Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) – Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni reportedly was holding unofficial talks to form a new government on Monday, after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally offered his resignation.
Olmert told a cabinet meeting on Sunday of his long-anticipated plans to resign, and he handed his letter to Israeli President Shimon Peres on Sunday evening.
Olmert, who is under investigation on a number of separate corruption charges, had pledged to quit after his Kadima party elected a new leader, which it did last week.
He has been under varying degrees of public and political pressure to resign since the end of the Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon two years ago, which most Israelis perceived as a loss for their side and victory for the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.
Peres told reporters in a prepared statement that he appreciated the “respectful way” in which Olmert was handing over power and he thanked Olmert for his service to his people and country.
He said that Israel is facing “complicated national, security, economic, and social challenges” that require “constant leadership.”
“Israel is a strong state and a steadfast democracy, and even the replacement of the prime minister will not harm its strength, its determination to protect its citizens and its commitment to peace,” Peres said.
Peres said he would decide on Monday if he would ask Livni to try to form a government. He was meeting with the leaders of the various political factions to get their recommendations on the best course of action.
Given the political upheaval in Israel, Peres, whose position is largely ceremonial, will represent Israel at the United Nations General Assembly this week. He left for New York on Monday.
Once she is officially tasked with doing so, Livni would have 42 days to form a government.
But according to radio reports on Monday, Livni already is holding meetings to try to line up a coalition. Livni said that if she can’t form a government quickly – within two weeks -- then she would call for early elections.
If there is a call for new general elections, they would take place early next year.
Prof. Avraham Diskin from Hebrew University said that there are “many formal possibilities” for a government in Israel, including a transitional government that lasts for two years.
But Diskin said he believes that Livni has at least a 50 percent chance of forming a government because a majority of the political parties have an interest in preventing early elections.
“It’s very likely that [Livni] will succeed to form a government similar to the one we have now,” Diskin told CNSNews.com.
According to opinion polls, Likud party leader and former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is favored to win the election, if it comes to that.
Olmert will stay on as a caretaker prime minister until Israel has a new government, one way or another. He says he would continue trying to negotiate a final Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement to end decades of conflict.
Israeli television news on Sunday evening mentioned again how small Livni’s power base is. She won the leadership of her party with less than 17,000 votes – or less than one-quarter of a percent of the population of the country.
Olmert’s resignation ends what the Jerusalem Post called “33 tumultuous months” as prime minister.
It appeared to bring to a “dizzying end” Olmert’s nearly four-decade political career, Herb Keinon wrote, during which he served as a Knesset member, mayor of Jerusalem and in several ministerial positions.
Olmert took over the prime minister’s post in January 2006 following the debilitating stroke of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who is still in a vegetative state.
The liberal daily Ha’aretz blasted Olmert in an editorial, saying that Israel had known many governments in its 60-year history “yet it is doubtful whether it has ever known a worse one than that of Ehud Olmert.”
The “balance sheet” after 33 months “comes very close to zero,” the editors wrote. The newspaper noted that Olmert had “acted bizarrely” in filling senior ministerial positions.
But according to the paper, the “biggest disappointment” was in the realm of diplomacy and security. The paper charged that Olmert had embarked on a “hastily conceived” war in Lebanon and that the U.S.-sponsored talks with the Palestinians were “hesitant and futile.”