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Cablegate: Coalition Survices No-Confidence Votes; Barak and Netanyahu

VZCZCXRO1947
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHTV #1376/01 1310425
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 110425Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1027
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 001376

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR KDEM IS
SUBJECT: COALITION SURVICES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTES; BARAK AND NETANYAHU
LOOKING TOWARD EARLY ELECTIONS, POSSIBLY BY FALL


-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) PM Olmert kept the Kadima Party and the coalition together
despite last week's resignation of the coalition chairman, Avigdor
Yitzhaki, and shaky support from the Labor Party, defeating
opposition attempts to pass no-confidence votes on May 7. Olmert's
supporters bruited the possibility of bringing Opposition Leader
Binyamin Netanyahu into his government as Defense Minister in a
warning to Labor Party rebels who are urging Labor to quit the
coalition. This gambit appears to have backfired, however, as
Netanyahu dismissed the offer and reiterated his call for early
general elections. Meanwhile, former PM Ehud Barak finally came
forward with his views on Winograd; he echoed popular sentiment in
saying publicly that Olmert should draw appropriate "personal
conclusions" from the Winograd report -- without explicitly
demanding Olmert's resignation. Looking for a niche between his
Labor rivals, Barak stated his intention to call for early elections
if Olmert remains in office when the Labor Party elects its chairman
on May 28 -- with the caveat that he, Barak, would join the
coalition during the transitional period before elections. End
Summary.

------------------------------------------
BARAK BREAKS HIS SILENCE WITH AN "IF, BUT"
------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) On May 9, the last of the Labor titans came forward and
shared his views on Winograd. Former PM Ehud Barak warned, "If on
May 28, I am elected chairman of the Labor Party, and the prime
minister has yet to reach personal conclusions, I will act to form a
wide consensus in my party and with the faction leaders to determine
an appropriate and agreed date for elections." In so doing, Barak
offered a position that splits the difference between his two main
competitors -- MK Ami Ayalon, who has stated he will not keep Labor
in the coalition as long as Olmert is at the helm, and current Labor
Party Chairman, Amir Peretz, who is still clinging to the coalition
with hopes of changing portfolios (he wants to swap defense for
finance). One well placed observer commented that Barak's support
for new elections is a tactic meant to "put fear in Kadima," and to
encourage Kadima to select a new leader, such as Shimon Peres.
"Barak has a vested interest in staying in power at the Ministry of
Defense for a few months" before elections, our contact continued,
in order to position himself to challenge Netanyahu for the prime
minister's post. In any event, conventional wisdom among Labor,
Kadima, Likud and other parties is that PM Olmert is not likely
remain in office past August 2007.

--------------------------
NO CONFIDENCE MOTIONS FAIL
--------------------------

3. (U) On May 7, less than 30 MKs supported the no-confidence
motions put forward by United Torah Judaism (UTJ), the National
Union, the National Religious Party, Likud and Meretz-Yachad -- far
fewer than the 61-Member majority required for such a motion to
succeed. In the Kadima camp, two MKs refused to vote against the
motion: MK Avigdor Yitzchaki, the former faction whip and coalition
chairman, and Marina Solodkin, a Russian-speaking MK who remains
disgruntled by Olmert's decision not to name her to a ministerial
post one year ago. She explained her decision, however, by saying
"some things are a matter of conscience and some things are more
important than the coalition. I asked the prime minister nicely to
quit and he said no."

--------------------------------
LABOR'S LAST WORD YET TO BE SAID
--------------------------------

4. (U) In advance of the Knesset debate on the no-confidence
motions, the Labor faction overruled a call by Chairman Amir Peretz
to support the government. The refusal of eight (of 19) Labor MKs
(Danny Yatom, Ami Ayalon, Avishai Braverman, Ophir Pines Paz, Shelly
Yacimovich, Eitan Cabel, and Michael Melchior) to support the
government constitutes another warning to the Prime Minister, as
Kadima's chief coalition partner is still capable of breaking up the
coalition without recourse to a no-confidence motion. A potential
Labor decision to withdraw from the government has forced Olmert to
look for new allies among the other ultra-Orthodox UTJ faction.

5. (U) Within Labor, a fierce debate is already raging between the
advocates of withdrawal from the government -- Ofir Pines Paz and
party secretary-general Eitan Cabel against ministerial veterans
such as Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (and Barak), who say such a move will
only play into the hands of Netanyahu, who is widely expected to be
the victor in the resulting elections. Labor is due to take the
crucial decision on whether to remain in the coalition at a meeting
of its central committee scheduled for May 17, but this date is

TEL AVIV 00001376 002 OF 002


subject to change.

----------------------------------------
LIKUD NOT FLATTERED BY OLMERT'S COURTING
----------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Netanyahu reacted unenthusiastically to a reported Kadima
offer of the Defense Ministry and an election date in late 2008.
"The Olmert government has ended its career," a Likud representative
told the press. "Olmert himself won't survive the final [Winograd]
report, so there is nothing to discuss regarding joining the
coalition." A maverick Likud MK has introduced an initiative in the
Knesset to resurrect direct elections for Prime Minister, but
Netanyahu has not endorsed this approach. In fact, he reiterated
his call for early, general elections. A former advisor to
Netanyahu seconded the press reports that Netanyahu anticipates an
Olmert resignation in the summer, followed by general elections in
late fall.

---------------------------------
COALITION PARTNERS STEADY FOR NOW
---------------------------------

7. (SBU) Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and the Pensioners remain loyal to
the coalition, and will remain in the government for the foreseeable
future as they view elections as needlessly disruptive to their
respective political agendas (countering strategic threats; securing
funding for religious education; increasing pensions). Shas could
be enticed to support the Likud gambit of a direct election for the
PM -- as this would allow their constituents an opportunity to
topple Olmert while remaining in government. YB leader Avigdor
Lieberman is keeping a low profile, concentrating on building up his
strategic threats ministry and hoping that the State prosecutor will
not pursue indictments against him for campaign irregularities and
possible personal improprieties stemming from his business interests
and ties.

--------------
ON THE HORIZON
--------------

8. (U) On May 10, the Winograd Committee released the testimonies
of the three principals at the time of the Second Lebanon War
(Olmert, Peretz, Halutz), and pundits are pouring over what these
leaders said about each other (and others), particularly Olmert's
sharp criticism of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

9. (U) Meretz MK Zahava Gal-on has reportedly gathered sufficient
support in the Knesset to compel Prime Minister Olmert to
participate in a special debate in the coming days to discuss "the
prime minister's refusal to resign following the Winograd report."

10. (SBU) Elections for the Presidency have been announced for June
13, just two days after the likely Labor Party runoff on June 11.
Olmert, having outmaneuvered his most popular Kadima rival (FM
Livni), is reportedly pressing Vice Premier Shimon Peres to declare
his candidacy for the Presidency with greater gusto -- to eliminate
acceptable Kadima alternates to Olmert's continued leadership.

CRETZ

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