Stormy new Knesset session expected

Sharon may not muster necessary support for budget, ministerial appointments.

The Knesset is set to begin a stormy winter session on Monday, as votes over the budget and three ministerial appointments loom with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seemingly unable to muster the necessary support. Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said Sharon would ask President Moshe Katsav for early elections if he lost the votes. The Knesset will also vote on four separate no-confidence measures, none of which is expected to pass. "Let's be realistic now, no government has gone the full four years since who knows how long," Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said Sunday. "Did we think we'd be able to do it?" He added that the government's most pressing task was to approve the 2006 state budget. While the budget is scheduled to be presented on Monday, the Knesset's first reading will not take place until the second half of November. The session will offically convene with a policy statement from Sharon. TheKnesset will then vote on his statement. A spokesman for the Knesset Finance Committee said the Finance Ministry believed it would not be able to attain a Knesset majority at present, without conceding changes valued at NIS 2 billion. Part of those changes include a new poverty plan proposed by Labor's Vice Premier Shimon Peres and Housing Minister Isaac Herzog. Sharon endorsed the poverty plan Sunday following a meeting with Peres and Acting Finance Minister Ehud Olmert. The cabinet on Sunday approved the appointment of Olmert as finance minister, Roni Bar-On as industry trade and labor minister, and Ze'ev Boim as immigrant absorption minister and minister responsible for coordination between the government and the Knesset. The Knesset votes on those appointments Monday. In a gamble to push through the vote, Sharon submitted the three positions together, rather then separating them in three different votes. As of Monday, it was unclear whether or not that gamble would pay off. Rivlin rejected a proposal to force each of the votes to be conducted separately. "I don't intend make an issue of this and confront Sharon on the first day of the winter session," he said, adding that he would vote in favor of the appointments. Other MKs, however, have already voiced opposition to the appointments, most notably MK Binyamin Netanyahu. While on paper Sharon's coalition has 64 votes, if six Likud MKs vote against the appointments, that majority would be in doubt. In addition to Netanyahu, Likud MKs Uzi Landau, Michael Ratzon, David Levy, Naomi Blumenthal, Yuli Edelstein and Ayoub Kara appeared likely to vote against the appointments. Olmert's temporary appointment ends November 9. If an appointment to that position is not made by then, the responsibilities of finance minister fall to Sharon. Also on Sunday, National Union MK Yitzhak Levy announced that he would propose a bill to disperse the Knesset on Wednesday. Levy said the rift in the ruling party was preventing the government from functioning and the Knesset must be dispersed to "end the anarchy." Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.