Kadima: If Labor Bolts, Netanyahu Will Get Defense

If the Labor Party pulls out of the coalition after the May 28 party primaries, Kadima will ask Likud to join if it agrees to an election date, which will apparently be set for the end of 2008, an associate of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday.

The comment came as Olmert and his aides begin preparing for the possibility of a Labor withdrawal.

"We will make [Likud chairman Benjamin] Netanyahu an offer he can't refuse: the defense portfolio plus an agreed-upon election time, which won't be before the end of 2008," the source said.

"That way, the government will survive another relatively long period, whether Olmert continues to head it or is replaced by someone else from Kadima," he added. "Netanyahu will reach the next elections as the one who rehabilitated the security establishment after the war in Lebanon and we will buy more time. Who knows what will happen in that time - maybe we'll bring the captives back, maybe we'll assassinate [Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah, maybe there will be developments on the Iranian or Syrian front, and then who will remember the Winograd report [on the Second Lebanon War]?"

However, the Likud party said yesterday it would dismiss such a proposal out of hand. It said the comments by Kadima are intended to convince the Labor Party not to pull out of the coalition and to give the Labor ministers some ammunition in opposing the move.

"A proposal like the one that Kadima is talking about could have received a positive response half a year ago - but not today, after the Winograd report," a Likud representative said last night.

"The Olmert government has ended its career," the representative said. "Olmert himself won't survive the final [Winograd] report, so there is nothing to discuss regarding joining the coalition."

The final report on the Second Lebanon War is due to be released in the summer.

Nonetheless, the Olmert associate was optimistic about the government's chances of survival, saying it will have no problem making it through to the Knesset's summer recess at the end of July even if Labor does quit.

"Along with the two MKs from Degel Hatorah, the coalition will come to 61 [MKs]," he said. "We'll be able to collect another few supporters, or abstainers - among other places, in the Arab factions, which don't want the elections moved up - so in any case the elections won't be before the beginning of 2008, since the Knesset goes on a two-and-a-half-month recess in July, which ends in mid-October."