(photo credit: )
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's announcement on Wednesday night that only parties that agreed to his plan of further pullbacks in the West Bank would be allowed into his future coalition is a strong indication that Kadima's strategists have decided that the Likud is finished.
Such a bold step to the Left, five days before the elections, could never have been made if they weren't certain that the risk of losing voters back to Olmert's former party was minimal. All the polls point to the same conclusion: No matter the size of Kadima's decline from the heights in the polls a month and a half ago, there will be no corresponding rise in Likud's fortunes.
If the trend holds at 14-15 MKs, Likud will have its poorest showing since the 1955 elections, when its forebear, Menahem Begin's Herut, received only 15 seats in the third Knesset.
Binyamin Netanyahu has remained with the core, diehard right-wing Likud voter base, and Olmert is looking elsewhere for the voters he thought were in the bag. He's gunning for Labor, which seems to be having a last-minute revival after three months in the doldrums, and Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu, the dark horse of these elections.
Both parties seem to be gaining at Kadima's expense and Olmert's coalition condition is aimed at these voters. The overriding strategy is based on polls that show 60 percent of the population in favor of more pullbacks, and the feeling that many voters are more interested in a strong and stable government than retaining all the settlements.
Olmert is trying to persuade left-leaning voters, who are beginning to warm to Amir Peretz, that if Kadima is not large enough, he won't be able to push his plan through.
But the more direct message is to the Russian voters. The majority of them were planning to vote for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whatever party he was in. Lieberman lost no time in substituting himself as the strongman of Israeli politics and Olmert is launching a last-ditch attempt to bring Russian voters back into the Kadima fold.
The immigrant community isn't voting for Lieberman for ideological reasons; rather, they want someone powerful enough to fight for their specific interests in the next government. Lieberman as leader of an opposition party is worthless to them.
Olmert was aiming right at these voters when he tried to sow the seed of doubt as to Israel Beiteinu's participation in his next government. He's also trying to bolster his tough-guy image by saying that in his coalition there will be no "rebels." Or in other words, he'll be even meaner than Sharon, who suffered three years of rebellion.
Whatever the party leaders are saying now about whom they're prepared to sit with around the cabinet table, it's strictly for before-elections consumption. After the sell-by date (this Tuesday), Olmert will have to make do with some uncomfortable bedfellows.
The ultra-Orthodox parties are as good as in already. Likud, at least while led by Netanyahu, is out of the picture. And Either Peretz or Lieberman will be Olmert's senior partner - and for the next four days, he'll do everything in Kadima's power to push down their price.
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