JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel's Labour party on Monday decided to support a motion to dissolve parliament this week, in a move that could bring down embattled Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's government, officials said.
Fifteen of the dovish party's 19 MPs voted in favour of Labour chairman Defence Minister Ehud Barak's decision to support the opposition's dissolution bill on Wednesday, a senior party official told AFP.
Barak earlier this month threatened to quit Olmert's coalition government if the prime minister did not resign over suspicions he had illegally accepted cash from a US businessman.
Labour is Olmert's key partner in government and without its support the prime minister's fragile coalition would not have the required 61 seats for a majority in the 120-member parliament.
Olmert on Sunday warned that any Labour minister who voted in favour of dissolution "would be out of office within 48 hours," a Labour official said.
But Labour's secretary general, MP Eitan Cabel, said that Labour ministers were ready to lose their jobs and head for early elections.
"The Labour faction decided with a majority of 15 MPs to support the preliminary bill to dissolve parliament and call new elections," Cabel told AFP.
"If the prime minister fires the Labour ministers this may very well lead to elections. We took that into account before the vote," he said.
"Ehud Barak said that Olmert has to leave immediately. We support government stability, but this stability now depends on Olmert."
On Wednesday, the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, will hold a preliminary vote on the dissolution bill, which would need to pass two more votes at a later stage to take effect.
Labour has also threatened to vote in favour of a no-confidence vote against Olmert's government next Monday, in another move that underscores the high likelihood of early elections.
Cabel, a close ally of Barak who has long called for Labour to quit Olmert's government, said that all party members would be asked to vote in line with Monday's decision.
Members of Olmert's centrist Kadima party blasted Labour's vote and expressed doubts the dissolution motion would pass.
"Labour party is not thinking about the national interests or the country's economic and security needs but only about its internal interests," Kadima MP and close Olmert ally Othniel Schneller told AFP.
"This decision harms both the country and Labour party because it has no operative implication. I don't foresee early elections even if the vote passes on Wednesday," he said.
But another partner in Olmert's coalition, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, was also poised to vote in favour of Wednesday's bill.
US financier Morris Talansky testified before a Jerusalem court last month that he had given Olmert envelopes stuffed with vast amounts of cash.
Olmert denied any wrongdoing but acknowledged receiving campaign donations from Talansky.
The embattled prime minister has agreed to hold a party primary vote but has asked party members to wait for Talansky's cross-examination by his lawyers next month.
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