ANALYSIS / Olmert's Maneuvers Are Last Gasps of Dying Man

Even if the PM is saved from the vote to dissolve the Knesset, can this government expect to function?

Ehud Olmert will fire the Labor ministers - or not. Shas will develop cold feet at the last minute in exchange for a fistful of child allowances - or not. A few rebels and infiltrators from here and there will nibble away at the guaranteed majority for dissolving the Knesset - or maybe not.

What does it really matter? The maneuvering and meddling that are keeping the Knesset busy are no more than the last gasps of a dying man. Let's say, for example, the prime minister is saved in tomorrow's preliminary vote on dissolving the Knesset. Will this government be able to function when its senior ministers are not speaking to the prime minister? Can this coalition survive when it is constantly embarrassed in the Knesset plenum?

The Labor faction decided yesterday to support the bill for dissolving the Knesset. The pale faces of senior MKs and ministers told the whole story. But the process started by party chairman Ehud Barak was already out of control.

In a nearby room was opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu with his people, who were praying that nothing would go wrong at the last minute. Netanyahu's name, that of the great demon, was mentioned repeatedly in the Labor faction's room as a reason why it was not possible to support early elections. But this time Barak was firm: "They are frightening us with the Bibi scenario," said Barak. "But whoever threatens must understand that to prevent Bibi, we must break free from Olmert," explained Barak.

These harsh words made it clear that the die was cast. For many months, since the second Winograd Report, and even earlier, many warned Barak that his partnership with Olmert would be his downfall. They told him that every day he sat in a coalition with Olmert, in the role of contractor for security matters, hurt the party and added votes to Netanyahu and the Likud. Barak refused to listen: "We will do what is good for the country," he said.

Yesterday, with the knife pressed to his throat and Olmert's threat of firing Labor ministers hanging in the air, the good of the country transformed into the good of the party. But this should not be a surprise: Barak is not only defense minister, he is also a party chairman. Sooner or later, the divorce had to happen. The only thing necessary was finding the proper pretext.

If Olmert carries out his threat to fire the Labor ministers, he will only be speeding up his political demise, whether in a no-confidence vote or by the dissolution of the Knesset. Therefore, many politicians found it difficult to believe yesterday that Olmert would make good on his threats.

It is hard to find a rational motive for such a move on Olmert's part. After all, he could have shown restraint, swallowed his pride for only a preliminary vote, waited for the cross-examination of Morris Talansky and hoped for a miracle.

Olmert seems to have reached the conclusion that his miracle days have run out. He must have decided end his political career not by being deposed by his own party, as a criminal suspect, but in a political move of his own making.