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By Robert Berger
Jerusalem
30 May 2008

Israel's embattled prime minister is under increasing pressure, amid growing calls for early elections, even from within his own party. Calls for his replacement have grown in the wake of a corruption scandal, as we hear from Robert Berger at the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, right, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, center, Ehud Barak, left, attend a parliament session in Jerusalem, 28 Jan 2008 file photo
Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, right, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, center, Ehud Barak, left, attend a parliament session in Jerusalem, 28 Jan 2008 file photo
Leaders of Israel's ruling Kadima party are pushing for early primaries to replace Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The primaries would offer Mr. Olmert a graceful way out, after an American Jewish businessman said he gave him envelopes stuffed with cash to support a lavish lifestyle. Mr. Olmert has denied any wrongdoing and rejected calls to quit as prime minister.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a leading member of Kadima, has called for primaries to replace Mr. Olmert as party leader.

Livni said Kadima must prepare for every eventuality including early elections, and party primaries are the best way forward.

In the meantime, Mr. Olmert would remain in power and try to clear his name. But if an indictment forces his resignation or early elections, Kadima would have a successor in place. Polls show that Livni, a moderate who is Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians, would likely win the primaries and become the leader of Kadima.

But according to a new poll, Livni would be defeated in national elections by hawkish opposition leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  A Netanyahu victory would have a major impact on peace talks with the Palestinians and Syria. Netanyahu opposes Mr. Olmert's plan to hand over most of the West Bank to the Palestinians and all of the Golan Heights to Syria.

On Thursday, Netanyahu paid a solidarity visit to the Golan.

Netanyahu said the future of the Golan would be decided in early elections.

"The people of Israel have had a connection to the Golan for thousands of years," Netanyahu said.  "The Golan was Israeli, and it will remain Israeli."

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