Photo: Flash 90
A cabinet decision on the ceasefire will be forced to await Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's return from Washington, officials say. Disagreements between Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak – who became political opponents this week – are delaying the decision, and a meeting of the cabinet that was scheduled to take place on Sunday has been postponed by one week, after the prime minister returns from his trip to the US.
Instead of the cabinet meeting, a meeting between Barak, Olmert, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is scheduled to take place Sunday afternoon. The three are set to discuss the ceasefire with the Palestinians.
The Prime Minister's Office stated that Olmert objected to Barak's intention to send Senior Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad to Cairo on Sunday in order to carry a positive answer to Hamas' proposal. Gilad returned from a visit to Cairo one week ago with a two-stage plan offered during ceasefire negotiations, according to which Egypt would attempt to negotiate kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit's release only during the second stage.
According to a senior official from the Prime Minister's Office, "Olmert believes we must not agree to this requisition. Shalit's release must be part of the ceasefire deal."
Officials have stated that only the cabinet is authorized to take drastic measures such as agreeing to the ceasefire plan or deciding on a military operation in Gaza, in the event that the ceasefire does not come into being.
Aside from the issue of Shalit, the prime minister believes that the responsibility for preventing the smuggling of weapons should not rest only on Egypt's shoulders, while the terror organizations shirk responsibility. Olmert has stated that peace with Egypt is a strategic asset that must not be put to the test or allowed to be ruled by terror organizations.
Officials affiliated with both Barak and Olmert have rejected the assumption that the tension between them is a consequence of Barak's call for Olmert to resign. Barak's office responded to the claims by stating that "the prime minister and the defense minister are well-coordinated on this issue. They are both aware of the responsibility they have, and don't intend to discuss political and security issues with the press."
Olmert is set to take off Friday night for an 80-hour trip to the US, during which he is scheduled to meet US President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington. Olmert will also meet the three presidential hopefuls Barack Obama, John McCain, and Hilary Clinton.