Olmert after Peretz / Survivor: New season
The primaries in Labor are the start of a new season of "Survivor," starring Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The working assumption in the Prime Minister's Bureau is that Labor will stay in the coalition, regardless of who is elected to lead the party. In such a scenario, the coming weeks will be dedicated to political maneuvering, at the end of which a new minister will take over at the Defense Ministry, and the government will continue to function as usual.
Olmert would have prefered his old friend, Ehud Barak, who did not hide his wish to join the government. Olmert did not like Ami Ayalon's declarations, calling on Kadima to select a different leader as a precondition for Labor's staying in the coalition. But Ayalon exposed his weakness. His declarations made it clear that he fears running against Likud at this time, and a race against the king of the polls, Benjamin Netanyahu. When this is the way things are, Olmert believes that Labor has no genuine interest in breaking up his government.
The national agenda also demands unity, and not new elections: the Gaza Strip is boiling over, and there are threats of war in the North, accompanied by hints of peace. Sources close to Olmert say the "evaluation" of the Syrian channel is "very serious and very secret." It is not clear if this involves an envoy on behalf of the prime minister, who may be holding talks with the Syrians (The billionaire peace activist Daniel Abrahams, who purchased Olmert's old home? Another American Jew? Uri Saguy, "Mr. Syria," who advised Olmert during the Second Lebanon War? Amnon Lipkin-Shahak?) Or is this an internal Israeli evaluation? Either way, Labor will find it difficult to escape the confrontation with Hamas and skip over the signals from Damascus.
According to this scenario, Ayalon will be faced with ministers who like their posts - and control the party ranks - and will find an excuse to be drawn into the government in order to "rebuild the army." The primaries will also require new coalition negotiations. The new Labor leader will need to find a replacement job in the cabinet for Amir Peretz, and this will require the support of the prime minister, which will give Olmert some leverage on the incoming Labor chairman.
Olmert has focused his efforts on the politicians, and not on the public. He has avoided giving interviews, mindful that Netanyahu and Barak gave lots of them right before they crashed. Meanwhile, Ayalon's effort to stir rebellion in Kadima failed. The only candidate in Kadima that could possible replace Olmert, Tzipi Livni, will find it difficult to keep Shas and Avigdor Lieberman in the coalition. This would mean new elections and Labor would be defeated, and this is not how Ayalon would like to conclude his political career.
If Olmert manages to keep Labor in the coalition, with a new defense minister, he will have a few quiet months, as the final Winograd report does not endanger him at the moment. If the committee investigating the Second Lebanon War decides to publish conclusions on individuals, it will have to issue warning letters and hold exhaustive discussions with lawyers. This will delay the process for at least a year. If no such conclusions are issued, then Olmert has nothing to worry about.
As for the investigations into alleged corruption, no indictments are expected before year's end. Thus, Olmert's political future is not likely to be decided before the first months of 2008, unless Labor does what is politically unreasonable and pushes for early elections.