Government's Future / The Street's Call

Did anyone have any doubt that Ehud Olmert, Amir Peretz and Dan Halutz failed in the management of the war? Now it is official, and tomorrow it will be even more official, and henceforth it will be up to the people in the street to speak their mind.

Not the politicians, not even the media, will decide the prime minister's fate. The bereaved families will speak their mind, and so will the reservists. Their anticipation of the report has exceeded anyone else's, and they will try to do what they could not immediately after the war: to topple the government, or at least remove the prime minister.

It is still too early to estimate the vigor of the public outcry. Several thousand or hundreds of thousands will demonstrate at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv Thursday night; a protest tent will be pitched across from the Prime Minister's Office.

But what impact will they have? Who will defend Olmert and who will turn his back on him? The coming days will tell, and they will be dramatic.

Olmert will not resign, unless the report specifically calls on to step down or comes close to doing so. He will not treat a statement that he acted "rashly" and was dragged along by the army as an eviction order from his place of work. But how will Olmert behave if the committee judges him to have "failed" as as Prime Minister? Will he barricade himself in his office, faced with growing public animosity and deadly popularity ratings, with pressure mounting on Kadima to show him the door?

People will look to the cabinet, and in particular to his deputy, Tzipi Livni, who up to now has not been known for her political courage. Only Livni has the kind of public standing that would allow her to move to replace Olmert. But it will be hard to ask her to commit political suicide: By law, the impeachment of a sitting prime minister leads to the creation of a new government, and no one is promising Livni that she will be the one to form it.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz promised last night to issue "tough remarks" immediately after the report is released. They will concern the conduct of the prime minister and the former chief of staff but will be meaningless. Peretz had promised to resign if found responsible for the failures of the war, but his days in the Defense Minister are numbered in any event.

Chico Menashe of Israel Channel 10 news is to be commended for publicizing the main points of the report on Friday, but what does that say about the Winograd Committee? For nine months its work was shrouded in mystery; none of its deliberations was open to the public; everything was secret. And then, 72 hours prior to the official release of the interim report, the dam is breached.