Labour backs dissolution bill to force Olmert out

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The Independent Online

Israel's Labour Party yesterday took a first step towards backing a bill to dissolve parliament in a move designed to increase the pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign in response to corruption allegations.

On the face of it, the decision puts Labour's leader Ehud Barak on a collision course with Mr Olmert, who has threatened to sack ministers in his party who vote for the bill tomorrow.

But Mr Barak has also left himself some room for manoeuvre. The bill requires three successive votes to be implemented and the Labour leader also said the party would have to reconsider if the ultra-orthodox party Shas does not also vote for dissolution.

Shas, whose religious adherents traditionally have large families, is pressing for an increase in child allowances as a price of remaining in the coalition.

Mr Barak's tactic is aimed at forcing a leadership contest within Kadima to avert the elections in which the polls suggest neither Mr Olmert nor Mr Barak would overcome the challenge from the right-wing Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

The move comes after a US businessman Morris Talansky testified that he gave Mr Olmert hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past, partly to cover personal expenses. Mr Olmert has not been indicted and insists a mid-July cross examination of Mr Talansky will help to establish his innocence.

Meanwhile the visiting French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, used a Knesset speech to urge Israel to halt settlement building in the West Bank and to warn that Middle East peace is impossible "without recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of two states and the guarantee of free access to the holy places for all religions".