A winner at long last
"Sit here and don't get up," Roni Bar-On ordered Peres at the start of the first round of voting. Peres, a disciplined soldier, obeyed. He remained in his seat until the last MK emerged from behind the curtain. Bar-On didn't want Peres cruising the halls, spouting nonsense and pestering voters. "Nothing good will come to us from this mingling," Bar-On scolded Peres. "Remember you're a contender."
Bar-On, and Haim Ramon, and all of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's people and all of Peres' people, going back to Mapai days, protected him yesterday like a precious etrog. They were concerned for his health, should he not be elected. Reuven Rivlin, who was alone through the entire contest, was even more alone yesterday. On his way to the plenum, conscious of the looming defeat, he met Ramon. "You did a nice job," he told him. "You managed to infiltrate certain parties without my knowledge." "True," Ramon confirmed.
Later, with the victory in the bag, Olmert's people disclosed where the infiltrations occured: United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beiteinu. These two parties gave Peres at least six to seven votes. In the Labor Party, too, Olmert's hit squad managed to squeeze in among Rivlin's supporters and chip away at their number. Rivlin, and before him Collette Avital, did the right thing, earning them compliments and praise: They conceded and withdrew, and granted this entire contest an element of dignity. Had Peres been in Rivlin's situation, he would have run among all the MKs, persuading, imploring, begging, telephoning Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and the Almighty himself and force another round, and maybe another.
This was Olmert's most successful week since the Second Lebanon War - he showed that it's too early to eulogize him, and that in politics, unlike other management fields, he's a skilled pro. Ehud Barak's victory in the Labor primary, and Peres' victory in the Knesset, refueled Olmert's empty tanks. He bet on Peres; put all his personal prestige (what remains of it) at stake; and succeeded where Ehud Barak failed in 2000.
Barak, despite combative declarations against the Olmert government, will in two weeks be in the defense minister's seat, and give the entire cabinet a different look. With new defense and finance ministers, Olmert will be able to reboot his term, and hope that the Winograd Committee's final report will not be fatal.
Yesterday there was already talk in the Knesset about it being a year, at least, until elections. That's how it goes with our Knesset; it goes up and down like a roller-coaster: When the interim Winograd report was issued, nobody gave Olmert more than a month. Yesterday, after Barak and Peres, the parliamentary mood had changed completely.
What's clear is that Olmert, the prime minister with the lowest public standing in our history, will easily survive the summer session, which ends in July, and before we know it - it's the middle of October.