Coalition in Danger Over Vote on Bill to Disband Knesset

Olmert: Labor MKs who vote for dissolution to be fired; Majadele, Tamir oppose Barak-backed move.

The government coalition is expected to collapse Wednesday if the Labor Party votes to disband the Knesset, as it announced Monday. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has vowed to fire Labor ministers immediately after the vote, ending the ruling partnership between Kadima and Labor.

Olmert's associates slammed Labor leader and Defense Minister Ehud Barak over the decision. "Barak is sabotaging moves of national importance because of his own political interests," one associate said.

"Everything is tricks with him. He's creating an opposition within the coalition."

The associate said that in these circumstances Olmert prefers elections over "national paralysis. We don't need such a partner."

The MKs who object to dissolving the Knesset, headed by ministers Yuli Tamir and Raleb Majadele, on Monday clashed with Barak, who led the move.

Tamir, Majadele and MKs Amir Peretz, Yoram Marciano and Nadia Hilo did not take part in the faction vote, claiming that it was not legal, as the party's central committee had to be convened to authorize the move. The five threaten to vote against disbanding the Knesset and ignore party discipline. However, if Shas votes for the bill to disperse the Knesset, it will pass with an easy majority.

Last month Barak called on Olmert to resign in light of the corruption probe against him, giving him until June 25 to step aside, or face the dissolution of the Knesset.

Olmert remained uncompromising. At a meeting with Kadima political activists, the prime minister blasted Barak and threatened to fire Labor ministers who voted to dissolve the Knesset.

"There's something clearly immoral about a cabinet member acting to topple the government and wanting to stay in it as well," he said. "I won't accept a situation in which Labor ministers are trying to topple the government yet staying in it. Whoever wants to break up the government will not remain a cabinet minister... that goes for Barak who is not an MK," Olmert said.

He also lashed out against senior Kadima figures who forced him to decide on primaries in the party ahead of schedule. "I will do everything I can to unite Kadima. I have no rivals and no wars in the party," Olmert said.

Many, however, accused Olmert of a willingness to sacrifice the good of the country for the sake of his personal interests.

PM fails to budge Shas in vote on dispersing Knesset

Shas on Monday rejected Olmert's offer of benefits totaling NIS 1.5 billion in exchange for not voting in favor of a bill to disperse the Knesset.

After Labor's decision to support the bill, the balance of power indicates that the bill could pass by a majority of 70 MKs, making Shas the decisive vote.

Olmert, with the assistance of Vice Premier Haim Ramon, is pressuring Shas leaders to stop the move.

Olmert held a lengthy meeting on Tuesday with Shas Chairman Industry Trade and Employment Minister Eli Yishai, proposing a benefits package for the poor to counter Shas' demand for child allowances to be increased in exchange for its opposing vote on the Knesset bill.

Finance Minister Roni Bar-On said Monday he would resign if child allowances were increased.

Among the benefits Olmert offered are expansion of the Wisconsin Plan, additional income tax credits for the poor and funding for vocational training.

However, Yishai told Olmert that if child allowances were not increased, Shas would vote the dissolve the Knesset.

The intense courting of Shas, which also included a Yishai-Ramon meeting, has reportedly been a cause of concern for Barak, who realizes that without Shas, the move to disperse the Knesset will collapse. Barak also spoke with Yishai to learn whether he was leaning toward changing his position, and Yishai assured him that as long as child allowances were not increased, he would not budge.

Sources in Shas said efforts to woo the party away from voting for dissolving the Knesset would continue until Wednesday's vote.

The prime minister offered us alternatives that do not satisfy us, for example, additional afternoon day-care instead of the allowances," Yishai told Haaretz after his meeting with Olmert. Yishai said that without increased child allowances, "the decision of the Council of Torah Sages [for Shas] to resign from the cabinet stands."

United Torah Judaism's lawmakers are in favor of the bill except for MK Avraham Ravitz, who said: "The alternatives to the present government are not glorious from the point of view of UTJ's demands."