Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrived at President Shimon Peres' official residence in Jerusalem Sunday evening in order to submit his resignation just 33 months after taking office.
Peres told reporters shortly after receiving the letter that he "appreciates the special way in which Olmert decided to transfer power. It was not an easy decision to make and I know this is a difficult evening for him.
Peres (L) meets with Labor members (Photo: Avi Ohayon, GPO)
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank the prime minister for his contribution to the people and the country and for many years of public service," the president said.
Peres added that he would make every effort to task one of the MKs with forming a new coalition prior to his departure for New York Monday night to attend the 63rd session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Olmert's government has accordingly become a transit government until newly elected Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, who is expected to be tasked with assembling the next government, forms a new coalition or decides to call elections.
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Following Olmert's resignation the president consulted with Kadima, Labor, Likud and Shas representatives and he is expected to hold talks with representatives from the remaining factions on Monday.
Among the Kadima members who met with Peres were ministers Meir Sheetrit and Zeev Boim and MKs Tzachi Hanegbi, Yoel Hasson and Shlomo Molla.
"We are all very distraught over Olmert's resignation, but Kadima is rallying around Livni – she is the worthy candidate to form the next government," Hanegbi told Peres.
MK Hasson said he believed Labor would eventually join a new coalition under Livni's leadership, adding "Israel needs stability at this time; it wants a government, not elections."
Peres (L) receives resignation letter from Olmert (Photo: GPO)
The Labor faction members, including ministers Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Shalom Simhon, faction chairman Eitan Cabel and MK Orit Noked, recommended that Peres task party chairman Ehud Barak with forming a new government, despite the fact that the law states that only an acting MK can become prime minister.
"We are aware of the legal obstacle, and this is why (law) professor David Libai took part in the meeting (with Peres)," Cabel said, adding that he hoped the issue would be resolved.
Ben-Eliezer told Ynet Labor was seeking a broad coalition that would include all of the Knesset's factions. "We are facing an economic, political and security tsunami – so everyone must sit together (in the coalition)," the minister said.
Likud MKs Gideon Sa'ar and Yuval Steinitz recommended that Peres charge Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu with the task of assembling the new government, while representatives from Shas, including Chairman Eli Yishai, announced following their meeting with Peres that they had not recommended anyone to assemble the next coalition
Following Livni's meeting with Barak Sunday evening, sources close the newly elected Kadima chairwoman expressed cautious optimism regarding the possibility of forming a coalition that will include Labor.
Livni reportedly told Barak that she is looking to establish a stable government that will continue along the same political path as Olmert's coalition.
The Knesset member tasked with the forming the new coalition will be given 28 days, with a possible extension of 14 days. If this person fails, the president is authorized to order a different MK to form a coalition within an additional 28 days.
Should the second MK fail to do so, the general elections will be moved up and will be held within 90 days.
On Sunday morning, Olmert informed the cabinet that he would be stepping down.
He began the weekly cabinet meeting by wishing Livni the best of luck, and pledging her his support.
"I hope she can form a coalition soon and I will give her any support she needs in the process. I know how hard it is to do, as does Barak," he added.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to the report