Despite No Confidence Vote, Olmert Won't Dismiss Labor Ministers

Labor lawmakers backed Likud sponsored no confidence motion following row over top level appointments.

Labor lawmakers voted against the government on a round of ministerial appointments Monday, giving strength to a motion of no confidence in the government and risking dismissal by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

In a statement issued by the Prime Minister's office later in the day, Olmert accused the Labor Party of reneging on previous agreements signed with Kadima, but hinted that he would not make good on his threat to dismiss the ministers if they voted against the government.

Dismissing the Labor ministers would have left him without a legislative majority and open the door to early elections.

By rejecting the appointments of Kadima MKs Ruhama Avraham-Balila and Eli Aflalo as tourism minister and absorption minister respectively, Labor MKs and ministers supported what was declared a no confidence vote at the request of the Likud faction chairman, MK Gideon Sa'ar.

Under Israel's law, the government must be dissolved if 61 legislators vote in favor of a no-confidence motion, but the motion was defeated by 47 votes to 42.

The outcome of the vote sparked speculation about whether Olmert, who is facing an ever-deepening corruption probe, would dismiss Labor ministers who voted no-confidence, as he had threatened.

"We took into account that Olmert might fire us. But we had no choice, we had to show him that we're not afraid of taking an extreme move. Olmert is living on borrowed time. In two months he won't be prime minister anyway," a Labor minister said after the vote.

Olmert is enmeshed in a graft scandal that could force him to step down. His Kadima party will hold an internal primary vote in September that could replace him. The veteran politician has denied any wrongdoing but says he will resign if indicted.

Despite Labor's opposition, Aflalo's and Avraham Balila's appointments were approved by the Knesset.

During a special faction meeting, Labor Chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak harshly criticized the prime minister's conduct in regard to what he described as a reneging on previous agreements. According to Barak, "an invisible hand changed all the deals we agreed upon with the prime minister."

These deals included the appointment of Labor MK Avishai Braverman to the post of chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, an appointment which was delayed Monday by the panel.

Prior to the vote on Braverman's appointment, Labor Faction Secretary General Eitan Cabel announced that the members of his party would vote against the entire round of appointments.

The party decided to oppose the appointments fearing a "parliamentary trick" in which the Knesset House Committee would approve all the appointments and the Finance Committee would later torpedo only Braverman's appointment.

The statement Olmert issued after the vote said "The prime minister is committed to appointing [Labor] MK Avishai Braverman to chair the Knesset Finance Committee and will act to ensure the appointment wins approval as soon as tomorrow [Tuesday]."