The government passed its first post-Winograd and post-demonstrations challenge with flying colors. In three no-confidence votes held in the Knesset, 60-62 MKs voted against the no-confidence motion and 26-28 in favor. Nine MKs abstained in all the votes. The opposition as a whole has 42 seats, while the government commands 78. A large number of MKs did not attend the vote, including several figures from the Labor Party. But overall, Labor legislators voted with the government.
A telephone poll commissioned by the staff of Ehud Barak, who is currently not in the government but is hoping to enter through the backdoor of the Labor primaries (May 28), showed that most Labor central committee members (they elect the leader of the party) oppose early elections. This is good politics. Elections now will bring the Likud to power. Holding on helps both Kadima and the Labor Party.
Given that Labor has quite a bit to lose from early elections, does the party still have leverage over Olmert - i.e., can it threaten to pull out of the coalition unless certain conditions are met? It all depends on the ability of Labor to convince Olmert that he has more to lose from elections than it does.
To outflank the threat from his left, Olmert has been making overtures to the Likud on the right - offering Netanyahu the defense ministry in exchange for a promise to stay loyal until the end of next year, thus giving Kadima a chance to recover and perhaps to neutralize the Likud. Bibi has rejected this offer, but who knows what backroom negotiations are currently taking place. Netanyahu knows that he can replace Olmert if the government falls and elections are called.
Despite Netanyahu's hardline stance against Olmert and his previous statements in public, it is possible that the prime minister will try to assemble a right-wing coalition of
Kadima (29) + Likud (12) + Shas (12) + Yisrael Beitenu (11) + Pensioners (7) + United Torah Judaism (6) = 77,which is just one seat less than the current coalition.
But the prospect of sitting in the same government as the Likud might be enough to provoke a second go at a palace coup by Livni, Peres, and Dalia Itzik. There is still a chance that Olmert will succumb to pressure from inside Kadima and allow the formation of a new government with Peres at the helm - but certainly not before the Labor primaries, and probably not until after the Winograd committee releases its final report in the summer. There is, finally, the possibility that the criminal investigation into some of Olmert's dealings will yield some fruit.
The consternation expressed by government sources about U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's canceled visit (she was set to come on May 15) can mean one of two things. Either, Rice realized that the proposed list of benchmarks for the PA and Israel are completely unrealistic, and that there is therefore nothing to talk about; or, this is a no-confidence vote in the Olmert government.