- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Emanuel Gross, a legal analyst at the University of Haifa, said Olmert was technically clear to run for office and serve as a lawmaker since the court did not sentence him to jail time or rule that he bears moral turpitude for his actions.

But the later ruling could be appealed in court, he said, and so long as he was entangled in an ongoing trial he was barred from serving as a minister or a prime minister.

“He can head a party,” Gross said. “But if that party wins it’s not certain that he can head the government.”

On Tuesday night, Netanyahu ordered the new parliamentary elections, roughly eight months ahead of schedule.

The immediate reason for the snap elections was the coalition’s inability to pass a 2013 budget by a Dec. 31 deadline. But Netanyahu has long been rumored to be leaning toward elections, given his high standings in opinion polls, the lack of a clear rival and fears the economy could weaken next year.

Analysts say Olmert’s predicament likely weighed heavily in Netanyahu’s decision.

“Don’t pay attention to the media spins, it’s not the budget, it’s not Romney and it isn’t Iran. What is driving Netanyahu to the polling stations at almost hysterical speed is Ehud Olmert,” columnist Ben Caspit wrote in Wednesday’s Maariv daily.

“He knows that the only one who can give him a real fight, as an equal, with an actual chance, is Olmert,” Caspit said. “Netanyahu is a strong prime minister and if he really wanted he could pass a budget. But he doesn’t really want to. What he wants is to pre-empt Olmert’s comeback, catch his opponents off guard and steal a new term before it’s too late.”

Despite the call for early elections, most Israelis believe the next government will have the same make-up as the current one, according to a poll published Wednesday.

A Dahaf survey showed that 64 percent of those polled said the next coalition will have the same composition of parties, while 62 percent said the government’s policies will also remain unchanged.

The poll surveyed 440 Israelis and had a margin of error of 4.7 percentage points.