Coalition Crisis / Two Ehuds Take Each Other Down in Duel of Despair

Bad blood between Olmert, Baraks flows as strongly as ever while last-ditch mediation efforts take place.

Every soldier, it's said, carries a chief of staff's baton in his backpack. Today, every minister carries a note from the prime minster in his suit jacket pocket. A fatherly note.

And this is what Ehud Olmert wrote on Monday to a Labor minister who pleaded that he and his friends not be fired on Wednesday after the preliminary vote to dissolve the Knesset:

"Your fundamental mistake, and first and foremost that of [Ehud] Barak is in assuming, where Barak has always failed, that he could control everything that may happen. That is idiocy. The minute the Knesset decides to move up the elections, it is a path of no return. The High Court of Justice will intervene, the Knesset will be in turmoil, and I will be painted as someone who is fighting to save his ass at the expense of the country.

"If you wanted primaries," continued Olmert in his own, neat handwriting, "then we have already started the process. But a vote for the law in its preliminary reading, that is an act that will end in elections in November. If so, why does Barak need to reach the elections as defense minister? On what moral basis? You have left me without any options," wrote Olmert.

Olmert's analysis is logical. His description of the political situation - and his own - if the bill passes on Wednesday is realistic. From the moment the bill passes its preliminary reading, the die is cast. To prevent the law from advancing, Olmert will be forced to maneuver between committees, to bribe MKs, to contend with petitions to the High Court. Despite everything, there was a drop in the level of pugnacity surrounding the prime minister on Tuesday.

The bad blood between Olmert and Barak was still flowing as strongly as ever on Tuesday though: "Disgusting behavior," they said about Barak. He is still sitting in the cabinet all the while, gnawing away at the decisions and legitimacy of the government, they said. But at the same time, alongside the vilification, Olmert's people show a clear wish to find any compromise that would allow the government to remain in power.

"We will not find any glory in firing the Labor ministers," they said in the Prime Minister's Bureau.

On Barak's side, too, they lowered the volume somewhat on Tuesday: "Give us an official date, or almost official, for the primaries and there is what to talk about," said Barak's aides.

Now all that is left is to see whether the negotiators, Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon; MK Tzachi Hanegbi; the head of Kadima's council Meir Nitzan and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik can succeed in engineering something by the afternoon when the vote is taken.

For example, will the Kadima faction meet on Wednesday and decide on a date for primaries? Olmert is likely to agree to that, but his condition will be that the primaries be far enough away that if he decides to run, he will have enough time to prepare for the race.

The question is whether Barak will agree. Chances are poor. Barak's people speak of total panic in Kadima, a party being pulled down into the abyss by its leader. Kadima says Labor is begging for Olmert not to fire them. Both sides are right. They shoot and cry, firing at each other and then crying on the other's shoulder.