Analysis: Olmert's honey trap

It's time for coalition talks, but all of a sudden they don't seem to interest anyone.

acting PM olmert 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
acting PM olmert 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
It's time for coalition talks, but all of a sudden they don't seem to interest anyone. There's barely a mention of the latest meetings on the news and the general feeling is that it's all basically a done deal. Ehud Olmert's grand coalition encompassing more than two-thirds of the Knesset is as good as in the bag. We can all go off on our Pessah vacations and come back to a new administration. But shouldn't we be surprised at the ease with which Olmert seems to achieving this? Where are all the brave politicians who declared on the eve of the elections that they wouldn't sit in a government that had the "convergence" plan in its guidelines? When was the last time we heard about Amir Peretz's budget demands and the $1,000 minimum wage. It's not that we lack for complaints or grouches. Shimon Peres leaked to the press his dissatisfaction regarding the expected size of the coalition, Avigdor Lieberman's inclusion and the bombardment of Gaza, but he's just reminding us that he exists. He was much too busy squiring Sophia Loren around at Zubin Mehta's 70th birthday party to make a real scandal. UTJ's MK Meir Porush also tried to make some noise on the radio yesterday, threatening that his party will never be part of a government that will unilaterally withdraw from settlements in the West Bank, but he's fooling no one. The decision will be in the hands of the party's rabbis, and most of them, apart from a few inconsequential hassidic leaders, are much more interested in government support for Yeshivas and benefits for large families than solidarity with the settlers. The same goes for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, whose disciples are now searching for a learned explanation that will allow Shas to join the government despite his previous opposition to disengagement. That's why his representative in the coalition talks is David Glass, a former MK who left the National Religious Party over 20 years ago in protest of their right-wing policies and still believes that Shas will join the "peace camp" and provide the majority for the next big withdrawals. Olmert's Kadima might have disappointed at the polls when the party received only 29 Knesset seats, but as long as it's the largest party, Olmert still has one crucial thing going for him - just about everyone wants to be in his coalition. UTJ needs the funding and so does Shas, whose leaders are fed up with three years in opposition. Peretz needs a good coalition deal to fend off attacks within the Labor ranks, while Lieberman didn't leave his lucrative business deals and return to politics just to sit in the opposition. And the Gil Pensioners Party wants to cash in on their one-off election success. Olmert knows just the right button to press for each potential partner - the individualized honey traps are primed. He's planning to pay the exact price for each, not a deputy minister more. His insistence on awarding Lieberman the Internal Security portfolio, for example, despite the opposition within Kadima and Labor, comes because he knows that aside from the coveted position, Lieberman's demands are surprisingly low. Olmert's planning to keep the Finance and Education ministries coveted by Labor, since he knows that he's going to reel them in anyway. The government appointed Olmert as interim prime minister yesterday after Ariel Sharon was declared "permanently unable to exercise his duties," 100 days after his hospitalization. Now Olmert is trying to recreate Sharon's first coalition, from 2001, which included both Labor from the left and Lieberman from the far-right. Olmert is no Sharon but at least in coalition-building, he seems to be carrying it off.