Before the summer recess began, Knesset Chairman Reuven Rivlin announced that if he received 61 signatures of MKs in favor of a no-confidence motion he would convene a mid-recess plenum to hold a no-confidence vote. He also said he would convene the plenum if he received 61 signatures calling for early elections.
After the Disengagement had already turned into a done deed and not a single Jewish settler remained in the Gaza Strip or Northern Samaria, Shinui Chairman Tomi Lapid said that when the Winter Session begins after the holidays he would act to advance the elections, adding that Shinui had provided Sharon support in order to implement the Disengagement Plan but now Shinui no longer has any reason to back the government.
Lapid claimed for the same reason the Labor Party no longer has anything to gain from the Sharon government and therefore it should resign and join his initiative to hold early elections.
A number of Laborites agree. Party Secretary Eitan Cabel says Labor should work to advance elections to provide the public with an alternative together with the other left-wing parties. And at a party meeting on Sunday Peres declared, "Our period of cooperation with the Likud has come to an end." Peres does not intend to leave the government, but he wants to be more assertive of Labor's priorities.
The Likud Rebels are also speaking of early elections to oust Sharon. One of the leading rebels, Ehud Yatom, said that in order to topple Sharon he and his colleagues would vote with Meretz and Labor to advance the elections.
Yachad-Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin announced that his party has ceased supporting Sharon. Also joining the list are the 8 Arab MKs, the 12 MKs from HaIchud HaLeumi and the NRP and 11 from Shas. A quick tally brings the total to 85-90 MKs in favor of early elections — at least so it would seem on paper.
So why hasn't the Knesset Chairman received 61 signatures? Why did the Shinui Chairman announce he would work toward advancing the elections only once the Winter Session begins? Why isn't Labor acting to mobilize its 21 MKs right now? And why hasn't Yossi Beilin presented the signatures of the six Meretz MKs calling on the Knesset Chairman to convene the plenum?
The answer to all of these questions is perfectly clear. According to the law the current Knesset will finish its term in another 15 months in any case. That means 15 months of fat salaries, Knesset cars, aides, office bureaus, communications, honor and outstanding benefits. Nobody is eager to give all this up at the drop of a hat. Early elections are only for situations that leave no other alternative.
Tomi Lapid is very brave when it comes to telling the press that he intends to start working for early elections at the beginning of the Winter Session. He knows that everyone will have forgotten by then and in the meantime these proclamations will have served his purposes. Lapid reads the opinion surveys just like everyone else and he knows that they bode a substantial loss in political power for his party in the coming elections. So why volunteer to hasten the blow Shinui is expected to take? Lapid may be a lot of things, but stupid he's not.
Neither has the Labor Party managed to rise up in the surveys and its MKs would certainly not mind staying in the Knesset safe and sound for another year and a quarter. The same goes for Meretz.
It is often said elections are like cholent: You know exactly what goes into the pot but the results are not known until the lid is taken off shortly before the meal.
Even the Likud Rebels, including their leader Uzi Landau, are all talk and no action when it comes to bringing down the government and holding early elections. They, too, are not very eager to endanger their seats on the Knesset. If they were certain that their names will be included on the new Knesset list they would be working full steam to advance the elections. But because their spots are not guaranteed they prefer to devote their energies to empty threats in order to advance themselves among Likud Center members who decide on the next list.
The Rebels would also prefer to wait a bit to see which way the wind is blowing in the Likud. At present they are bewildered by the surveys, which show an advantage for Sharon one day and for Netanyahu the next. According to predictions, time is on Sharon's side: as the Disengagement dust settles and fades from memory he will be in a better position to recover his support within the Likud.
Given the choice between ideology and a seat on the 17th Knesset, for now MKs are choosing to keep their seats. Until the Winter Session begins in another two months Sharon can rest assured that no serious moves will be made against his government. Afterwards Knesset dynamics will probably turn in favor of advancing the elections even though the MKs would prefer to continue to stay put and let ideology take a back seat.