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Olmert turns back votes of no confidence

Israel's prime minister survived three of the Knesset votes with ease. Still, more tests loom.

JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert passed a parliamentary test with surprising ease yesterday, defeating three parliamentary motions of no confidence by wide margins.

Under Israeli law, an absolute majority of 61 of the Knesset's 120 members is needed to adopt a motion forcing the government to resign. But each of the motions drew only 28 yes votes, while the vote against ranged from 60 to 62, with six to nine members abstaining.

Olmert has been under increasing criticism over last summer's costly, bloody and inconclusive war in Lebanon. Last week, an official government commission issued a scathing report on the war, heaping blame on Olmert for failures in his decision-making.

The report led to a chorus of calls for his resignation and a demonstration by more than 100,000 Israelis in Tel Aviv backing that demand, but Olmert said he was determined to stay on and correct the faults listed by the commission.

Despite the political turmoil, Olmert's ruling coalition holds a solid majority in parliament and appears safe for now. However, more tests loom.

At the end of May, the prime minister's main partner in the governing coalition, the Labor Party, has a primary election in which Defense Minister Amir Peretz is likely to be replaced as party leader.

Peretz also drew strong criticism from the war commission, and several of the candidates opposing him in the Labor ballot have indicated they would pull the party out of Olmert's government, leaving him without a majority in parliament.

Then in August, the government commission is scheduled to file its final report on the war, and analysts believe that if it is as harsh as the first one, Olmert may have no choice but to step down.

For now, Olmert's government does not appear in danger. With the beginning of the spring session, no-confidence motions are expected almost weekly, but Olmert's team appears sure of rebuffing them.

A mini-revolt by a few Labor legislators yesterday failed to have much impact after several party members stayed away or abstained, and the gesture did not significantly change the outcome.

Previous Israeli governments have been repeatedly embarrassed by losing no-confidence votes, but remained in power without a parliament majority. Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government lost many such votes, but stayed in office until Sharon was felled by a stroke early in 2006.