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Cablegate: The Olmert Succession: Prospects for a Smooth Transition

VZCZCXRO1324
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHTV #1967/01 2420408
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 290408Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8219
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 001967

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR IS
SUBJECT: THE OLMERT SUCCESSION: PROSPECTS FOR A SMOOTH TRANSITION
VERSUS EARLY ELECTIONS

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

1. (SBU) A rumor floated by the Prime Minister's office around
midnight August 24 raised the media specter of PM Olmert's
resignation. The background: the absence of a government majority
for passage of the 2009 draft budget, although strenuous
negotiations past midnight secured the budget's passage by a single
vote [13-12]. Olmert's rumored resignation, which might have
disrupted the best-laid plans of the Kadima Primaries candidates,
was averted. But it served to remind the political echelon of the
uncertain prospects for a smooth transition of government and the
need to prepare for early elections if the winner of Kadima's
leadership primaries fails to form a viable government.

-----------------------------------
CANDIDATES MUST COVER ALL THE BASES
-----------------------------------

2. (SBU) Now that registration of candidates has closed and the
Kadima primaries are on track for mid-September, the candidates are
trying to lay the groundwork, not only for individual victory, but
for the work of coalition-building which must follow. They do so in
the knowledge that in the absence of a smooth transition, the
"Olmert succession" will necessitate early elections. The
candidates, whether in the Kadima primaries or in eventual elections
to the Knesset, must also prepare for additional scenarios which may
derive from the resignation or possible suspension of the prime
minister.


-------------
THE PM'S PLOY
-------------

3. (SBU) Sunday night's rumor of Olmert's possible resignation
against the background of an unruly coalition raises the prospect
that this threat may be repeated when the 2009 draft budget comes to
a critical plenary vote after the Knesset reconvenes in late
October. PM Olmert could stop short of resignation and emulate his
predecessor Ariel Sharon who, in 2005, fired cabinet ministers who
voted against the budget in the Knesset. Sharon's well-padded
cabinet could afford the luxury; in Olmert's depleted coalition this
would spark a crisis -- but its deterrent value might outweigh the
risk: Few of his coalition partners would gamble away a certainty of
government office for a shot at membership in a hypothetical future
coalition that might be equally incapable of passing a draft budget.
Olmert is banking on it. Failure to pass the budget law results,
ultimately, in dissolution of the Knesset.


----------------------------------
OLMERT AND THE INDICTMENT SCENARIO
----------------------------------

4. (SBU) Punctuating this uncertain prelude to the Kadima primaries
are intermittent "noises offstage" from the Israel Police
investigators, who say that in the next two weeks, they may
recommend Olmert's indictment on criminal charges in three current
investigations. PM Olmert is being questioned with increasing
frequency -- most recently on 22 August -- and for incrementally
extended durations. An indictment that would trigger his resignation
or suspension from office would have significant implications for
Kadima, rival political parties and the Israeli electorate. The
scheduled September 17 date of the first round of the Kadima
primaries makes the likelihood of a prior indictment minimal. PM
Olmert is on record as saying, "If Attorney General Menachem Mazuz
decides to file an indictment against me I shall resign immediately,
even though I am not required to do so by law."

----------------------
ENTER THE PRESIDENT...
----------------------

5. (SBU) In the event of an indictment, and if Olmert chooses to
abide by this commitment, he sets in motion a constitutional process
whereby President Peres tasks a Member of Knesset with the formation
of a government. In doing so the President would be free to
disregard the Kadima primaries' schedule and turn to other party
leaders -- though not to Labor's Ehud Barak, since he is not a
member of the Knesset -- to form a government. President Peres could
also consider tasking Vice Premier Haim Ramon or Alternate Premier
Tzipi Livni, both of them members of Kadima, or Kadima itself might
seek to bring its primaries forward if it thought this might affect
the President's choice.


-------------------------
A POST-PRIMARIES SCENARIO

TEL AVIV 00001967 002 OF 002


-------------------------

6. (SBU) A month ago, in a dramatic personal statement to the
nation on prime time television, PM Olmert announced that he would
not be contesting the Kadima primaries and took the unusual step of
declaring his intention to resign once a new Kadima leader had been
chosen. Olmert did not provide a timeframe: "I decided that I will
not run in the Kadima Party primaries. In addition, I have no
intention of interfering in the internal elections which will take
place, as decided at my initiative, and I will gladly accept the
results....When a new chairperson for the party is elected, I will
resign my post as prime minister in order to allow the elected
chairperson to assemble another government swiftly and efficiently."

-----------------------------------
THE DEFAULT OPTION: EARLY ELECTIONS
-----------------------------------

7. (SBU) The key word "immediately" which Olmert used ten weeks
earlier to qualify his intention to resign, if indicted, was missing
from this later statement. Its absence has left the pundits guessing
as to just when the PM might implement this commitment in the wake
of the Kadima primaries. Articles 19 and 7-11 of the Basic Law: the
Government allow a maximum delay of just over 6 months for the
tasking of MKs with the formation of a government or alternatively
for agreement on a date for early elections. Under the law's
provisions, the constitutional clock does not start ticking through
the 6-month delay until the Prime Minister's resignation goes into
effect, which is why Olmert's lack of specificity on a time frame in
this regard has been noted by politicians and pundits alike. There
is also a consensus among commentators that regardless of who
secures the leadership of Kadima in the coming primaries contest,
the victor will encounter serious problems in forming a viable
coalition, making early elections highly probable within 6 months of
Olmert's as yet undetermined resignation.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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