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Olmert's Falling Dominoes

Labor's Ehud Barak Ultimatum Likely To Force Prime Minister Olmert's Resignation

Olmert: 'Talansky's Allegations Are Groundless - I Will Resign Only If Indicted'

Scenarios: 1.Early Election 2.New Prime Minister With Current Coalition 3.New Prime Minister With New Coalition

Ehud Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Israel is now awaiting a decision by Attorney General Meni Mazuz on whether or not to indict Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for financial corruption. That is the outcome of the Morris Talansky testimony against Olmert which may involve financial corruption. IsraCast is of the view that Labor party leader Ehud Barak has also issued an ultimatum to the ruling Kadima party that Olmert cannot run the country and cope with a full-blown police enquiry at the same time.

Ehud Olmert's political dominoes have started falling - that's the outcome to Ehud Barak's apparent ultimatum to the Prime Minister. The Defense Minister stressed the obvious. A country like Israel cannot afford to have a prime minister preoccupied with an intense political enquiry into his financial affairs while having to cope with an Iranian vow to wipe Israel off the map with nuclear weapons, war and peace with Syria , the Hezbollah threat on the Lebanese border, a guerrilla war with Hamastan in the Gaza Strip and peace contacts with Palestinians on the West Bank.

Attorney General Meni Mazuz

The allegations by Morris Talansky, an American Jewish philanthropist, that he handed clandestine envelopes of cash to Olmert have tipped the scales. However, Barak welshed on a similar threat to quit the coalition after the scathing Winograd report into Olmert's hapless handling of the Second Lebanon War. At that time Barak's concern that an early election would devastate the Labor party won the day. Then it was party politics pure and simple - and the Knesset's political constellation enabled the Olmert coalition to carry on rather than risk an almost certain Likud victory. Now for Barak to renege again about bolting the coalition would cripple his credibility with Israeli voters. And this is a different story. It's the Attorney General Meni Mazuz who is calling the shots. Mazuz has been sharply criticized for not indicting former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on fraud charges and for his failed plea bargain deal with former President Moshe Katzav that has backfired.

After Talansky's testimony and Olmert's tacit acknowledgment that he received the money, it is hard to see how the Attorney General will not indict. Olmert's defense lawyers contend there are big discrepancies in Talansky's testimony which they intend to expose in their future cross-examination and the Prime Minister has been telling the country that Talansky is 'talking nonsense' and the money was legitimate campaign contributions. The trouble is that people are not listening. The latest polls show 70% of Israelis believe Talansky and not Olmert.

Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

The Prime Minister is trying to gain time and as a master at surviving political crises, he is obviously hoping to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Several of his twenty- nine Kadima Knesset caucus are calling on the party to dump Olmert and select a new leader but the problem is there is no consensus about who that should be. Although Tzipi Livni is the most popular with the Israeli public, Kadima is split between her and former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. Although Livni and Barak have often been mooted as a possible team that could carry without going to an election this is also problematic because the Shas religious partner does not favor a woman prime minister. In any case, Kadima cabinet ministers and back-benchers have rejected the Defense Minister's ultimatum by retorting: 'Barak will not determine who will be Kadima's leader!' Kadima is a hodge-podge of politicians who reverently followed Ariel Sharon not into the political wilderness, but into guaranteed power. Now that Sharon has departed and Olmert possibly on his way out, Kadima politicians appear mesmerized by the unfolding events that will determine their careers. This situation will likely prevail until the Attorney General makes his ruling, Olmert steps aside or Labor bolts the coalition. Meanwhile, Olmert has a trip o the U.S. planned for next week.

But if and when Olmert steps down, as many as eleven Kadima MKs could make their way back to their mother party - the Likud. This has sparked speculation that Likud and even Labor could then form the basis of a new coalition. Although Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak may not be far apart politically these days, it would be hard to sell such a gambit to the dominant doves in Labor. And that is why there is mounting talk that come November the Knesset will decide on a date for an early election.

Regional Ramifications: The two Palestinian entities agree on one thing at least. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from the West Bank is worried that an 'early' Israeli election months from now, would put peace contacts in the deep freeze. The Hamas regime that rules the Gaza Strip is of the same mind when it comes to a possible cease-fire that it would like to see. Then there's the secret Syrian track where Olmert has spoken of 'significant progress', it would also have to go on hold until Israel's new political leadership takes office. But in Israel, the unexpected is often what actually happens and in such a volatile environment, the situation can change dramatically within twenty- four hours.

David Essing

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