Those who have met with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the past few days say he appears calm and confident. After realizing that he would not be able to pass the budget, Netanyahu decided to move the elections up, and he informed his coalition partners of the decision.
The prime minister senses that he is a shoe-in to win the elections and form the next government, as there is no serious candidate to challenge him. Then he proceeded to check the polls, which were also in his favor. The surveys showed that the rightist bloc is set to win about 68 Knesset seats. In closed conversations Netanyahu did not mention Defense Minister Barak as a future partner.
But the assumption that there is no alternative to Netanyahu is false. There is no place for such an assumption in a democratic country. If Netanyahu was able to serve as prime minister in 1996, after serving as deputy foreign minister and ambassador to the UN, then each and every one of the party leaders in Israel is worthy of running for the premiership. But politics is a game of image; and in this game Netanyahu is the only player on the field, for now.
Shelly Yachimovich and Yair Lapid do not really believe they have a chance to form the next government. Not because they don’t want to, but because they are familiar with the political game, and in this game there are not enough parties that would support their premiership bid.
And this is precisely the reason for the hustle and bustle in the center of the political map, and not only there. Over the past few days Kadima MKs, businessmen, public opinion leaders and regular citizens have been pressuring former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to join the race.
Olmert is still on the fence . The recent years have been rough on him. His wife Aliza and their children are vehemently against the idea of him running again. We have suffered enough, they say. But Olmert has always found it difficult to remain on the sidelines, and the manner in which he was ousted from office gives him yet another incentive to run. Deep down, Olmert wants to make a comeback.
Olmert's aides are urging him to join the race and become "an alternative of hope to the Netanyahu regime." He will make his decision within a few days. His return to the political arena would shake up the elections. Yachimovich and Lapid, who are doing well in the polls, may be hurt by Olmert's return come election day, but they will be able to cooperate with the former PM. The same goes for Eli Yishai, Avigdor Lieberman and Aryeh Deri.
If the last election slogan was "Bibi or Tzipi" (Livni's Kadima party won 28 Knesset seats), these elections may be about "Olmert or Netanyahu." After four years in which the center-left bloc was missing a dominant leader, Olmert can change the situation entirely. Amid the stalemate in the peace talks with the Palestinians, the shaky relations with western countries, the fear of a brutal war with Iran and the sense that there is no hope for a better future - Olmert can present himself as an alternative.
After being acquitted of the key charges that forced him out of office, it is clear that Olmert deserves another chance.