olmert serious 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Sources close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert lashed out at the Labor faction on Monday for deciding to allow its MKs to absent themselves from no-confidence motions and for continuing with threats to leave the coalition to protest Olmert's handing of the Second Lebanon War.
If Labor were to leave the government, Olmert would be left with a minority coalition of 59 MKs. Negotiations have been continuing with Degel Hatorah MKs Avraham Ravitz and Moshe Gafni as an insurance policy in case Labor would leave.
Olmert sent positive messages to Degel Hatorah, which together with Agudath Yisrael forms United Torah Judaism, by ensuring the passage of the haredi education bill in the Knesset on Monday and in the cabinet on Sunday. He also had Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann fight Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to prevent the removal of Degel Hatorah-affiliated rabbinical court judges.
"Everything is connected," a source close to Olmert involved in the negotiations with Degel Hatorah said. "Things with Degel Hatorah are progressing but we are not ready to sign anything yet."
Asked whether talks with Degel had been expedited due to Labor's behavior, the source said, "We act before the headlines, not after."
Although none of the no-confidence motions came close to passing, an MK close to Olmert threatened sanctions against rebellious Labor MKs, saying, "It can't go on like this."
Olmert made a point of presenting the Kadima faction with the government's plans on socioeconomic issues for the next six months on Monday, the same day the Hebrew press highlighted statements from Labor Secretary-General Eitan Cabel threatening that former prime minister Ehud Barak would not join Olmert's government if he won the May 28 Labor primary.
Barak vigorously denied the reports in conversations with Labor ministers on Monday morning, assuring them that he had made no decision about whether to enter an Olmert-led government. Construction and Housing Minister Isaac Herzog said Barak told him he had not made such threats and that the headlines were exaggerations.
One of the Labor ministers said Barak told him he had Cabel leak the threat to the press to enable him to distance himself from Olmert in the minds of the party's voters. The minister said that if Barak won the chairmanship race, he could decide to play for time before deciding whether to enter the government, and wait for the Winograd Committee's final report to force Olmert to step down. Cabel said he stood by his statements.
Cabel decided to postpone Sunday's Labor central committee meeting from Sunday to next Thursday and it is still possible that the meeting will be canceled. While the official reason for the delay was next Tuesday's Histadrut Labor Federation election, Labor officials speculated that it was intended to allow Barak to prolong his strategy of not making any public statements.
Labor ministers lashed out at Cabel for pushing for the party to leave the coalition if Olmert is not replaced. Education Minister Yuli Tamir said attempts by one party to dictate to another who its leader should be were "unprecedented, dangerous and tantamount to political anarchy."
National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer warned that if Labor left the government, Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu would become prime minister and Labor would be destroyed. Herzog said Shas and Degel Hatorah MKs were eying his portfolio.
Labor faction chairman Yoram Marciano said leaving the government would be "another suicide in a long string of suicides for the party."
MK Ami Ayalon, who is running against Barak for the Labor leadership, told his supporters on Monday that every candidate would have to clarify his opinion on Olmert and the Winograd Report ahead of the primary in his own words and not via associates or supporters.
"A man who wants to lead the party and the country cannot get away with refraining from telling the public his opinion on such an important issue," Ayalon said.