The Government in Crisis / The Super-glue Coalition

Those who found themselves in the Knesset yesterday must have thought it's all over: the battered and bleeding Olmert government is taking its last breaths. The activity in the building was reminiscent of pre-election periods, or at least of times of mega-crises in the coalition. The combination of a criminal investigation against the Prime Minister and the resignation of the Chief of Staff following a failed war are like a snowball chasing after Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz, and that will burry under its weight the entire government.

But as the hours passed, things calmed down. The 78-member coalition continued to function. No party threatened to leave the coalition, for two reasons: all are responsible for the war, and not one of them wants new elections. The super-glue fixing Olmert's partners firmly in their seats is strong stuff.

Public protest has also not proven to be reliable so far. The masses have not come out in the streets to demand that Olmert and Peretz follow Chief of Staff Dan Halutz out. The streets are quiet and the squares empty. Only the television studios are brimming with life. The "critical mass" that will take this government out of its misery has not yet accumulated; everyone is waiting for the interim report of the Winograd Committee, which is expected in early March (the complete report is expected in June).

Peretz told his aides yesterday that he has no intention of leaving his office before the publication of the committee's report. Those hearing him felt that he is hoping to emerge unscathed, and if that is the outcome, he believes the sky's the limit for him. Peretz suffered considerable embarrassment from Halutz: the Chief of Staff informed Olmert of his decision to step down as early as noon on Sunday following the cabinet meeting, but he only told the Defense Minister on Tuesday night, the same the press received the news from the IDF spokesman.

"Well," a well-placed source in the Defense Ministry said yesterday, "Halutz feared that if he told Peretz, it would be leaked in ten minutes flat."

Olmert tried to signal "business as usual" yesterday. He had lunch in the Knesset cafeteria, just like his predecessor Ariel Sharon used to do in times of political trouble. To the reporters who approached him he promised that a new Chief of Staff would be appointed in days. The Prime Minister's aides promised a thorough and serious process, that will include consultation with previous prime ministers (Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu), and former Defense Ministers (Shaul Mofaz and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer), as well as with Vice Premier Tzipi Livni.

The reporters quipped: "We thought that the Defense Minister is the one that makes the appointment." Olmert said that "formally" that is correct.