the report and continue to push forward with the peace process," she said at the party meeting.

An election leading to a Netanyahu victory would likely put an end to hopes for a quick Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, hopes that are slim in the best of circumstances. Netanyahu opposes concessions to the Palestinians for peace.

The final report released by the commission Wednesday pointed to "serious failings and shortcomings in the decision-making processes and staff work in the political and the military levels" in the 34-day conflict. Olmert had pledged to bring home two captured soldiers and crush Hezbollah, but neither goal was accomplished.

Olmert said he would implement the findings of the report, which stopped short of blaming him personally for the 2006 war in Lebanon widely seen by Isarelis as a debacle.

"We will continue to deal with the corrections and the processes that we must undergo. It's possible to say that some of them are already under way," Olmert said Thursday.

Next week the Israeli parliament will debate the commission's report, parliament spokesman Giora Pordes said. Olmert is expected to speak, his office said.

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