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Israel News Update for May 29, 2008

May 29, 2008
The Lekarev Report
  • Labor Party Fully Endorses Demand for Olmert to Go 
  • Parties Begin Preparing for Elections
  • Mazuz Seeks to Speed Up Olmert Investigation
  • Why Not a Transitional Government?  
  • US: Syria Has Hidden Nuclear Sites
  • Blistering Editorial Expresses National Feeling 
  • Unemployment in Israel Hits 13 year Low 

Labor Party Fully Endorses Demand for Olmert to Go

Labor chairman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, received the full backing of his party's cabinet ministers this morning, less than a day after he called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down from office following the condemning deposition of Morris Talansky.  It is becoming increasingly clear that momentum is building for national elections, instead of the Kadima party choosing a successor to fill out Olmert's term.
Senior sources in Kadima said Wednesday that the Olmert, keenly aware of the political crisis at hand, is finally giving serious consideration to resigning.  Soon after Barak's call yesterday for Olmert's resignation, the Prime Minister appealed to Kadima members to "give me a chance to prove my innocence" but not receiving the response he desired, by this morning, sources say, Olmert has finally realized his political career is over and is considering resignation.
Several Kadima members have already begun preparing for primaries, which could take place as early as September.  In addition, senior members of the various political parties have already begun considering possible dates for a national election, most likely sometime in November.

The Labor Party has already filed a motion for the dispersing of the Knesset.

In a statement issued following the press conference, the Likud party wrote, "Enough of these political maneuverings. The great challenges this country faces demand we establish a new, strong government. The Likud calls on all the House factions, from both the Right and the Left, to set a date for the dispersal of the Knesset and new elections."

Parties Begin Preparing for Elections

The Labor, Shas, and Likud political parties have already begun preparations for what they believe is the inevitable resignation of Prime Minister Olmert, which will prompt general elections before the end of 2008.  Should Olmert indeed resign, as is being demanded from virtually every corner of the political spectrum as well as the general public, it is most likely that the Knesset will disband itself and go to new elections, rather than a transitional government being appointed.

Senior members of the various political parties have already met, looking to set an election date, most likely in November.

The need to hold general elections seems to be the consensus.  A spokesman for the Shas party said Shas "believes we will have an election in November and is preparing for it." The party is said to prefer that option to the possibility of a transitional government. 

MK Eitan Cabel (Labor) told Ynet he "believes things will be clearer in a couple of weeks, but my gut tells me we'll have no choice by to proceed with the elections." 

MK Gideon Sa'ar, chairman of the Likud faction reiterates: "We are all for a general elections by the end of the year," he said.

Mazuz Seeks to Speed Up Olmert Investigation

Investigators are speeding up their corruption probe of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in an effort to wind up a case that has upended the country's politics, a Justice Ministry spokesman said Thursday.

Israel was rocked this week by the explosive testimony of a key witness, US businessman Morris Talansky, who said he gave Olmert $150,000 of his own money over the years, in addition to unspecified sums from other donors. Olmert insisted on getting the money in cash, and used it to help finance his penchant for high-living, including luxury hotels and first-class travel, Talansky told the court.

Olmert has denied any wrongdoing, and Talansky won't be cross-examined by Olmert's defense team until July 17. But calls for the Israeli leader's resignation have mounted, both within his Kadima Party and among coalition and opposition parties.

No timetable will be set for concluding the investigation when Attorney General Menachem Mazuz meets later today with police and prosecutors, Cohen said. But "there is an overriding public interest to wind this thing up quickly," he added.
"This is not a regular investigation." The pending cross-investigation of Talansky will not be a consideration, he said.

The outcome of this latest political crisis could have a profound effect on the future of Israel's peacemaking with the Palestinians, and on talks with Syria, recently re-launched after breaking down eight years ago.

Recent polls have shown that opposition Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud Party, who takes a hard line against the Arabs, stands a good chance of winning the next election.
Why Not a Transitional Government? 

If Prime Minister Olmert suspended himself rather than resign from office, a transitional government would carry out the rest of his term.  Analysts see this as quite unlikely by this point and give two main reasons why Olmert would reject this option.

Tzipi Livni would be the natural successor to take his place and Olmert holds a political grudge against Livni, who called for his resignation several months ago.  He has no intention of handing her the Prime Minister 's seat on a silver platter.  Livni  will most likely win the leadership of Kadima when primaries are held and she enjoys the support of the media and of many in the Israeli public as a 'clean' politician.

The second reason Olmert won't do that is because the ultra religious Shas party will not participate in a government led by Livni because she is perceived as a 'dove' - too liberal for Shas.  Shas' Chairman has already said that even if Shaul Mofaz headed Kadima instead of Livni, Shas still prefers going to elections rather than a transitional government.
US: Syria Has Hidden Nuclear Sites

In a report published by the Washington Post on today, the US is said to be appealing to the United Nations to send inspectors to search for hidden nuclear facilities in Syria. According to the report, the Bush administration suspects that Syria is hiding at least three sites, which they believe were intended to support a nuclear reactor which was destroyed in September.

On September 6, Israeli warplanes bombed a nuclear reactor deep in Syrian territory. Damascus has repeatedly denied ever having built a reactor, and soon after the bombing, bulldozed the area and erected buildings on top of the site. Israel has never formally admitted to carrying out the attack.

US intelligence suspects that at least three secret facilities may have been used to provide fuel for that nuclear reactor, the report states. In a briefing to US congressmen earlier in the year, intelligence officials suggested that the Syrian reactor was nearly operational at the time that it was bombed. Yet no fuel source has ever been found for the reactor - a fact which has baffled experts. The suggestion that nuclear facilities still exist in the country and remain hidden potentially solves that problem.

US government officials declined to describe the specific sites that have drawn interest, or to discuss how they were identified, according to the Washington Post report.
Blistering Editorial Expresses National Feeling

Yediot Aharanot, Israel's largest daily newspaper, published an editorial piece today that puts into blunt expression the way a vast majority of Israelis feel at the moment.

I'll say no more - here's the link.

The Man Who Wanted to be King 
Unemployment in Israel Hits 13 year Low

Unemployment sank to 6.3% of the adult workforce in the first quarter of 2008, to its lowest level in 13 years.  The unemployment roster plunged by nearly 40,000 from the first quarter of 2007.

But Dr. Roby Nathanson, director-general of the MACRO Center for Political Economics,said, "Israel had and has a very bad employment problem. Israel's labor market consists of people working for very low pay, and workers aren't skilled enough. Add to all that the fact that the government has no long-term policy regarding the labor market," Nathanson said.

Nevertheless from a different viewpoint, the figures were a nice surprise. Also, on Sunday the Central Bureau of Statistics reported that first-quarter economic growth ran at a brisk 5.4% in annualized terms, and that export of goods and services shot up by 12.6%. As for unemployment, a 0.4% drop in a single quarter is impressive.

Never before has Israel's workforce had as many as 2.76 million workers: Some 115,000 men and women joined it in the last year.  The summary is that there is good news mixed with bad news.  For the poor and umemployed, life is very difficult as food prices rise steadily.

Shalom and blessings,
This report is a daily news digest, and you can subscribe to The Lekarev Report HERE 

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