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Israel's Ad Hoc Government

As we reported on Monday, the Palestinian Authority is on the verge of meltdown as Fatah and Hamas escalate verbal and physical attacks on each other. Yet Israel's government is not much more stable, due to a combination of the Lebanon war, coalition politics and corruption allegations. Israel's democratic culture means that any "meltdown" would be political rather than physical, yet the instability has all but paralyzed decision-making, leading to ad hoc decisions on vital security matters where long-term vision is needed.

Both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of the ruling Kadima Party and Defense Minister Amir Peretz of Labor have seen their public support plummet, yet the recent political crisis came about when Olmert decided to bring Avigdor Lieberman's Israel Beiteinu into the coalition. Mainly a Russian party, IB favors removing Arab Israelis from Israel through territorial exchange. The Labor Party appeared likely to leave the government, bringing new elections, but a bitterly contested decision to stay has been approved. Nevertheless, individual Labor members might force Peretz' hand by resigning, or vote him out in a few months and replace him with a leader who would leave the government.

Olmert now seeks to add United Torah Judaism to the coalition. If he succeeds, this will give Olmert 84 seats (61 needed for majority), enough to survive a pullout by Labor, which he probably considers inevitable. If Labor were to then leave, this would mean a much more right-wing government than before, with Kadima joined by two religious parties (Shas and UTJ), a secular nationalist party (IB), and the small Pensioners' Party. That combination might allow Olmert to survive.

Survive politically, that is, but an even greater threat is now on the horizon - Israel's State Prosecutor's Office is recommending that Olmert may have acted criminally in allegedly providing assistance to two businessmen from whom he was benefiting while serving as acting finance minister last year. The attorney general is considering the recommendation, and if he decides to move forward, there will be a formal state investigation and a decision as to whether Olmert should be indicted. If he is indicted, he will have to resign as prime minister, and new elections will likely (but not necessarily) follow.

Adding to the complexity of the situation, Lieberman himself is the subject of an ongoing seven-year criminal investigation, and now that his party is entering the government, pressure is increasing to bring it to a conclusion one way or the other. It appears that the only affect that the investigation had on the coalition talks was that the attorney general told Olmert that Lieberman should not be given any position related to law enforcement.

While Hamas' government struggles to pay the salaries of civil servants, its terror infrastructure continues to grow, with IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz now saying that they had built at least 100 tunnels from Egypt into the Gaza Strip and were smuggling weapons at a quick pace. The threat from Gaza, as well as from Iran, will not wait for Israel's internal divisions to solidify.