Coalition partners skeptical about its future despite PM's optimism

The Knesset began the summer session on Monday in what many MKs called a "pre-election atmosphere" enhanced by the investigations against Olmert.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised his faction on Monday that the coalition was "ready and experienced enough" to overcome any challenges in the Knesset's summer session, but his own coalition partners sounded less optimistic. The Knesset began the summer session on Monday in what many MKs called a "pre-election atmosphere" enhanced by the investigations against Olmert. Prospective Kadima leadership candidates Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz were seen shaking hands and smiling widely in the Knesset hallways, both acting out of character. Olmert called for unity in both the faction and the coalition. But he was heckled by Kadima MK Marina Solodkin shortly thereafter for not mentioning her hometown of Ashkelon when he listed the communities under fire. Shas chairman Eli Yishai told reporters at his faction meeting that he believed the government's days were numbered. "I said six months ago [at a Shas rally in Tiberias] that we will see elections in November," Yishai said, indicating that he had not changed his prediction. Labor chairman Ehud Barak reiterated statements he made in the past predicting elections either at the end of 2008 or at the start of 2009 in a Labor faction meeting Sunday night at the Kochav Yair home of MK Danny Yatom. Channel 10 reported Monday night that Barak told confidants in closed conversations that he believed Olmert would resign after the most serious charges against him in the investigations were revealed. A source close to Barak predicted that Olmert would not make it through the summer session, which is set to end on July 30. The source predicted that enough expensive private member bills would pass that would force Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On to demand that Olmert initiate an election. The coalition easily survived three no-confidence motions at the Knesset. But coalition MKs acted increasingly independently. Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich called Olmert "a fugitive from the law" for seeking to avoid police questioning. Opposition whip Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) mocked Olmert for lacking enough support to pass even the easiest decision in the Knesset. He noted that Olmert had to withdraw his proposal for the Knesset to approve his nomination of Environment Minister Gideon Ezra to receive the vacant tourism portfolio. Olmert has held the post since January, even though he is limited by law to hold the post for no more than three months. "The leadership of this government is distracted from dealing with the Knesset, because their minds are next door," Sa'ar told the Likud faction, pointing out the window to the Supreme Court.