Israeli Leader Clinging To Power

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks at a special meeting of the cabinet at his office in Jerusalem, Tuesday, May 2, 2007.
AP Photo/Kevin Frayer
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called an emergency meeting of his Cabinet Wednesday in a feverish attempt to hold on to power, urging his rivals to "slow down" before trying to reap political capital from a scathing report on his handling of last year's war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

CBS News correspondent Robert Berger reports that Olmert's political future appears increasingly in doubt, with the head of his own party now calling on him to resign. But, Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisen says, "the Prime Minister thinks that he is the right person not to turn around and resign but to stand up and say, 'I made mistakes, and what we need to now is to fix them.'"

This week's report has fueled a growing chorus of calls for Olmert's resignation, including from members of his coalition government. A top lawmaker in Olmert's Kadima Party became the highest-ranking official to urge Olmert to step down, and party officials said Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a party heavyweight, would follow suit later in the day.

The 34-day war has been widely perceived as a failure. Monday's report said Olmert bore ultimate responsibility, accusing him of poor judgment, hasty decision making and lack of vision.

A defiant Olmert opened the special Cabinet session by hinting that reports of his political demise were premature. "To those who are eager to take advantage of this report to reap certain political advantages, I suggest 'slow down,"' he said in comments broadcast on Israeli media.

Israel Radio has reported that Defense Minister Amir Peretz, also the target of fierce criticism over Israel's prosecution of the Lebanon war, may decide to resign his post as early as Wednesday.

In other developments:

  • A fugitive Arab Israeli lawmaker is suspected of treason and espionage for aiding Hezbollah guerrillas during last summer's war in Lebanon, police disclosed Wednesday, saying the crimes could be punishable by death. Azmi Bishara, who recently left the country under mysterious circumstances, will be arrested immediately if he returns to Israel, police said. Bishara, who resigned last month, has denied all the allegations against him and accused police of conducting a witch hunt.
  • Robert Berger reports the U.S. has unveiled a new plan aimed at reviving the Mideast peace process. The Bush administration has drawn up an eight-month timetable, setting dates for Israel and the Palestinians to take practical steps toward building confidence. Expectations are low, however, because Mideast timetables are rarely, if ever, on time.
  • Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has sent a series of letters to the kidnappers of a captured British journalist demanding his release, a top aide said Wednesday. Ahmed Youssef, an adviser to Haniyeh, said the letters have sought to "clarify to these people that this issue doesn't serve the interest of our people." The comments confirmed that negotiations are under way to win the release of British Broadcasting Corp. correspondent Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped on March 12.

    Two new polls published in Israeli newspapers Wednesday said some two-thirds of Israelis want Olmert to resign immediately. The surveys indicated that the hawkish former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu of the opposition Likud Party, would likely win handily if new elections were held.

    Since the report was issued, Olmert has been scrambling to hold his coalition together. One minister from the Labor Party, the junior coalition partner, already has quit, and there have been increasing signs of eroding support within Kadima.