Convergence No Longer on Agenda, PM Tells Ministers

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said this week that in view of the war in Lebanon and the significant damage caused to the residents of northern Israel, his convergence plan was no longer at the top of his government's agenda.

In conversations with ministers and senior members of his Kadima party this week, Olmert said that talk at this time about the convergence plan would not be "appropriate."

In closed sessions, Olmert said he was not ignoring the fact that something fundamental had changed in recent weeks, and that he recognized that he must make adjustments to the government's priorities in view of the changed circumstances.

Olmert said it was impossible to ignore the Palestinian problem, but added that at this point in time, Israel and its government were facing the enormous challenge of rebuilding the North.

This challenge, Olmert assessed, would consume most of the government's time and resources.

Sources in Kadima told Haaretz that the prime minister's statements indicated that his ambitious plans for a broad, unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank would not be carried out - at least not in the foreseeable future. The approach curr ently attributed to Olmert, however, contradicts statements made by the prime minister in an interview with the Associated Press during the course war. In that interview, Olmert said that the IDF's gains in the war would contribute to the implementation of the convergence plan.

Kadima officials have not been surprised by Olmert's current stance - and this, also because a number of senior party members had expressed reservations regarding the convergence plan on the eve of the elections.

Some party sources also said that the fact that the greatest proponent of the convergence plan, Justice Minister Haim Ramon, was soon expected to disappear from the political scene because of the criminal charges that have been brought against him would "nail shut the coffin of the convergence plan."

During his meetings this week, Olmert also expressed strong opposition to the establishment of a public commission of inquiry into the war in Lebanon.

His position, discussed with some ministers, is that the government's conduct cannot be examined since its actions were driven by political considerations.

Sources close to Olmert questioned the need for a commission of inquiry. "What would it investigate?" they asked. "Why the government decided to go war? Why it adopted the Security Council resolution?"

Reservations were also expressed by sources close to Olmert regarding the timing of the decision of Defense Minister Amir Peretz to appoint an IDF committee of inquiry headed by former chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak.

According to the sources, it would have been more appropriate to have waited a little longer, until all IDF soldiers were back from Lebanon.

Olmert, the sources said, recognizes, however, that this is the privilege of the defense minister, and therefore opted to support him.

The sources also said that Olmert did not intend to establish a government of national unity that would include persons such as Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu, as Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik has recommended.

However, a rumor did begin to circulate that Olmert may ask Peretz to move over to the Finance Ministry and appoint Shaul Mofaz or Ehud Barak in his stead.

Sources close to the prime minister said that they were not aware of any such plan, and Labor Party officials rejected any such notion off hand.

By agreeing to such a move, Peretz would be signaling that he shouldered responsibility for the military failure in Lebanon, something that would make it difficult for him to compete for the post of prime minister in the future.