With only hours to go before the deadline for registering to participate in the January 22 elections, Dalia Itzik on Thursday morning all but confirmed that her former Kadima party leader, ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert, will not be making a much-debated comeback.
She had believed Olmert would make a return “until a week ago,” Itzik told Army Radio, in an interview marking her own departure from the political scene, but now recognized that this was not the case. The veteran politician, who said she still hoped she would one day be president of Israel — she briefly deputized in the role, as well as serving as a minister and Knesset member over the past two decades — announced on Wednesday that she would not be running in the elections.
Itzik spoke warmly of her time serving with Olmert, and said he was “one of the best prime ministers we’ve ever had.”
Olmert on Saturday promised that he would make an announcement this week on whether he would be making a comeback, having stepped down as prime minister in 2009 to fight corruption allegations. He was convicted of breach of trust in July, is still on trial in the Holyland real-estate scandal, and the state is appealing his acquittals in the so-called Rishon Tours and Talansky affairs. But he had indicated that he nonetheless seriously contemplated a return to politics.
Opinion polls had suggested that Olmert, leading the Israeli center-left, could draw more votes than the current splintered mix of parties in that part of the spectrum, but would not win enough support to prevent the reelection of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In his absence, rumors continued to fly Thursday about a possible alliance between Labor — the leading center-left party — and former Kadima leader and foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s new Hatnua (The Movement) party, but few insiders thought such a partnership would yet be sealed before the Thursday night deadline for filing party lists with the Central Elections Committee.
Livni launched Hatnua last week — another move that indicated Olmert would not be running, since she might otherwise have joined forces with him. “I will be very active in the elections. I think the government in Israel has to be changed,” Olmert had said on Saturday from the US, adding that he didn’t want to make an announcement away from Israeli soil. “What exactly will be my capacity in this effort is something that will be made clear very shortly.”
Itzik said she would be voting Kadima in the elections, in part out of respect for the party’s activists. She said Kadima, which was formed in 2005 by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, “had the best people” — drawing veteran politicians from the Likud, Labor and beyond. But Kadima, which won 28 seats under Livni in the 2009 elections, ousted Livni as leader earlier this year, briefly joined the Netanyahu coalition under new leader Shaul Mofaz, and has plummeted in the polls. Lately, many of Kadima’s MKs have defected to Hatnua, Likud and Labor, and the party is now projected to struggle to win any seats at all in January.
On Wednesday, Itzik had said: “Regrettably, tons of ego and power struggles have ripped the left and the center asunder… My ability to influence the process at this point is negligible, and that’s why I’m taking some time off.”