Just hours before the Knesset was scheduled to vote on a bill to dissolve itself and set in motion early national elections to be held in November, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert struck a deal with Labor Party leader Ehud Barak to ensure the measure would not pass.
As late as yesterday afternoon, Barak had stated that he would instruct his Labor Party, which is Olmert's chief coalition partner and the Knesset's second largest party, to support dissolution bill. But in an intense meeting that lasted past midnight, Olmert managed to change Barak's mind.
As a condition of Barak's loyalty to the current government, Olmert agreed to hold a primary election in his own Kadima Party, but not until September. Olmert is expected to lose that primary vote to either Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni or Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, making one of them Israel's new prime minister until the next national election in 2010.
The deal between Olmert and Barak was harshly criticized, even by members of Barak's own Labor Party, who have for months been demanding Olmert's replacement as the prime minister wades his way through his sixth corruption scandal and as the public's confidence in his leadership hits an all-time low.
From the opposition, National Religious Party Chairman Zevulun Orlev, one of the authors of the dissolution bill, told Israel National News that Barak had "spit on the face of the Israeli public." Barak has since taking the reins of Labor over a year ago promised on numerous occasions to help remove Olmert from power.
In a turbulent Knesset sessions, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu accused Barak and the Labor ministers of being opportunists, and of caring more about keeping their current positions a little longer than about the security and fate of the nation.
In his turn at the Knesset podium, Olmert lashed back claiming that the opposition simply doesn't want peace in the region, and that is why it is determined to bring him down. Olmert insisted that it was he who had restarted meaningful negotiations with the Palestinians and opened talks with the Syrians. Netanyahu and the opposition have never complained about conducting peace talks with any of the Arabs, but rather about Olmert's public willingness to surrender to nearly all of the Arabs' demands in order to obtain peace agreements.