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Cablegate: Kadima Party Primaries and/or Early Elections

VZCZCXRO0066
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHTV #1180/01 1551505
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 031505Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6963
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 001180

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PINR IS
SUBJECT: KADIMA PARTY PRIMARIES AND/OR EARLY ELECTIONS

REF: TEL AVIV 1021

------------------------
SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION
------------------------

1. (SBU) Less than a week after Morris Talansky testified that he
gave numerous envelopes of cash to the Prime Minister (reftel),
Olmert has given no indication he intends to step down. Assailed by
the media, and by members of his own party, the Prime Minister is
trying to maintain a business-as-usual outlook, and he has not
changed his schedule or his June 2-6 travel to Washington. Olmert
has asserted his right to state his case in the Talansky affair, and
lashed out at his principal coalition partner, Minister of Defense
Ehud Barak of the Labor Party, for jumping the gun before Olmert's
lawyers have had an opportunity to cross examine Talansky (either in
mid-June or mid-July). Even so, Barak's May 28 ultimatum to Olmert
was taken up by Kadima's front-runner in the developing succession
battle, Tzipi Livni, who, on May 29 criticized the PM's attempts to
characterize his actions as within "the norms which everyone who
enters the political arena is obliged to adopt."

2. (SBU) Summary continued: On May 29, Livni publicly stated her
belief in the importance of party primaries and called on the Kadima
Party to prepare for all possible scenarios, including elections.
Olmert has indicated that he will not openly obstruct Kadima
primaries, but has insisted on his role in controlling the timing of
those primaries. Kadima MK Tzachi Hanegbi has been canvassing the
contenders and will meet with Olmert in mid-June to discuss possible
primary dates. Meanwhile, the opposition, led by Likud, is
preparing the first Knesset showdown with Kadima on June 18 when it
may call for the first of three votes required to pass a law to
dissolve the Knesset and hold early elections.

----------------------
OLMERT VERSUS TALANSKY
----------------------

3. (SBU) One of the most urgent decisions facing PM Olmert is
whether to advance the current July 17 date for cross-examination of
Morris Talansky in light of the severe damage caused to Olmert's
public image by Talansky's May 27 deposition. Olmert and his
lawyers met last week to discuss next steps, according to press
reports. "We understand the law, but he understands the politics"
was how one of Olmert's attorneys, Ron Shapira, reportedly put it.
If Talansky agrees to an earlier date, the earliest it could take
place is mid-June when Talansky returns to Israel for a one-day
family event. Olmert's attorneys have already noted that they will
require two days to complete the cross-examination.

--------------------------------------------- -
DISSOLVING THE KNESSET REQUIRES THREE READINGS
--------------------------------------------- -

4. (U) Likud MK Sylvan Shalom has drafted a Knesset dissolution
bill (that's reportedly been in his pocket since the aftermath of
the Second Lebanon War) that would launch the political system into
an early-elections-orbit, but he has held back from pushing it to a
vote. A dissolution attempt that does not win the support of 61
MK's carries a sting in its tail: the draft may not be submitted
again for another six months. Shalom is now planning to bring this
"private member's bill" to a preliminary reading on June 18 --
subject to rounding up the requisite majority, which he would need
to maintain over the ensuing three formal readings before the bill
would become law. The 12 Likud MK's together with support from
Yisrael Beiteinu (11) and the National Religious Party (9) could be
enough if the 19 Labor MK's and 12 Shas MK's decide to support early
elections (and do not object to Likud taking the lead on the
dissolution bill). This tally, reported by Yediot Ahronoth on June
3, does not take into account at least four likely defections from
Kadima, or any support for early elections from Meretz, the Arab
parties, the newly-split Pensioners parties, or United Torah
Judaism.

-----------------------------------
MOFAZ VERSUS LIVNI AS HEIR APPARENT
-----------------------------------

5. (SBU) According to all recent public opinion polls, Kadima will
fare better in elections with Tzipi Livni at its head than any of
the three likely contenders (Ministers Mofaz, Sheetrit, Dichter);
however, a Livni-led Kadima is generally still in second place to
Netanyahu's Likud Party. Nonetheless, the potential Livni offers to
salvage Kadima as a weighty political party means that many Kadima
Knesset members as well as general party members will work for her
to succeed Olmert. Mofaz, for his part, has cultivated the
municipal grass roots - visiting 150 mayors over the past two years
-- and may be able to benefit from Olmert's control of the party
apparatus and his animus towards Livni. Mofaz can also claim
Sephardic support: the word on the "street" is that there are many
in Likud who wish to see their one-time party member in a position

TEL AVIV 00001180 002 OF 002


of real political power -- specifically as defense minister in a
Likud-led government. One recent report even alleged that Likud
vote contractors were engaged in recruiting voters to turn out for
Mofaz in future Kadima primaries. Likud connections aside, Mofaz is
attempting to woo Shas in an effort to outflank the more popular
contender, Livni.

-----------------------
SHAS WEIGHS ITS OPTIONS
-----------------------

6. (SBU) Ever since the Annapolis conference in November 2007,
Olmert's coalition has been routinely threatened by the Shas Party
with resignation over the Palestinian track and more recently Syrian
track negotiations, as well as Kadima's refusal to roll back
financial reforms initiated by then-Finance Minister Netanyahu.
Much of Shas rhetoric is just that: Shas maintaining the pressure
for economic policy concessions -- always of a budgetary nature, on
the issues of social welfare allowances - specifically the
restoration of child allowances to their pre-Netanyahu levels -- so
close to its electoral heart (septel). Since the Talansky
deposition, Shas threats have assumed a new dimension as speculation
increases as to the willingness of Shas to vote in support of early
elections. No one in Kadima is better placed to coax Shas away from
this option than Shaul Mofaz. In media appearances, Mofaz is making
it clear that he feels a real kinship with Shas not only on account
of his Sephardic origin but in terms of his political perspective
which is well to the right of Olmert's -- or as one media
commentator put it -- "on the right flank of Likud whence he hails."


7. (U) On June 3, however, Shas Minister of Communications, Ariel
Attias, told Israel Radio that "Shas is not seeking elections or a
pretext to hold them nor will it resign over the issue of child
allowances." Attias noted that "Shas still believes there's a
chance of forming an alternative government during the current
Knesset session." Kadima MK Tzachi Hanegbi has been canvassing the
contenders and will meet with Olmert in mid-June to discuss possible
primary dates.

8. (SBU) COMMENT: With Shas on the fence regarding its preference
between early elections (and a new government likely led by
Netanyahu) or new Kadima leadership (and preservation of the current
coalition), much will depend on issues of timing. If PM Olmert
attempts to delay Kadima primaries for too long, the opposition may
attract support from coalition parties for Likud's bid to dissolve
the Knesset. Labor can signal its unhappiness with Olmert's
intransigence with a move in this direction by voting for the Likud
legislation in its preliminary reading. Brinkmanship will
characterize the subsequent readings, which could take several weeks
of Knesset politicking to play out. Despite media speculation about
the possibility of early elections coincident with November 11
municipal elections, we cannot predict the likelihood of such a
scenario at this juncture. We do anticipate that all parties - in
the coalition and the opposition -- will come under great pressure
to accede to Shas demands. Judging from Atias' statement, Shas has
not given up on the current coalition and may not want to hasten a
return to a government with Netanyahu, who cost them their
allowances in the first place. END COMMENT.

------------------------------------------
POSTSCRIPT ON THE EARLY ELECTIONS SCENARIO
------------------------------------------

9. (U) In the event the Likud draft dissolution bill wins a
61-member majority in three readings, the Knesset must disperse
within a maximum timeframe of five months. If all three readings
and votes on dissolution were to take place on June 18 this would
place the latest possible date for dissolution at mid-November.
Media reports have mentioned Tuesday, November 11 as a likely date
as it happens to be the date already set for the local authority
elections. The rationale for holding elections on a Tuesday as
explained by the Knesset administration is as follows: Friday,
Saturday and Sunday are rest-days in Israel for the three major
faiths. Thursday and Monday are too close to the rest days and do
not permit sufficient time to organize a nation-wide ballot.
Tuesday is therefore the first day of the week in which voting on a
national scale can be fully implemented and which also allows for
two full days of vote-counting and clarifications prior to the onset
of the ensuing rest-days. (NB: There is a 1988 precedent for
postponing municipal elections if general elections fall on the same
date, but general and municipal elections reportedly have been held
on the same date once before and some now argue that it would be
both cost-effective and help get out the vote.)
JONES

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