OCCUPIED JERUSALEM - Leaders of Israel’s governing Kadima party plan to meet in as little as a week to decide on an internal ballot that could replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, senior Kadima members said on Friday.
Olmert has so far defied a demand by his main coalition partner, Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s left-leaning Labor Party, to leave office over a growing corruption scandal.
A poll by Israel’s mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper found Olmert’s deputy, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, would win an internal vote to find a new leader for their centrist party.
Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, garnered the support of 39 percent of Kadima members, according to the poll. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz came in second with 25 percent.
But a poll by the Maariv daily found that Livni, as Olmert’s successor, would lose to Benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud Party if a general election was held today.
Lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi, head of Kadima’s central committee, told Israel Radio on Friday that Kadima delegates would convene a meeting on a leadership ballot after Olmert returns from a visit to the US next week. Kadima sources said Olmert wants his centrist party to put off any such vote for months, hoping to ride out the police investigation into allegations he accepted envelopes filled with cash from a Jewish-American businessman. Olmert has denied wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, the White House said Friday US President George W. Bush could very well meet next week with Olmert, but no such talks are on his schedule. – Agencies