In Symbolic Vote, Knesset Okays PM's post-Winograd Speech

Commotion erupts as bereaved parents jeer Olmert; PM: I take responsibility for failures of 2nd Lebanon War.

The Knesset plenum on Monday evening approved Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's speech in response to the Winograd Commission's report on the Second Lebanon War, which was released last week.

The speech was approved in a non-binding, purely symbolic vote, by a majority of 59 to 53. One MK abstained from voting.

The statement was approved despite the fact that six coalition MKs - Ophir Pinez-Paz (Labor), Shelly Yachimovich (Labor), Eitan Cabel (Labor), Danny Yatom (Labor), Avigdor Yizhaki (Kadima) and Marina Solodkin (Kadima) - voted against the statement.

Four Arab MKs were absent, as was former Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

A commotion broke out in the Knesset before the vote, after bereaved parents began screaming at Olmert during the speech.

"You are not my prime minister! I relinquish my citizenship," shouted Elipaz Baloha, who lost his son during the fighting in the summer of 2006.

Baloha was subsequently removed from the Knesset and the rest of the bereaved parents followed him in solidarity. MKs Uri Ariel and Arieh Eldad (National Union-National Religious Party) also left, after a failed attempt to rally other MKs to join them.

During his speech, Olmert said he "carries the full responsibilities of the failures" of the war, although he defended the decision to go to war against Hezbollah.

The Second Lebanon War broke out after the Lebanese militant group abducted two Israel Defense Forces soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12, 2006. The Winograd report on the conduct of the war severely criticized both the government and the IDF for its handling.

"The unequivocal opinion of the defense establishment before the Second Lebanon War was that in the case of an abduction attempt or rocket attacks, Israel must respond harshly in the entire area in a disproportionate fashion," in order to deal with the Hezbollah threat, Olmert said.

Olmert said that in the six months before the war, he held several discussions with Israel's major security and intelligence bodies, all of which warned of a real danger of abductions and violent conflict between IDF soldiers and Hezbollah fighters on the northern border.

He said that before the war, the government knew it could not completely prevent Katyusha rocket attacks on its territory. It was known, he said, that "Israel would be able to thwart, through a combination of aerial action, a substantial portion of the rocket threat, but rockets in these circumstances in the North are likely to continue days or even weeks."

Olmert reminded the plenum of the support that the war initially garnered from the entire political spectrum, the media and the public. He criticized opposition leader and Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu for calling him to resign, saying that Netanyahu was a major supporter of the war effort.

Speaking directly to Netanyahu, Olmert said, "You heard from me on Friday, August 11, about my decision to order a ground operation in Lebanon, and you said you supported it completely." The prime minister was referring to the final operation in the last 60 hours of the war, which claimed the lives of 33 soldiers and became one of the central points of criticism.

Netanyahu spoke after Olmert, and said that the "Second Lebanon War was a failure... If there is not meaning to the concept of responsibility, we should immediately bring Dan Halutz and [former defense minister] Amir Peretz back to their positions."

"The prime minister is evading responsibility. It won't help to put the responsibility on the people, the opposition, on me personally. We all supported the war, and even today we wouldn't take it back... But we didn't support the failed management of the war."

MKs call on Olmert to step down

"The blood of the sons is crying out from the ground," Merez MK Zehava Gal-On told Olmert on Monday during the Knesset hearing.

Gal-On addressed Olmert, saying that he should be denounced on the "public pillory."

"You won your war of survival, but the state of Israel lost. A state is not a survival plan, and therefore you must resign," said Gal-On.

Gal-On said she refuses to express support for Olmert's stated intention to further the peace process with the Palestinian Authority. "Not one barrier has been removed, not a single outpost has been evacuated," she said. "I don't believe false prophets who talk about a peace process promoted by you. You are not fit to move the state in the direction of a peace process. The peace camp is not a sanctuary state. Peace must not become the last refuge of the villainous and corrupt."

Labor MK Eitan Cabel also criticized the prime minister. "I was a minister in the government and participated in the decision-making process," he said. "I have no expectations of you, prime minister, to get up and leave. Regrettably, I have no expectation that you will set a personal example." Cabel then addressed the assertion that a majority of the public was not party to the protest against Olmert. "If there is something that is indicative of the chasm in Israeli society, it's the fact that hundreds of thousands did not take to the city squares in protest."

In a Kadima meeting held ahead of the Knesset session, Olmert said that "the [Winograd] report is comprised of many shadows, but also more than a few sources of light. We are committed to strengthening the bright spots and mending the shortcomings and failings. The report is not a source of joy."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor) announced Monday his decision to stay in the coalition following "a difficult period of indecision." Barak then referred to the Winograd report, saying that "[Labor] will discuss that matter again in due time."