PM Sets Primary Ball Rolling but Labor Says He's Not Serious

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert bowed to pressure from within Kadima yesterday and ordered his party to start preparations for primary elections - the first in its history. The party's primary committee will meet next week to set a timetable for the election, which will be held in September.

Meanwhile, Labor said it was not satisfied by Olmert's decision to set a date for his party's primary, a move that signals that he may be willing to push forward a general election in light of the police investigation of the PM. Labor officials said that if they are not satisfied with the steps Olmert takes, they may vote in favor of a mid-June motion to disperse the Knesset and call for general elections. Party officials meet today to discuss their strategy regarding Olmert.

"Kadima's move is still far from satisfying us, because it does not give a specific timetable and when such a timetable does not exist, then just saying 'we're in a process' isn't enough," Labor's MK Eitan Cabel said. "It isn't enough to tell us that 'we are in a process.' If there's no date, then there's no certainty that Olmert will step down as prime minister and we will have elections."

Meanwhile, Shas also voiced its dissatisfaction with Kadima and reiterated its threat to call for new elections unless state aid for large families is increased.

Olmert yesterday met with senior Kadima figures MK Tzachi Hanegbi and MK Eli Aflalo, who sought his approval to move the party primary forward.

The prime minister initially tried to postpone a decision on the matter until July 17, when the cross-examination of Morris Talansky, one of the key witnesses in the suspicions against him, is scheduled to take place.

Olmert, however, decided to give into demands from his party colleagues.

After the meeting, Hanegbi said that the decision showed that Kadima had accepted the Labor challenge, and that the ball is now back in its court.

Decision is 'a joke'

Meanwhile, Labor's MK Ophir Pines-Paz dubbed Olmert's decision to hold a primary election a "joke."

"He just won himself another week," Pines-Paz said. "It's spin, not a serious move. As far as Olmert is concerned, he will not set a date. We will only be convinced if we see a formal date for the Kadima primary. It's a shame that the prime minister is mocking our intelligence."

The Likud plans to raise a motion to disperse the Knesset on June 25 and party officials said they hoped Shas and Labor will vote it favor.

"Olmert's latest maneuver, which doesn't even include a primary date, is just a ploy to buy time and whose objectives are apparent," Likud MK Gideon Saar said.

Also yesterday, it seemed that chances of that a first reading of a bill that would move the general elections forward will be postponed by a week and be held next Wednesday.

The official reason for the delay is that the National Infrastructure Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) and Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor) will both be abroad.

MK Silvan Shalom (Likud), who is one of the coauthors of the proposal, said he would be willing to postpone the vote to June 25 only if Labor and Shas announce their intention to vote in favor of it on that date.