PM to Appear Before Knesset Session Devoted to Winograd

MKs Sa'ar, Pines-Paz, and Yitzhaki gathered requisite 40 signatures, forcing Olmert to appear.

The Knesset will convene on Monday for a special session, which will include the participation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, devoted to the final report issued by the Winograd Committee, Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik said on Thursday.

The initiative is the brainchild of Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar, Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz, and former coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki (Kadima), who gathered the requisite 40 signatures weeks ago in order to ensure that the session would be held not long after the Winograd report findings were made public.

Yitzhaki announced Thursday that he was resigning his Knesset seat in protest of Olmert's refusal to resign from his post.

In recent days, Itzik has been sniping with National Religious Party Chairman Zevulun Orlev over the former's refusal to hold the session Thursday. Opposition MKs read excerpts of the interim Winograd report on Tuesday in a quasi-ceremonial session during which MKs were permitted to take the floor and speak for one minute.

Following Monday's session, the Knesset will vote on the prime minister's speech. Both the coalition and opposition are expected to wage a bitter campaign to obtain a majority in the vote. Nonetheless, the session holds symbolic significance only.

Opposition factions shelved plans to submit no-confidence motions scheduled for Monday in order to focus their efforts on the special session. The only no-confidence motion expected to be brought to the floor Monday is that of the Arab parties in protest of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's decision to not pursue criminal charges against police officers involved in the shooting deaths of 13 Arabs during the riots of October 2000.

Knesset members criticized the Arab parties for bringing forth a no-confidence motion on a topic on which the government has no influence.

Calls said growing within Labor for Barak to quitOne day following the release of the Winograd Committee's final report on the Second Lebanon War, Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak is coming under increasing pressure from rank-and-file Labor Party members to follow through on his campaign pledge to quit the coalition should the prime minister refuse to resign.

Aides to Barak told Army Radio on Thursday that the report "isn't as grave as believed," yet the defense minister does find some elements troubling. Given the report's criticisms of Olmert, Barak is in no hurry to declare his intention to remain in the government.

Aides say Barak understands that while the report does exonerate Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on a number of aspects, it also finds fault with the premier on others, Army Radio reported.

Yet, Barak's circle of advisors appear to be increasingly convinced that resigning from the government at this stage would be irresponsible given that the defense minister is currently the only one who can - and must - correct the inadequacies cited by the Winograd report, Army Radio reported.

Since it became clear Olmert has no intention of stepping down, public attention has shifted to the Labor Party chairman, who has now become the focal point of protests spearheaded by reservist soldiers who fought in the war as well as the bereaved families of Israel Defense Forces troops who fell in battle.

The fault line within Barak's faction runs between MKs who are demanding Labor pull out of the government - Ophir Pines-Paz, Eitan Cabel, Shelly Yachimovich, and Danny Yatom - and senior Labor members serving as ministers in the cabinet who argue against leaving the coalition, Army Radio said.

"I call on Barak to leave the government, to abide by his obligation to the public," MK Pines-Paz said. "I still believe Ehud Barak is cut from the cloth of leaders. Barak must do the intelligent thing."