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"The Labor Party is not in anyone's pocket and certainly not Olmert's. We will consider our position after we read the final Winograd report, and no one should be surprised if Labor calls to replace Olmert from within Kadima," said Minister of National Infrastructures Benjamin Ben-Eliezer yesterday. According to Ben-Eliezer, Yisrael Beiteinu's decision to leave the government actually helps Labor to be a partner in reaching a peace agreement, and the party must not miss the opportunity.

"It would be a mistake to leave the government now, after Lieberman has left and removed the obstacle to advancing the peace process," he said. If the party decides to call for Olmert's resignation and he does not do so, then Labor will act according to party chairman Ehud Barak's promise to set an agreed-upon date for an early election, toward the end of 2008 or the beginning of 2009.

Other senior Labor officials said Barak could not ignore the Winograd report, and would look to find a replacement within Kadima for Olmert in the first stage. The second stage would be to call for an early election, within a year. But Barak's advisors are continuing to repeat that only after the report is published will he decide on the matter, based on national and security concerns.

Also reacting to the departure of Yisrael Beitenu, Meretz MK Ran Cohen said, "Thank God, we have rid ourselves of the biggest racist on the political spectrum. The government must take this opportunity to advance the peace process and remove illegal outposts."

Olmert profited from his granting the Religious Affairs Ministry to Shas earlier this week. Now he has 12 coalition MKs who are satisfied and quiet, while the right-leaning faction, and its spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, is at odds with the Likud. The Likud voted against reestablishment of the ministry, and Yosef will not soon forget it.