(photo credit: AP [file])
The sense that realignment is dead in the water appeared to lurk beneath the surface of a number of political discussions this week - but what, if anything, could take its place remains uncertain.
Realignment - the plan to unilaterally withdraw from large swaths of the West Bank, was the unifying principle behind Olmert's coalition of Kadima, Labor, Gil and Shas. Those parties, as well as others outside the coalition, have found themselves on unsure ground, as realignment has become increasingly unpopular.
"It was the issue we could rally around, the flag we could raise, as a unity of sorts," said one Labor minister. "Now nothing is sure. Olmert may kick us [Labor] out of the coalition and opt for someone else on the right wing. Olmert may not even last... and then there are early elections to think of. What will be the issue?"
Even MK Otneil Schneller (Kadima), who played a key role in drafting the realignment plan, said on Thursday night that it "was not relevant to discuss its future at this time."
He too, could not say what should be discussed.
The most obvious issues on the government's plate are the rehabilitation of the North, the withdrawal of the IDF from southern Lebanon, and the return of the kidnapped soldiers - a source in the Prime Minister's Office said. But those issues, acknowledged the source, were all backward-looking, offering no clear agenda for the government to use to inspire a war-weary country.
"The horizon is looking a bit empty at the moment," said the source. "There is a lot of weighing, a lot of consideration of how to move forward."
One issue that might move the government could be dialogue with neighboring Arab nations, such as the Syria talks that Defense Minister Amir Peretz hinted at for next week. Others have pushed for a rehabilitated state budget. Although the Labor Party ran on a socioeconomic agenda (tied to a major transformation of the budget), Peretz's position as defense minister and the cost of the military operation in Lebanon has made the transfer of funds to social programs increasingly unlikely, said Labor MKs.
"Our own agenda has become irrelevant," said one Labor minister. "How can we say, 'Give more money to welfare' when there isn't enough money to give our soldiers proper food?"
However, with the votes on the 2007 budget steadily approaching - intensive deliberations will begin when the Knesset resumes in October - many are asking how the coalition will approach the issue that played a key role in tearing apart the previous Knesset.
Although the parties on the Right have more in common with Kadima on budgetary issues, and say they see the possibility of Olmert turning to them to form a new coalition, they remain hesitant to join such a government.
"Kadima doesn't seem stable, and we are waiting to see if Olmert can emerge from this war with any shred of credibility," said an Israel Beiteinu MK. "We are preparing for all options."
Every party appears to have its own idea of what might bring down the government. While some believe that Olmert's insistence on realignment will lead to instability within his own party - Housing and Construction Minister Meir Sheetrit and MK David Tal spoke against it this very week - some say they are not looking that far ahead.
"We will see if the government can survive an inquiry into this war," said Culture and Science Minister Ophir Paz-Pines. "It has a lot of accounting to do. Once that account is settled we can start asking questions about realignment, or about anything else for that matter."
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