Analysis: Olmert gets his political breathing space

They said Olmert never doubted that the Knesset dissolution vote would be canceled or that someone would surrender.

olmert knesset 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert knesset 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
This newspaper ran a story the day after the May 28 testimony of American financier Morris Talansky in which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's associates predicted that a court decision to delay Talansky's cross-examination until July 17 would "give the prime minister much-needed political breathing space." That prediction was proven wrong within hours as Labor Chairman Ehud Barak used the Talansky testimony as an excuse to flex his political muscles and begin an effort to remove Olmert from office. Olmert engaged in a monthlong battle for survival, with the result being that he this week ensured he would remain prime minister until at least September and that a new prime minister from Kadima could allow the current Knesset to complete its term in November 2010. A Kadima MK close to Olmert said backbench opposition MKs privately expressed relief that the bill to dissolve the Knesset, that had been set for a preliminary vote on Wednesday, was delayed indefinitely. They thanked him for allowing them to keep their jobs. Therein lies the secret of the government's stability. Never have there been so many MKs who knew they would not return to the next Knesset. Dozens of lawmakers from Kadima, the Gil Pensioners Party and Labor are desperate to avoid retiring. The fact that Likud, which stands most to gain from an election, has only 12 seats and that Kadima as a centrist party splits the opposition, also makes it hard to topple the government no matter how unpopular it is. Olmert flabbergasted Likud MKs when he said from the Knesset podium on Wednesday that he would be a candidate in September's Kadima primary. In closed conversations afterward, he insisted that he did not make the comment merely to avoid looking like a lame duck. Olmert said he still believed he could once again rehabilitate his reputation enough to win the Kadima primary against all odds. He was further encouraged by a Dahaf Institute poll published Thursday that found that if the suspicions against him were found to be less grave than previously thought, he would win the Kadima race. While that seems farfetched now, his associates said that earlier in the week, people thought he would be out of office by this weekend. They said Olmert never doubted that the Knesset dissolution vote would be canceled or that someone would surrender, and it would not be him. That came true when Barak summoned Kadima MK Tzahi Hanegbi to his home and started negotiating the deal that saved Olmert's premiership. So a month later Olmert's associates were proven right. He apparently finally has obtained the "political breathing space" that his associates predicted he would win all along.