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Ehud Olmert Decides To Pack It Up! Print E-mail

By Jay Bushinsky 
August 4, 2008

JERISALEM -- If Ehud Olmert were in the same frame of mind as President Nixon when he chose to resign rather than risk of impeachment because of the Watergate break-in he too would have told the journalists he blamed for doing him in that they won't have him "to kick around any more."

But unlike the discredited American chief executive, Israel's beleaguered, but undaunted, prime minister is not about to pack up, raise his hands in an awkward salute and go home.  Olmert may hang on to the Jewish state's most powerful political office for another few months if not even longer.

He promised the public that he would resign if a criminal indictment is issued against him.  That could happen at the end of this month, when the police complete their current round of investigation and interrogation with regard to his allegedly illegal financial activities, but even then he is not obligated to do so and can choose the time and circumstances that suit him best.

Nor will Olmert give up the premiership in deference to the winner of his middle-of-the-road Qadima party's primary election Sept. 17.  He already has promised the party's choice form a new cabinet and maintains the coalition of allied parties necessary to keep it in office.

This historically-tortuous process could extend until mid-October or into November, not only because of the backroom deals that will have to be made, but also because of the intervening High Holy Days -- Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur -- and the subsequent week-long Feast of Tabernacles.

If the coalition falls apart because one of more of its components is dissatisfied with the number or level of ministerial portfolios offered by the Qadima party's would-be successor, the Knesset (Israel's Parliament) will have to vote on a resolution calling for a national election, a month or two at least will have to be allocated for the political campaigning and the winning party's leader will have to organize a new government.  These activities could last until early 2009 and throughout, the head of Israel's caretaker government would be none other than incumbent Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

At this stage, the two frontrunners in the Qadima primary are Foreign Minister Zippy Livni and Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz.  Neither of them may have the cunning, savoir-faire and finesse to convince the prospective coalition partners to join the next government.

Zippy Livni has been promoting herself as what cynical Israeli journalists call, "Mrs. Clean," a takeoff on her main battle cry to wit corruption must be rooted out and be replaced by clean government.  However, her resort to a campaign brains trust composed of her shadowy husband, Naftali Spitzer, a former Likud party operative, and Eyal Arad, a onetime Likud public relations adviser, among others, suggests that the requisite wheeling and dealing will have to done even it is unsavory to a purported puritan like its possible beneficiary. 

By the way, until the current crisis over Olmert's suspected scams and double or triple billing of overseas flight expenses, few Israelis knew anything about the willowy foreign minister's private life, including her husband's identity and background.

Shaul Mofaz already is ahead in mobilizing electoral support among the party's stalwarts.  Public opinion polls have given him an edge over Livni for that reason, but concede that Livni would draw more votes in a general election.  A former military chief staff who switched from the Likud to Qadima after declaring that he would not abandon its charismatic leader, ex-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mofaz is a hardliner on the crucial issue of peace with the Palestinians, so much so that the Fatah and Hamas leadership in the West Bank and Gaza Strip cringe at the thought that he may take over from Olmert.

Netanyahu outpolls Livni, Mofaz and all other aspirants to the Israeli premiership, but he is handicapped by hostility in the local mass media.  The majority of newspaper columnists and TV commentators are against him.  One reason is their advocacy of territorial concessions as the price of peace.  Netanyahu believes that territorial concessions are inherently inimical to Israel's security and that recent experience -- the unilateral withdrawals from Southern Lebanon in 2000 and from the Gaza Strip in 2005 -- prove his point.  Hence, the nasty slogan, "Just Not Bibi!"  Bibi is Netanyahu's childhood nickname and the implication is that any politician and any political combination are preferable to another Netanyahu stint as prime minister.

Capping all of these devious scenarios is the fact that Olmert has not decided to quit politics and reactivate his law practice.  Indeed, he kept his name out of the Qadima primary (probably because his popularity is at rock bottom in the party and in the public as a whole), but he is holding on to his status as a member of the Knesset and has been prompting his coterie of journalistic sycophants, among them Amnon Dankner, a former editor of Maariv, and Yitzhak Livni (no relation to Zippy), a radio broadcaster, to comment wryly, "You will pine for him," i.e. Olmert, when he finally does call it quits.


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