Pressure Mounts on Israel's Olmert to Step Down It's been a bad week for Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. On Monday, a much anticipated report from a commission he appointed was scathingly critical of Olmert's conduct of last summer's war in Lebanon. The report prompted calls for Olmert's resignation.
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Pressure Mounts on Israel's Olmert to Step Down

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Pressure Mounts on Israel's Olmert to Step Down

Pressure Mounts on Israel's Olmert to Step Down

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There's a political crisis in Israel this weekend after a government report criticized Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's handling of last summer's war with Hezbollah. Protesters have taken to the streets and even some members of Mr. Olmert's cabinet are calling for his resignation. For the moment, the prime minister seems to have outmaneuvered his opponents.

NPR's Eric Westervelt joins us from Jerusalem. Eric, thanks very much for being with us.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: The prime minister's approval ratings, we're told, are in single digits. Polls are certainly arrayed against him. How has he managed to tough it out so far?

WESTERVELT: Well, Scott, he showed once again he's a very skilled, crafty politician, but as some analysts here have argued, after a year being prime minister, it appears that that's the only thing Ehud Olmert is really good at -is politically maneuvering within his own party and among members of his coalition and playing the game of political survival.

I mean, he beat back the rebellion within his own centrist Kadima Party, and even fought off calls by his own foreign minister and main party rival, Tzipi Livni, to resign.

SIMON: Practically, does he seem to be living on borrowed time, politically? Is it just a matter of figuring out a transition?

WESTERVELT: I think that's the case, and a big question is if he does manage to stick around, what can he really get accomplished? I mean, thousands took to the streets shouting, failures go home, after this report was out earlier this week.

And his aides made the somewhat implausible argument afterwards that look, Olmert, our man is the best person suited to fix these political and military problems highlighted in the report, highly critical of his own leadership. And many Israelis simply aren't buying that, Scott.

SIMON: What's the political landscape there now? Because, of course, Mr. Olmert's party, Kadima, is a new party and I think it's fair to say wouldn't have existed without the presence of Ariel Sharon who is no longer a presence in Israeli politics. A lot of people were saying that Kadima had to be larger than if it was going to survive. What are the prospects now?

WESTERVELT: Well, that's a big concern. Many, within Kadima, are starting to worry deeply that if they stick with Olmert for very much longer, the party simply may not survive and once again, another attempt to form a viable centrist political movement in Israel could fail. And former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon founded Kadima in late 2005 with great hopes and Ehud Olmert so far, after more than a year in power, has really taken the party down a road towards oblivion.

SIMON: Any idea as to some of the names that are being mentioned, as to who may try and step in and take over?

WESTERVELT: Well, Kadima has yet to really rally around an alternative yet to Olmert. The Labor Party and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak is vying for a leadership post later this month. He could be a choice as he tries again to make a political comeback. And then many believe that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud Party is well poised if there are new elections, Scott, to step in and once again become leader of Israel.

SIMON: Is there anything resembling a peace process that's possible as long as a contentious and fractious government in the person of Mr. Olmert remains in power?

WESTERVELT: Well, many are arguing that Olmert simply is not capable of delivering anything of substance when it comes to peace talks with the Palestinians. After six years of neglect, the Bush administration is making some attempts to help restart peace talks, but many here argue that Olmert is just so focused on survival and is just so weak that he can't navigate those delicate, complicated talks.

SIMON: NPR's Eric Westervelt in Jerusalem. Thank you so much.

WESTERVELT: Thanks, Scott.

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