MKs Call on Olmert to Resign in Wake of Bank Leumi Probe

Lawmakers from across political spectrum appeal to PM to step down or suspend himself from office.

Knesset members from across the political spectrum called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday to resign or suspend himself after the state prosecution ordered police to open a criminal investigation of Olmert's involvement in the state's sale of a controlling interest in Bank Leumi.

As in previous recent incidents in which Olmert has found himself at the center of a political storm, top Kadima officials did not rush to his defense. Other politicians who did not comment on the controversy included the contenders for leadership of Labor, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former prime minister Ehud Barak, whom Olmert would like to see replace Peretz as defense minister.

"It can't be that the crucial state matters will be run by someone who is entirely involved in saving himself," said MK Yossi Beilin, chairman of Meretz. Beilin called on Olmert to suspend himself immediately and transfer his prime ministerial authority to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who bears the title of acting prime minister, until the investigation is over.

Beilin warned that if Olmert does not suspend himself, then Meretz-Yachad will initiate proceedings in the Knesset requiring him to do so.

MK Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party), who is chairman of the Knesset State Control Committee, called on Monday for the PM to step down. He said that after the Civil Service Commissioner Shmuel Hollander said he would suspend those under investigation in the Tax Authority, it was fitting for Olmert to step down.

Aryeh Eldad (National Union) said Tuesday, "Olmert has to go."

Labor MKs said the investigation signals the end of Olmert's rule.

"The decision brings the end of the government closer," said MK Danny Yatom, who is running for the leadership of Labor.

He said a key issue in the party primaries will be the candidate's ability to rehabilitate the government and lead it to elections.

MK Ami Ayalon, another candidate for Labor chairman, said the party should prepare for the possibility of early elections, with the central issues being the fight against corruption and restoration of public confidence in the political system.

MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) called for new elections, saying only that would bring a halt to the government's endless failures.

MK Yoel Hasson, one of the few Kadima members who defended Olmert, said: "The comments by senior economic and Bank of Israel officials, led by [Bank of Israel] Governor Stanley Fischer, who reinforced and praised the involvement and conduct of [then-]finance minister Olmert should constitute a guarantee that the police investigation will be completed quickly, and at the end, it will become clear that the prime minister strengthened the economic system."