All in Favor / Three Weeks of Speculation

At long last a still, small voice has come out and announced: The Winograd Committee's final report will appear on January 30. Three weeks and change for creative speculation, tendentious leaks, guesswork and "spins" galore until the publication of the report dealing with the war that ended a year and a half ago. Regardless of what is said or written beforehand, all will be erased and begin anew the moment the report is released, after its details have been studied and processed by the political system and the public.

Then, and only then, will the key players in the political drama, from Ehud Olmert to Ehud Barak, and from Shaul Mofaz to Tzipi Livni, be forced to think, suffer, squirm -- and decide.

A few weeks ago, the thinking that took hold in the country, for various reasons, said that Olmert had survived the report and that the worst was behind him. In the past few days, there has been a change of atmosphere: There is more and more talk about moving up the general election -- to the end of this year or beginning of next year.

Silvan Shalom plans to submit a bill to dissolve the Knesset in order to embarrass Barak, who pledged during the Labor Party leadership primary to strive for an early election; Gideon Sa'ar is proposing to parties that the general election be held in November of this year, together with elections to local authorities, in order to reduce costs and increase voter turnout.

There is logic to this proposal, but also madness: It means that Israel would wind up with an election campaign lasting nine months! Not to mention the fact that MKs are not thrilled about shortening their tenure by a whole two years.

The solution might be in the spirit of the formula that Infrastructures Minister Benjamin ("Fuad") Ben-Eliezer expounded to Haaretz a month ago: Barak, and the Labor Party, Ben-Eliezer said, will support holding an early election, as Barak promised. But the elections will not be pushed up because there is no majority in the Knesset for an early election. And what will Barak do then? Fuad was asked. "Nothing," he replied.

The Winograd report is not the only thing threatening to shake up politics: The peace process, which is supposed to receive a boost following U.S President George W. Bush's visit here this week, harbors a seed of destruction for Olmert: Yisrael Beiteinu's leader, Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has been carrying around a bellyache since the preparations for the Annapolis conference, threatened yesterday to leave the coalition the moment the discussions with the Palestinians begin to address the "core issues": Jerusalem, borders and refugees. Lieberman is not in the habit of making threats, but when he does, he makes good on them.

Olmert is going to need all of his political wisdom to hang onto both Lieberman -- i.e., to block the peace talks -- and the Labor Party -- i.e., to expedite the peace talks -- while also maintaining good relations with the U.S. and Europe. Olmert might discover, as several of his predecessors did in times of trouble, that the blanket is too short to keep everyone warm.