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Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't understand what's bugging Justice Minister Yosef Lapid. Until yesterday, Netanyahu believed Lapid would allow him and Prime Minister Sharon to close a deal with United Torah Judaism, and to get the budget passed.

Shinui chairman Lapid doesn't understand what's bugging Sharon. Until yesterday, he was sure Sharon would never turn his back on him. The Prime Minister's Office doesn't understand what's bugging Shinui. Until yesterday, they were convinced Shinui would back down. If Lapid agreed already to pay NIS 200 million to the ultra-Orthodox, why quit the government over NIS 90 million and delay the disengagement?

However you look at it, Sharon's second government is in its final death throes. Even if Sharon maneuvers out of this crisis, the next few months will not be smooth sailing.

The aroma of elections has taken over the political arena. When polls predicting Knesset mandates are all the politicians see, everything becomes a tactical maneuver.

After one failed meeting with Sharon, Shimon Peres has gone from avid supporter of the prime minister to warring opposition leader. Sharon is announcing left, right and center that no one can threaten him. Meanwhile, Lapid is convinced that his insistence over NIS 90 million will earn him 15 mandates come election time.

The big question yesterday: Does Sharon have a plan, the moment the budget is approved, assuming that Shinui is outside the government? Certainly he does, his associates said yesterday. But it's such a secret plan that Sharon doesn't seem to know about it.

On paper, Sharon could create a coalition with Labor and the ultra-Orthodox. But this would be suicidal for Labor. And if it materialized, it would render Netanyahu's budget ineffectual - which would mean a world war between the prime minister and the finance minister. On the other hand, most Likud members won't object to such a coalition, if the ultra-Orthodox were to come along.

The working assumption in the Knesset is that the budget will pass, either Wednesday or next week. The UTJ will support it and Shas will abstain just to see Shinui on the outside. After that, Sharon's coalition of Likud-Shas-UTJ will continue to limp along until the Knesset recess. Or maybe Lapid will blink. Or Peres will defeat Barak at the primaries. Or a date for elections will be decided on. And then, thank goodness, the storm will subside.