- Ehud Olmert - Israel - peace
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s decision to step down in the midst of a storm of corruption probes has sparked concern over the future of the peace process in the Middle East and speculation over his succession.
"I have made mistakes and I regret it," said the 62-year-old Olmert, declaring that he would not seek reelection as leader of the centrist Kadima party in mid-September, and would step down as prime minister after the party primary. "After the election of my successor I will step down to allow a government to be formed rapidly," he said.
Olmert has come under greater pressure to resign recently following a police probe launched in May over suspicions he had accepted vast sums of money from US financier Morris Talansky to fund election campaigns.
His decision to resign has cast a shadow of uncertainty over peace talks with Syria and the Palestinians, despite declarations from the White House and the Palestinians Wednesday that they would continue to strive for a peace deal. "This is an internal Israeli matter. We continue to be committed to the goals of Annapolis," said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat seemed to hold the same stance on Wednesday: “It's an internal Israeli matter,” he said, “but, as far as we're concerned at the end of the day as Palestinians we want to make peace with all Israelis - not with this party or that person.”
However, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations said Olmert’s resignation could affect Syria's indirect peace talks with Israel.
With the party primaries scheduled for September, speculation was rife over contenders for the leadership of the centrist Kadima party.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is widely viewed as a front-runner in the party election, but Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz and Public Security Minister Avi Dichter are also expected to compete.
“Livni enjoys a lot of popular support because she is seen as a clean candidate with no corruption allegations surrounding her,” says FRANCE 24’s Annette Young in Jerusalem, adding that some observers have expressed concern on whether she would be able to survive the “rough and tumble”’ of Israeli politics.
While Mofaz is seen as more experienced than Livni, Israel is at a crucial moment in peace talks with Palestinians and Syrians and, according to Joseph Maïla, director of the Centre of Research for Peace in Paris, Mofaz is “not known for his diplomatic style of negotiation.”
On Thursday Israeli right-wing opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu—a favourite according to recent polls—ruled out any alliance with the centrist Kadima party when it picks a new leader to replace Olmert.
"Everyone in this government is responsible for a string of failures. We must let the people decide through new elections," said Netanyahu, who served as prime minister between 1996 and 1999.