Olmert / Fight for Survival

The stands are full, the lights are on, and the Israeli public is nervously waiting the biggest show of the year. On Monday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will embark on his fight for survival - a lone gladiator against the Winograd Committee.

The apparent conclusions are as follows: Olmert will be severely criticized in the committee's interim report on the Second Lebanon War. There will be a detailed analysis of the day on which the decision was made to go to war, July 12, and it will focus on the prime minister's decision-making.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz is expected to suffer fewer blows than Olmert because his impact and involvement in the war's conduct was minimal.

Their predecessors in the six years since Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon will emerge with minor damage. This is good news for Ehud Barak and Shaul Mofaz, whose political ambitions are still very much alive.

The publication of the report will bring to an end a tiring waiting period that has paralyzed political and diplomatic activity in recent months. On Monday afternoon there will be only one question for discussion: Will Olmert survive this, too, and stay in his post, or will he be forced out?

The recommendation of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to begin another criminal investigation against Olmert, regarding the Investments Center, is a lot less interesting. What Israelis want to know is whether Olmert will be investigated as prime minister or as a retiree.

Those close to Olmert are bracing for an unpleasant report, but one that Olmert will survive. Perhaps it will leave a major scar, one that will be added to everything that has already been written and broadcast against him. There will be a full day of special broadcasts, and he will be attacked by a slew of commentators and politicians, but the next day will be a new day. His associates say that if the Winograd Committee does not definitively state that he is unworthy to be prime minister, Olmert will not resign.

For now, he is displaying self-confidence. People who met with him last night described him as being at his best. The optimism of Olmert and his aides is based on an assessment of the political situation. Three of the coalition partners, comprising 47 MKs - Kadima, Yisrael Beiteinu, and the Pensioners Party - are expected to be wiped out in the next elections. Labor, with its 19 MKs, will not be wiped out, but if the elections were held tomorrow the Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu would gain a knock-out victory. According to this calculation, there is a solid majority in the Knesset against elections. Olmert's challenge, therefore, is to keep the coalition on his side, to bite his lip for another month, until the Labor primary is held and to hope that Barak will win and come in to bolster the government as defense minister.

The main danger is that public pressure will deter Barak from joining the government and lead to its fall. This is why Olmert has been wooing author Amos Oz and other leading figures on the left. He wants them to grant him the legitimacy to restructure his government, something like "even if we made mistakes during the war, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak are the only team that can further the cause of peace. If we bring them down, we will get Netanyahu."

Will this work? It depends on the impact of the Winograd report. In recent months, unbearable pressure has been building up between public anger against the prime minister and the political interests of those wishing to hold onto their Knesset seats. But the public is not running the country. The politicians do that. Olmert has been left without friends: none of his colleagues speaks well of him. Even Shimon Peres, who had described him as an excellent prime minister, has gone quiet after embarrassing parts of his testimony before the Winograd Committee were released. Olmert is also not making any effort to influence public opinion: His Independence Day interviews to Army Radio and Israel Radio were characterized by avoiding questions and clashing with interviewers. His main argument, which he is sure to reiterate after the report is issued, is that all the ministers and nearly all the MKs were enthusiastically behind the war. It is difficult to believe that they will all stand by him on Monday.