Prime minister's political destiny to be decided today

Kadima expected to hold talks with Labor, Shas until the last minute to persuade party leaders to block members from voting for dissolving the Knesset.

The fate of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's premiership and of his government could be decided Wednesday in what is expected to be a day of political drama at the Knesset. Negotiations with Labor and Shas will continue until the last minute in an effort to persuade the parties' leaders to change their minds and prevent their lawmakers from voting for the preliminary reading of Likud MK Silvan Shalom's bill to dissolve the Knesset. But as of press time Tuesday night, none of those efforts had borne fruit, but Kadima officials expressed optimism that a deal would be reached with Labor and the vote on the bill would be postponed. "I think this government is history," Shalom said. "A huge majority of MKs believe that the time has come for an election and will vote for my bill." Barring unforeseen changes, the bill will pass by a vote of 69 MKs in favor, 37 against and 11 abstentions. Three Labor MKs do not intend to vote: Education Minister Yuli Tamir, Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle and MK Nadia Hilou. All the MKs from Likud, Shas, Israel Beiteinu and the National Union-National Religious Party will vote in favor, as will 14 Labor and five United Torah Judaism MKs and, most likely, Kadima MK Ze'ev Elkin. The MKs who will vote against the bill include 27 from Kadima, seven from the two pensioners parties, Labor MKs Amir Peretz and Yoram Marciano and UTJ MK Avraham Ravitz. The 10 Arab party legislators and Kadima's Marina Solodkin will abstain. If the Labor MKs carry out their threat and vote for the bill, Olmert will fire Labor's ministers. Such a move could lead to the government falling in a no-confidence vote, which could result in either an election that would most likely take place on October 28, or perhaps a new government that could finish out Olmert's term, which officially ends in November 2010. Olmert's spokesman Ya'acov Galanti denied a Ynet report that quoted sources in the Prime Minister's Office as saying that Olmert was considering handing in his resignation to President Shimon Peres if the bill passed its preliminary reading on Wednesday. "The prime minister is not considering quitting and certainly has not made such a decision," Galanti said. Several mediators tried to bridge the gaps between Olmert and Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak on Tuesday. Rishon Lezion Mayor Meir Nitzan met with Barak and offered to have the Kadima faction meet Wednesday morning to advance the process of setting a September date for a Kadima primary to replace Olmert. Nitzan, who chairs the Kadima council, told Barak that the council would not meet to finalize the date until Olmert was given a chance to prove his innocence in the Morris Talansky corruption case via the July 17 cross-examination of the Long Island, New York, financier. Barak responded that the council would have to meet already next week to satisfy him. In such a scenario Barak would persuade Shalom to delay the vote on the bill by a week until after the Kadima council convenes. "I still have hope that a truce will be reached between the Ehuds to prevent a [general] election," Nitzan said. "I told Barak how important it is for the government to continue because of the current security and economic situations. We need to let this country live in quiet. We have enough problems outside." Barak's associates said the only way an election would be prevented was if Olmert allowed his party to set a date for a primary. "The ball is in Kadima's court," a Barak associate said. "There is a lot of pressure on Olmert. But anything can happen in the final hours, and I cannot say there is no chance a deal will be reached." Shas officials sounded more skeptical that a deal would be reached in the dispute with Olmert on their demand for a raise in child welfare allowances. Negotiations continued with Shas on Tuesday, but no significant progress was made.