NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Thursday, May 29th 2008
BY MATTHEW KALMAN in Jerusalem and BILL HUTCHINSON in New York
DAILY NEWS WRITERS
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faced mounting pressure Wednesday
to resign as friends and foes said the growing bribery scandal has
gnawed at his ability to lead.
A day after a Long Island businessman charged Olmert was a
high-styling, bribe-taking scoundrel, the embattled politician
rejected calls to quit.
Political observers fear Olmert's downfall could doom peace talks with
the Palestinians that President Bush has championed and fuel the
reemergence of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu's hawkish Likud
Defense Minister Ehud Barak led calls for Olmert to "disconnect
himself from the day-to-day running of the government."
"Olmert cannot deal with the challenges Israel faces, like Hamas,
Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and the kidnapped soldiers, and run his
personal affairs at the same time," said Barak, leader of the Labor
Party and a chief partner of Olmert's coalition government.
He offered Olmert the choice of "suspension, vacation, resignation or
leave of absence."
Barak, the country's former prime minister, threatened to force a
special election unless Olmert quit or his Kadima Party replaced him.
"If Kadima doesn't act and this parliament doesn't see another
government that is to our liking, we will act to set an agreed-upon
date for early elections," Barak said.
Recent polls indicate Likud would romp to power in a snap election.
Olmert's political adviser Tal Silberstein said, "The prime minister
was not considering taking a vacation or suspending himself before
Barak spoke and does not intend to do so after Barak's announcement."
Barak's ultimatum was delivered a day after shocking court testimony
from Morris Talansky, a 75-year-old Long Island businessman who said
he gave Olmert up to $150,000 in cash-stuffed envelopes. Prosecutors
have not yet decided whether to press corruption charges against
A haggard Talansky arrived at JFK Airport last night flanked by his
lawyer Neil Sher and an entourage of seven.
He repeatedly refused to comment on his testimony.