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Israeli Prime Minister Olmert Plunges in Polls

Israel's embattled Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is plunging in the polls. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, his sagging popularity has prompted a well-known leader of the right-wing opposition in parliament to prepare for a political comeback.

A new poll shows that if Israeli elections were held today, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would win only three percent of the vote. He would be soundly defeated by hawkish former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Olmert's popularity plunged in the wake of last year's Lebanon War, which was widely seen as a failure. Despite a 34-day air and ground assault, the Israeli army failed to deal a knockout blow to Islamic Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon who fired more than 4,000 rockets at Israel.

Buoyed by the polls, Netanyahu called for early elections.

"We hear the voices of the public and the commotion," Netanyahu said.

Jerusalem Post editor David Horowitz says Netanyahu, who heads the opposition Likud Party, sees an opportunity and is grabbing it.

"It is his job. He is the head of the opposition, he is meant to try and become the prime minister and I think he looks at the opinion polls and he sees that if elections were held today, he would do spectacularly well compared to really how extraordinarily badly the Likud did in the last electionsm," Horowitz said.

Political fortunes can quickly change in turbulent Israel. It was less than a year ago that Mr. Olmert and his centrist Kadima party won a landslide election victory.

But it will not be easy for Netanyahu to topple the government. Horowitz says the current Knesset, Israel's parliament, does not want early elections.

"The question is, 'Is the Knesset ready to vote itself out of office, if you like, and give the public a say again?' And you have to think that the answer still is 'no,' that too many Knesset members are too concerned about whether they have a political future if they dissolve the Knesset now," he said.

Prime Minister Olmert is due to remain in office until 2010, but if an inquiry into the failures of the Lebanon War finds him personally responsible, he could be forced to resign.