Rally in Tel Aviv Tries to Oust Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

E-mail Reena Ninan

Monday, May 7

It was a mix between a national pep rally and the Super Bowl. The entire crowd was rooting for one thing: They all wanted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert punted out of office.

"Olmert, you do not know how to wage war and you're equally incompetent at making peace," said the evening's keynote speaker Meir Shalev, a well known Israeli writer.

Olmert's approval ratings aren't pretty, standing close to one percent. Last Thursday, many Israelis felt it was time to do something; a peaceful protest was soon planned, and it felt like the entire country was holding its breath in anticipation. On everyone’s minds was the same question: would enough people get off their couches and come to Rabin Square in Tel Aviv?

The rally turnout wasn't terrific an hour and a half before the rally was set to begin — it particuarly didn't look good for those hoping the demonstration would spell the end for Olmert. The weather was hot and sticky and dark clouds kept threatening rain. The police and media outnumbered the protesters. But that didn't stop eager teenagers from putting up banners and doling out the following bumper stickers:

"Losers go home."

"Elections now."

"Olmert go home."

I asked a 17-year-old girl, serving in the Israeli Army, why she came. She said young people had to take hold of their future. She was joined by army reservists, parents of soldiers killed in last summer's war, actors, and musicians. Politicians were asked to stay home — none of them were invited to speak. This was a movement to mobilize the people, regardless of where they stood politically.

One hour later, as the first Israeli rock group took the stage, the entire square was packed. Estimates suggest more than 100,000 people showed up. The organizers were pleased, calling the evening a success.

Three days have passed since the rally. Olmert is still in office, but the grassroot campaigns are continuing. Two Israeli college students have pitched their tents outside Olmert's home. They've been there for three days and hope others will join them. It’s their way of telling Olmert, "You're fired."

While the clock may be running out in the fourth quarter, Olmert still appears to be in the game, but one more tackle — possibly when the final report on last summer’s handling of the war is issued in a few months — could be game over for Olmert’s career.

Wednesday, May 2

Would she stay? Would she go? Would she call for the prime minister to resign?

There's been lots of buzz and a good measure of speculation over what Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is part of Olmert's Kadima party, would do following the release of the Winograd report. The report stated that Prime Minister Olmert failed in his handling of last summer's war. Today, Livni broke her silence.

"I told him that resignation would be the right thing for him to do," Livni said while addressing the press after her hour long meeting with Olmert.

She also added she doesn't want early elections But said she wouldn't mind taking on the leadership post of the Kadima party. She's opting to see how the next few days play out.

Livni's suggestion to Olmert that he should resign wasn't a surprise to him. He began a special Cabinet session by asking not to have his political career eulogized just yet: "To those who are eager to take advantage of this report to reap certain political advantages, I suggest 'slow down.'"

Two major Israeli newspaper polls show that two-thirds of the public want to see Olmert resign right away. A major protest is expected in Tel Aviv tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 1

There was only one thing playing on all Middle East news channels on Monday at 5 p.m.

Israeli TV Channel 2, Israeli TV Channel 10, Al-Jazeera, Al- Jazeera International, even Hezbollah satellite TV station Al-Manar … all of them took the same live feed of the Winograd Commission’s much anticipated report.

Wino- who you might ask?

The Winograd commission was tasked last September with finding the failures of last summer’s war with Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. The five Israeli members who make up the committee were handpicked by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

If either man were expecting the committee to go easy on them, they were truly out of luck.

Winograd’s Findings:

• Olmert was accused of “severe failures in exercising judgment, responsibility, and prudence.”

• Prime Minister Ehud Olmert didn’t do his homework before going to war. There was no backup or alternative war plans.

• Defense Minister Amir Peretz, the report cited, was not experienced or knowledgeable enough to lead the country to war. And, because of that, the panel found “his serving as minister of defense during the war impaired Israel’s ability to respond well to its challenges.”

• And then there is Dan Halutz, who at the time was the commander of Army. He was chastised for not alerting political leaders that the defense department was worried about how prepared the military was to take on their stated goals.

The Winograd committee told the Prime Minister, through this report, that he failed. Just a few hours later Olmert made a televised statement. His reaction?

“I have no intention of resigning.”

Instead a Labor Party cabinet member in Olmert’s coalition government, Eitan Cabel announced today that he would resign. He said he doesn’t want to be part of a government that is headed by Olmert.

Olmert says he plans to implement changes. He says the report “opens a new chapter of fixing mistakes.”

A hairdresser at a chic salon around the corner from Olmert’s home doesn’t buy the line about making changes.

“What is he going to change? Can he bring back the dead who were killed in last summer’s war? These politicians need to realize they’re playing with people’s lives.”

The Winograd report only covers the first five days of the war. Some people wonder if Olmert, who has a 2 percent popularity rating among Israelis, can make it past this August. That’s when the final Winograd report will come out. And if the early billing holds true, it will be even more scathing than the initial report released Monday. Everyone is bracing for a long summer.

E-mail Reena Ninan

"At times like this, Israel must ask what would Golda Meir have done?" — Peter

"Dear Ms. Ninan: First, I appreciate your reporting and the insight you provide readers on Middle East matters. You've edified me on many issues pertinent to that important region of the world, and I respect your professionalism. Second, you are a beautiful lady, and I am glad that FOX News supplies your picture with each of your columns." — Marc

"I wonder what would happen if there were such a rally in the United States?" — Nathan (Iraq)

REENA: Hi Nathan, I thought the exact same thing. It was pretty remarkable to see people who are unhappy with their government get up and do something about it.

"Reena, Since the badly managed war with Hezbollah by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his falling Israeli support is there a possibility that there will be a new Israeli Election soon or if not when is the next scheduled Israeli election? By the way, you have done a great job covering the news in the Middle East!" — Chad (Homewood, IL)

REENA: Hi Chad, Great question. There are really three likely scenarios.

A. Prime Minister Olmert remains in office with a very limited political shelf life.
B. Olmert resigns and a member of his Kadima party takes over like the popular Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni or former Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
C. Early elections are called. This seems the least likely possibility because there needs to be a majority vote in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) which doesn't exist right now. The next elections aren't scheduled until 2010. Most Israeli governments usually end up changing well before their four year term is up. But this seems unlikely now because the parties who make up the majority coalition today will not fare well in early elections. So they don't have an interest in calling for early elections.

"Dear Ms. Ninan, Is there any chance of Benjamin Netanyahu coming back? If so, when? I believe, along with many other Christians, that he is 'our' only hope of someone with a backbone (and he certainly has one!) being aggressive with Syria and Iran. In my opinion, Olmert is a wimp … and that's why last summer's war was lost. I am a Lebanese-American, born-again Christian, and I really want Bibi to take over. I would really appreciate your comments." — Mike

P.S. Are you Palestinian or Israeli? (Now I'm in hot water, for sure!)

REENA: It doesn't look likely he will rise to power soon. Netanyahu would need to secure 61 votes in the Israeli parliament (that would makeup a majority vote). He only has 12 seats right now. But things can change quickly here.

If elections were held today polls show that he would lead the other candidates. But early elections are very unlikely at this point.

And as for me … I'm actually from Tampa, Fla. So neither Palestinian or Israeli =)

Reena Ninan is FOX News Channel's new Middle East correspondent. Before coming to Jerusalem, Reena joined the NYC bureau of FNC as an on-air correspondent in March 2006. Click over to read her full bio.