Poll: If Election Were Held Now, Olmert Would Be Out

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The New York Sun

JERUSALEM — Israelis would vote Prime Minister Olmert out of office if elections were held now, polls indicated yesterday, as the defiant premier defended his performance in the Lebanon war and lashed out at his critics.

In newspaper and TV interviews marking the Jewish New Year, Mr. Olmert said he had no doubt Israel won this summer’s war against Hezbollah — even though the army was unable to stop rocket attacks on Israel during 34 days of fighting and failed to win the release of two soldiers captured by the Lebanese guerrillas.

Hezbollah has also claimed victory and planned a large rally today in Beirut, although it was unclear whether its chief, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, would attend, in what would be his first public appearance since the start of the war.

Mr. Olmert was evasive when asked whether Sheik Nasrallah remained a target for assassination. However, army chief Lieutenant General Dan Halutz suggested Israel was no longer hunting Sheik Nasrallah, saying his fate “won’t depend on us.”

In the Gaza Strip, five Palestinian Arabs were killed by army fire — three alleged members of a rocket squad, a gunman, and a 37-year-old woman.

Two polls published yesterday indicted Mr. Olmert was rapidly losing support and that the leader of the hawkish Likud, archrival Benjamin Netanyahu, was poised for a comeback.

A survey by the Dialog polling company, published in the Ha’aretz newspaper, showed 68% of Israelis were unhappy with Mr. Olmert, compared with 40% on August 1, midway through the war. Just 22% were satisfied with his performance, compared with 48% in the previous poll.

The survey of 507 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points.

If an election were held today, Likud would double its strength, winning 24 of 120 parliament seats — making it the largest party and Mr. Netanyahu the possible premier — while Mr. Olmert’s centrist Kadima would fall to 16 seats from 29, according to the poll. Elections are not scheduled until 2010, but no Israeli government in the past decade has completed its four-year term.

In a survey in the Yediot Achronot daily, 27% said Mr. Netanyahu was most suited to be prime minister, compared to just 7% who chose Mr. Olmert. The Dahaf poll of 499 people had an error margin of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

After winning March elections, Mr. Olmert set out with confidence, saying he would draw Israel’s final borders by unilaterally pulling out of much of the West Bank. However, his aides have acknowledged that the Lebanon war squashed that plan and stripped Mr. Olmert’s government of its central mission.

Messrs. Olmert, Halutz, and Defense Minister Amir Peretz have been criticized for their wartime performance. Opponents say they were indecisive and confused, defined unachievable war goals — such as crushing Hezbollah — and that they negotiated a bad cease-fire deal.

Digging in, Mr. Olmert defended himself in a round of New Year’s interviews.

“I have no doubt we won the war,” he was quoted as telling the Ma’ariv daily, adding that his critics were inexperienced and “harbingers of doom.”

Two of his harshest detractors, former army chiefs Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Yaalon, were driven by bitterness over not being more successful at politics, he said. Mr. Mofaz, also a former defense minister, is a leading Kadima minister.

Mr. Olmert also responded to charges that he was too inexperienced. “I did not feel that I had to deal with decisions that I was incapable of handling,” he said.

The prime minister told Channel 2 TV that Mr. Peretz would remain in the job. He also defended one of the most contentious decisions of the war — to widen a ground offensive in Lebanon after the U.N. approved a cease-fire. Thirty-three soldiers were killed in that offensive, which Mr. Yaalon and other critics said was launched for political, not military reasons.

Mr. Olmert said yesterday that the army had asked for the offensive to improve Israel’s positions. However, Israel quickly pulled back after the cease-fire took hold and was expected to finish withdrawing from Lebanon in the coming days.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian Arab security chief accused Hamas of involvement in the assassination of a top intelligence officer, further raising tensions between Hamas and the rival Fatah movement. The Fatah-allied officer, Jad Tayeh, was killed last week in a Gaza drive-by shooting, along with four bodyguards.

The New York Sun

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