PM to Bush, Abbas: I'll weather legal storm, stay in office
Knesset majority in favor of dissolution of parliament in doubt as Meretz, Arab MKs inclined to vote against.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told President George W. Bush and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week that he believes he can overcome his legal and political difficulties and stay in his post.
It also appears that the push for early primary elections in Olmert's Kadima party have been blocked, and there are difficulties finding a Knesset majority for early elections - both developments that are expected to bolster the Olmert government.
During talks with senior figures in Kadima, Olmert said the cross-examination of the chief witness for the prosecution, the American fund-raiser Morris Talansky, will undermine Talansky's credibility and restore a bit of calm in the coalition and political atmosphere. This, Olmert said, should keep him in his post and allow him to continue the peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Political sources close to Abbas, and figures on Israel's left, said last night that the Palestinian president had been told these things directly during his meeting with Olmert on Monday, before Olmert's visit to Washington.
According to sources close to Olmert, he said similar things during his meeting Wednesday with President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
"Now there is another crisis, but I will overcome it," Olmert told the American officials, according to sources close to the prime minister. He promised that "all the processes [peace talks] will continue irrespective of the negotiations - the negotiations with the Palestinians, the handling of the Iranian issue, and also the talks with Syria."
However, Olmert had made these statements about his political future before Thursday's Labor ministers' meeting, where a decision was made for the party to support a bill calling for the dissolution of the Knesset, expected later this month. If the bill is approved in a preliminary reading, with the backing of Labor, the Olmert government could be in trouble.
The MKs of Meretz and three Arab parties, a total of 15, are inclined to vote against early elections. This would prevent the opposition from achieving a majority in favor of the Knesset's dissolution, if Shas and Labor do not break ranks from the coalition and join the opposition.
If Labor, with its 19 MKs, supports early elections, but Shas opposes it, then the two camps will be even with 60 votes each. If Shas, with its 12 MKs, supports early elections and Labor does not, the coalition will have a large majority against the dissolution of parliament.
So far, however, none of the Arab parties have made their positions on early elections clear.
But a number of political sources in several parties said last night that only a worsening in the security situation - such as an operation in the Gaza Strip - may delay the efforts to dissolve the Knesset.
"Defense Minister [Ehud Barak] will not leave his post on the eve of a military operation, or during such an operation," a senior Labor figure said Thursday night.