Arab, Meretz Lawmakers Unlikely to Support Early Election

Fifteen Knesset members - from the three Arab parties and Meretz - are leaning toward voting against an early election date. As a result, if the opposition cannot recruit the support of both Labor and Shas for early elections, than it may not have a guaranteed majority in the vote.

If Labor (19 seats) supports early elections and Shas opposes them, there will be a 60-member tie. If Shas (12 seats) supports early elections and Labor opposes them, the coalition will have a large majority against a new poll date.

None of the Arab parties have set their official position yet.

Meretz will vote against a bill to dissolve the Knesset, even though the party has called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign. Meretz chair MK Haim Oron explained the decision by saying that this is not the time for elections, and that the peace process should be advanced as much as possible in 2008.

However, Meretz is not ruling out joining an alternative government headed by a different candidate. Even though Oron declined to name the party's preferred prime ministerial candidate, Meretz whip MK Zehava Gal-On has said openly that the party wants Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Since the Talansky crisis broke, Livni has met with many political figures, including Oron.

Hadash chair Mohammad Barakeh said yesterday, "I do not see us joining Silvan Shalom in order to bring Benjamin Netanyahu and Effie Eitam to power. We oppose early elections."

Balad whip Jamal Zahalka said, "If you're tallying up supporters of early elections, count us out. The mood in the Arab parties is not to support such a move."

United Arab List whip Ibrahim Sarsur said he personally opposes holding Knesset elections in November and postponing local elections. "If municipal elections are not moved, we are neutral," he said.

Likud whip MK Gideon Saar said yesterday that it is increasingly likely that the preliminary reading of the bill to dissolve the Knesset will take place June 18. Knesset sources have reported ongoing talks between Likud, Labor and Shas regarding the date for the vote.

Knesset bylaws stipulate that preliminary readings must take place on Wednesdays. This coming Wednesday, June 11, is considered too early, in part due to next week's Shavuot holiday. A delay until June 25 is certainly possible, depending on political developments.

In theory, passing a preliminary reading does not guarantee a bill will be ratified. Should the bill pass June 18 and Kadima later decide to hold primaries, Labor may back down from supporting early elections.

However, in most cases where a bill to dissolve the Knesset passed a preliminary reading, the Knesset was in fact dissolved.

The political establishment objects to the potential November national election date, originally slated for municipal elections, which may then be postponed to February 2009. Alternatively, local elections could be held in November, and Knesset elections could be held in February. However, most favor postponing local elections, in order to pass the 2009 state budget as early as possible.