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Olmert's Stay Of Execution

Labor: 'This Is A Tahdia Cease-Fire Between Olmert & Barak'

Likud: 'Barak Started Like A Fierce Doberman & Ended Like A Poodle Wagging His Tail To His Master, The Prime Minister!'

IsraCast: 'Olmert & Barak Agreed On Lowest Common Denominator To Preserve Coalition & Stave Off Early Election'

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (Photo: Amit Shabi)

Contrary to many expectations, the latest coalition crisis has ended 'not with a bang but a whimper'. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak agreed on a compromise that will allow the current coalition to continue for at least another three to five months. The IsraCast assessment is that Olmert and Barak had no choice but to carry 'the art of the possible' to an ultimate conclusion, although the Israeli public may view it as politics at its worst.

The latest coalition crisis was triggered by American businessman Morris Talansky, who testified in court to giving Olmert hundreds of thousand of dollars, some of it as cash in envelopes. The Prime Minister retorted that the money was for election campaigns and he never 'put a cent in his own pocket'. In light of the subsequent police enquiry, Labor party leader Ehud Barak was forced to react. The Defense Minister issued an ultimatum to the ruling Kadima party - Olmert could not carry on as prime minister while having to defend himself in several police inquires. Kadima would have to replace Olmert with another leader until the inquiries were resolved, otherwise Labor would bring down the government. Kadima started stalling on a date for for the primaries and Barak warned that Labor would vote in favor of an early election bill tabled by the Likud.

Olmert countered that he would fire all Labor cabinet ministers if they did. Barak retorted that he was calling Olmert's bluff setting the stage for a high-noon showdown. But naturally, neither Olmert nor Barak and their parties were interested in precipitating an early election, which the polls show would be won by the Likud's Bibi Netanyahu. Likud MK Silvan Shalom had been working behind the scenes also trying to cajole Shas, another coalition partner, into bolting the tottering coalition. Shalom declared that an early election was now inevitable - Barak would not dare to back down again after previously reneging on his threat to oust Olmert after the scathing Winograd Report into the Second Lebanon War.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Photo: Amit Shabi)

But not so fast. Olmert and Barak were not about to be kicked out of office by their own doing. They sought an ejection seat from this flight to folly and political oblivion. By this time, the media was spinning out every little detail of the political drama as Kadima and Labor negotiators colluded at midnight in Barak's home to try and defuse the crisis created by their two leaders. Enter 'Cool Hand Luke', Kadima MK Zachi Hanegbi who guided the two sides to a compromise the two parties could live with. The Kadima leadership primaries will be completed by September 25th.

Basking in his success the next day, Hanegbi doubted that the Talansky affair would be over by then and therefore he doubted that Olmert would run in the Kadima primaries. But several hours later in the Knesset, Olmert declared he would. Three months in Israeli politics is a long time so Prime Minister Olmert has won a 'stay of political execution' for at least that long, if he isn't indicted before then which is highly unlikely. And even if Olmert does not win the Kadima primaries in September, it would take another couple of months to form a new government. So, Olmert has emerged with some breathing space from a very tough political situation. The next stage will be the cross-examination of Morris Talansky, again in an Israeli court by Olmert's lawyers next month. Obviously, the Prime minister hopes they will be able to discredit Talansky's testimony.

As for Ehud Barak, he has partially achieved his goal of setting the Kadima machinery in action for possibly ousting Olmert. But what of Barak's original contention that Israel could not afford to have a prime minister who is preoccupied with police inquiries? The Defense Minister retorts that he acted in the national interest. Quietly, Labor sources are saying Barak will continue to set security policy as he did on the latest cease-fire Tahdia with the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip. Likud is hauling Barak over the coals. A furious Silvan Shalom charged: 'Barak started like a fierce Doberman going after Olmert - but he ended up like a poodle waging his tail to his master, the prime minister'. In the Knesset debate, Likud whip Gidon Saar also lambasted Labor members for putting their own jobs before the state's interest. He called them 'a party of political rags from the land of rags!' ( In Israeli jargon a 'rag' is equivalent to being a 'wimp', someone with no backbone). Surprisingly for many, Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik of Kadima demanded that Saar retract his statement. When he refused, she ordered ushers to escort him from the Knesset rostrum. The Likud accused Speaker Itzik of overstepping her authority.

Will voters punish Kadima and Labor whenever an election does roll around? By the time that happens, who knows what other dramas will be in the limelight. On the other hand, the Likud emerges somewhat bruised itself. MK Silvan Shalom bet that his early election bill would topple the government this time. The fact that it didn't makes Likud appear a little naive and outfoxed by Olmert and Barak. Moreover, Israeli voters under threat of a future Iranian nuclear attack can take such political chicanery without getting too upset.

David Essing

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