Cablegate: Kadima: Forward -- On Your Mark, Get Set...

DE RUEHTV #2120/01 2601539
P 161539Z SEP 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) TEL AVIV 2078; B) TEL AVIV 1967


1. (SBU) Olmert recently reiterated his July 30 commitment to
resign from the office of Prime Minister after the Kadima primaries
for party leader, clarifying that he will do so "immediately" to
enable the elected candidate to form a new government. The first
round of voting gets under way in less than 24 hours, and will
conclude at 2000 (local time) on September 17. Although polls favor
Livni, most observers and political insiders continue to believe the
race will be very close. Definitive results are not expected
earlier than the morning of September 18. While the candidates are
seized with the logistics of getting out the vote (low turnout may
favor Mofaz; high turnout may favor Livni), Olmert is the
beneficiary of a moment of grace. On September 14, Olmert chaired
what may have been his last cabinet meeting as the Kadima Party
leader, which was followed on September 15 by his "last appearance"
before the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Security Committee. Free
of party political restraints, he is speaking out on policy,
wrapping up loose ends, and laying down markers for the political
transition that lies ahead. Olmert will remain the caretaker prime
minister until a new government is formed.


2. (SBU) When the Kadima polls close on Wednesday evening the
winner will need to have 40 percent of the turnout to claim the
party leadership and the succession to the premiership. If not, a
second round of voting will be held on September 24th. In either
scenario, PM Olmert cannot make good on his July 30th promise to
clear the way for his successor in a timely manner until a new
government is in place. Only in the most seamless scenario
following a first-round primary winner and the current coalition's
agreement to remain in power could a new government headed by the
new Kadima leader be formed before the start of the Jewish High
Holidays at the end of September. This leaves Olmert at the helm
for that period (or, more likely, until after the Knesset reconvenes
at the end of October), and possibly into next year unless he is
declared or declares himself incapacitated. Olmert's associates
continue to tell the press that he does not intend to do so.

3. (SBU) Olmert has assiduously ignored calls from both the
political right and left to declare himself incapacitated. MKs
Gal-On and Eldad, of the Meretz and National Union parties
respectively, reiterated such demands over the past year to no
effect. Olmert, the pundits said, would not oblige because it would
mean that Tzipi Livni would automatically take over as Acting Prime
Minister. The only authority empowered to declare Olmert
incapacitated, the Attorney General, is clearly unwilling to do so,
despite the recommendations of the police that Olmert be indicted.

4. (SBU) Some media reports have speculated that Olmert could also
resign his seat in the Knesset, leaving the impression that such a
move would hasten the PM's departure since the head of government is
required to be a serving member of the Knesset. In fact, this
(unprecedented) move would not change the transition scenario:
Olmert would remain caretaker prime minister until a new government
is formed. Other arguments against resignation from the Knesset by
the Prime Minister include the loss of parliamentary immunity and
the loss of parliamentary benefits.


5. (SBU) The remaining resignation scenario is the one PM Olmert
detailed on May 8th when he declared that despite the fact that the
law does not require it, he would be ready to resign "immediately,"
if indicted by the Attorney General (ref B). A seasoned lawyer and
veteran politician, Olmert knew then that the likelihood of an
indictment preceding a transition to a new administration, with or
without early elections, would be slender indeed. The Israel Police
have only recently submitted their recommendations in two of the
investigations against him. Olmert is well-versed in the workings of
the State Attorney's office, which is not known for its alacrity in
filing charges -- least of all when they involve the senior
political echelon.


6. (SBU) Olmert is leaving the political echelon guessing as to
just when he will depart the arena but some preparations are
unavoidable. A trip to Russia scheduled to take place the week of
September 15 was postponed. The anticipated participation of the

TEL AVIV 00002120 002 OF 002

prime minister in the UN General Assembly and meetings with
high-level foreign dignitaries there will also not take place.
Olmert has asked President Shimon Peres to travel to New York and
address the UNGA on September 24th.


7. (SBU) PM Olmert's original political agenda, as laid out in a
Knesset speech in early May 2006, is still far from complete.
Olmert, who became acting prime minister upon the incapacitation of
Ariel Sharon, viewed his mission - following his election in March
2006 -- as the implementation of Sharon's disengagement doctrine.
Addressing what the pundits chose to term "his final cabinet
meeting" (as Kadima Party leader and before he becomes a caretaker
prime minister) on September 14, in which voluntary evacuation and
compensation for West Bank settlers was discussed, Olmert restated
the Sharon doctrine with unprecedented bluntness: "Greater Israel is
finished. There's no such thing. Whoever talks this way is
deluding himself...The strategic threats against us are not derived
from the question of where the border passes."

8. (U) A leading commentator, Aluf Benn of Ha'aretz, noted that
Olmert's tone and substance was identical to his May 2006 Knesset
speech, in which he presented his government and cautioned that
"continued dispersed settlement throughout Judea and Samaria creates
an inseparable mixture of populations which will endanger the
existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state." In fact,
Olmert's track record for consistent thinking on disengagement goes
back three years earlier to the now-forgotten Olmert Plan of
December 2003. In it he advocated large-scale withdrawal from the
West Bank and Gaza Strip in advance of Ariel Sharon's unveiling of
his own Disengagement Plan at the Herzliya Conference later the same


9. (SBU) With only hours to go to the opening of the polls, all
four candidates are focused on how to get the seventy thousand
Kadima Party voters to the ballot. Front-runner Tzipi Livni had to
refute charges of anti-Sephardic prejudice arising out of comments
by an aide who chose to refer to rival Mofaz supporters in
politically incorrect language. Iranian-born Shaul Mofaz chose to
hit back with an extraordinarily precise prediction that he would
claim the leadership by taking 43.7 percent of the vote in the first
round. The figure, reportedly based on polling by Mofaz advisor
Arthur Finkelstein, deviates dramatically from the most recent polls
(Maariv and Yediot) which put Mofaz at 32 percent behind Livni's 47
percent. Most of our political contacts agree, however, that polls
of the Kadima electorate are not reliable indices - particularly as
this will be the first primary of the party, whose make-up is new
and untested in internal elections. They assess that heavy turnout
will benefit Livni, while Mofaz, who benefits from a more organized
political machine, will triumph if Kadima turnout is low.


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