Winter Session of 17th Knesset Opens Today /

When will we have elections? Almost every session at the Knesset begins with a question mark: Will the Knesset dissolve itself and call for early elections? This winter session, which begins today, is no exception. In the past decade, Knesset terms have tended to end after three years instead of four, and diplomatic developments have rocked the political boat.

But the current Knesset was elected only 18 months ago and its members - especially those in the unusually broad coalition - have no desire or interest to call elections quite so early. So one can assume that the Knesset will not dissolve itself in the winter session, which will end in late March.

Diplomatic comeback. After 18 months with no real diplomatic negotiations, such talks are back at the Knesset. This is a form of redemption for many MKs, bored with the dull routine of parliamentary life. Especially for former ministers and generals.

So the winter session will be conducted on two levels. One will concern promoting peace negotiations while fighting for the coalition's survival or demise. The other will concern the Knesset's usual duties and parliamentary work.

Conference light. The two principle events to affect the winter session are the international conference at Annapolis and the vote on the national budget. Does the fact that former coalition chairman Avigdor Yitzhaki (Kadima) decided not to resign and stay in the Knesset mean he believes he can force Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down with or without early elections after the conference?

Yitzhaki says no. "The prospect of having Olmert resign seems unlikely barring external events such as the Winograd Committee or a decision by the State Prosecutor's Office." Indeed, in light of the recent publications about the improbability of the summit leading to an agreement with the Palestinians, one can assume that the coalition's makeup will not change during the winter session.

Shas' price. The outcome of the Annapolis summit will undoubtedly have a big impact on the national budget. If it weren't for the summit, Olmert would have sailed effortlessly past the vote on the national budget with his mega-coalition and substantial budget surplus. But now, parties that find themselves in an awkward position because of the summit can flex their muscles, costing hundreds of millions of shekels, and possibly even billions.

The vote on the budget could be a good chance to put a price tag on the ultra-Orthodox parties' support for the peace negotiations now that the coffers are so full.

Will there be violence? It is a time-honored tradition for commentators to try to predict how turbulent the new sessions will be. Ethics Committee Chairman Chaim Oron (Meretz) says it all depends on the peace negotiations' progress. "It will determine the intensity, temperature and degree of aggression." And of course, how much Oron's committee will have.

Ask the people. The summer session opened with legislation to restrict Arab MKs following the Azmi Bishara affair. This session will begin with bills aimed to limit the government by requiring it to hold a referendum before taking certain controversial steps.

One can expect to see bills aimed to force prime ministers who are under police investigation to declare themselves temporarily incapacitated. It's not a coincidence that these bills will come from right-wing parties. Even if they do pass, these bills will probably apply to the prime minister after Olmert. He too will probably have to contend with a spate of police probes into his actions.

Winograd decreases in value. It remains uncertain whether the Winograd Committee's final report will be submitted during the winter session. MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) says that if the committee hands it in after the winter session - more than 18 months after the war - the committee may as well dissolve itself and forget about the report.

Will there be an indictment? Of course, the session will navigate among the police investigations into Olmert's actions. "Five months is a long time. I expect at least one of the four probes to produce an indictment," says Zevulun Orlev, chairman of the National Religious Party. The question is, how much of that is wishful thinking.