The New Coalition / Da, Lieberman

Next week, when Avigdor Lieberman takes his place at the cabinet table, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will sit back with a friendly glance toward his friend Yvet, and recall the headlines that two months ago foretold of his political demise. Who would have thought that following the war, Olmert, considered to be the main culprit in a failed venture, will become a prime minister with one of the most stable coalition governments in recent time?

With the inclusion of Yisrael Beitenu, Olmert's coalition government will number 78 MKs. The noose that was becoming increasingly tighter with the approaching vote on the 2007 budget has suddenly evaporated. Olmert finds himself precisely where he wished to be following the elections: in the middle. Between Amir Peretz and Lieberman. In his eyes, this is a classic centrist government.

The polarized opposition, divided between the extremes of right and left, is no longer relevant. Not only can it not threaten Olmert, it can not even tickle him. He will gain legitimacy, at least in the immediate future, from the Russian community that supports Lieberman, and another bonus, which may be the central issue: he and Lieberman are condemning Benjamin Netanyahu to the desert called the opposition, a leader of a minor party of 12 MKs. What a wonderful war this has been!

Lieberman, who lost interest in the opposition, is racing into the government without passing Go. He knows that his proposal for a change to a presidential system of governance will not be approved by the Knesset, and that the civil union bill will go nowhere without Shas' support, but he is dying to be in the center of decision-making.

True, only a month ago he said that the current government was a goner, that it would not last beyond January, and he vowed he would not join it. But he did not promise to keep his promise. He will block Iranian missiles with his body, Peretz says about Lieberman with scorn. Last night Lieberman gathered the Yisrael Beitenu MKs, and "consulted" with his comrades, and at the end of the "deliberations," he announced that the decision was made: talks to join the coalition. If there are no changes to the basic understandings with Olmert, Lieberman is joining the government.

In practice he will be a minister without portfolio, but very quickly, he may become one of the ministers of the inner circle, among the most influential because he has the prime minister's ear. The chances that infighting will take place in the government will increase, but who's worried about that now?

What else could mess up this picture? The Labor Party. Without Labor, Olmert is stuck with a minority government of 59 MKs. But it seems that Labor has lost the wind in its sails. In the Lieberman affair, it has moved slowly, mechanically, like a zombie. If Peretz really wanted to make life difficult for Olmert, he would have called up the Labor Central Committee last week and put Olmert before an ultimatum: us or Lieberman. But to do so after the deal is done is a lot more complicated, and it is not clear whether he has the power inside his own party to make the opposition to Lieberman stick.