Ministers from the Kadima party said Wednesday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert understands that "this is the end" politically, and only asks that he be allowed to transfer the reins of power in a "dignified" way. In the Likud, Shas and Labor parties, the generally accepted prediction is that Olmert will resign and that elections for the 18th Knesset and a new government will take place in late 2008. Another possible scenario which is considered less likely involves Olmert suspending himself without resigning, thus making it possible for someone else in Kadima to take his seat as Prime Minister.
The catalyst for the current situation was Labor leader Ehud Barak's press conference Wednesday morning, in which he called upon Olmert to "disconnect himself from the business of running the government" and hinted broadly that he would like the Kadima ministers to choose an alternative leader who would replace Olmert as Prime Minister, without elections.
Olmert and Livni: No Love Lost
However, pundits see this possibility as unlikely because of two reasons:
- Olmert harbors a political grudge against Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and does not intend to hand her the Prime Minister's post on a platter. Livni is the most likely winner of Kadima's top spot if primaries are held, and enjoys the media's support.
Shas will not agree to sit in a government headed by Livni, who is perceived as dovish.
- Kadima's second main coalition partner, Shas, will not agree to sit in a government headed by Livni, who is perceived as dovish. Shas chairman Eli Yishai has also been quoted as saying that even if Kadima were to be headed by Shaul Mofaz or Meir Sheetrit and not Livni, he would prefer elections.
Barak's chances of winning an election are considered extremely slim and the second-slot partnership with Kadima has been a comfortable one for him. However, he has been under pressure from inside Labor and some of the left-wing media to quit the government. Labor is Kadima's senior coalition partner and without it the coalition would fall. Since Barak's news conference, the political system has more or less accepted that Olmert's days as Prime Minister are numbered.
Within Kadima, Knesset members are preparing to hold primaries as early as September, in preparation for Olmert's resignation or self-suspension.
Discussions between parties regarding a possible election date have revolved around November 2008, after the Rosh HaShana holiday season. The problem with that month is that municipal elections are also scheduled to be held, and may have to be postponed in order to make a Knesset election possible. Shas leader Yishai has also mentioned November 2008 as the likely election month.
Olmert and his confidantes are reportedly angry at Ehud Barak for his dramatic announcement Wednesday. They call Barak's statement "immoral" and stressed that he should have waited until the cross-examination of Moshe Talansky which is scheduled for July 17. Olmert's aides maintain that the cross-examination will prove that Talansky's testimony is not reliable and contradicts itself.