Olmert Urges Kadima ministers:Give Me Time to Prove My Innocence

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday began another battle within his Kadima party, after the Labor Party chair called for him to be replaced by another Kadima member.

Reportedly sounding tense and belligerent yesterday during personal conversations with all the Kadima ministers and most of the MKs, Olmert said he did not intend to resign or declare himself incapacitated, despite Ehud Barak's demand in a press conference yesterday. Olmert asked his fellow Kadima faction members to let him prove his innocence.

"I have been done an injustice, and it is illogical that a prime minister should be brought down because of something like this," Olmert said to some of the lawmakers.

"Some people think that every investigation requires a resignation. I do not agree, and I do not intend to resign," Olmert said yesterday, during a meeting with mayors from the Gaza Strip area, in his office.

Olmert is also working to block efforts by some Kadima ministers and MKs, who are seeking to set a date for a party primary.

One of Olmert's supporters, a senior party official, said, "He won't get out of it. Now we have to agree among ourselves on the rules of the game; how the primary is to be carried out."

Olmert's associates slammed Barak yesterday. One supporter called the defense minister's move "a cynical and undermining move to satisfy his party's MKs."

Olmert and his associates are said to believe that if they can keep a lid on the foment in Kadima, Olmert can stabilize affairs, and arrive at the cross-examination of U.S. financier Morris Talansky as prime minister in mid-July. Talansky is the main witness against Olmert in the latest corruption affair.

Olmert spoke with Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz several times yesterday. Mofaz has become closer to Olmert recently; Olmert believes this alliance is the key to his remaining leader of Kadima.

Olmert's associates and supporters, among them cabinet secretary Oved Yehezkel, worked to counter Talansky's testimony yesterday. Contrary to Talansky's statement, Olmert had not taken a family vacation in Italy, they said, among other arguments.

Olmert's people also begged ministers and MKs to speak to the press. Several declined to do so. However, Finance Minister Roni Bar-On supported Olmert on Channel 2 yesterday, saying that Olmert could continue leading the country, especially after he pledged to resign if indicted.

Sources said Barak would like to see Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni replace Olmert within the current Knesset, and coordinated his moves with Livni via consultant Reuven Adler.

Barak denied coordinating his move with anyone. "I respect other people from other parties, as well as their decisions in the areas in which they have to make decisions," Barak said at his press conference in the Knesset.

"The country needs stability at this time. Therefore it is appropriate to give this Knesset a chance to establish another government. I am not afraid of elections. In elections the public will decide, and I believe we will win," Barak said.

In addition to calling on Olmert to step down or step aside, he said if Kadima did not do so, he would work to reach an agreement on a date for early elections. He did not set a time limit, but his associates said he would end the processes within a few weeks.

Barak said that with all the challenges facing the country, "I do not believe the prime minister can simultaneously handly the government and his personal issues."

Barak said he hoped for Olmert's sake that the allegations against him would prove baseless, "but for the good of the country, and its norms, he should leave his post soon."