A damaging and superfluous trip
Olmert's visit to the AIPAC conference will be an embarrassing spectacle that will last several days and add to Israel's disgrace.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is scheduled to leave tonight for Washington on a trip that just might be his farewell visit as prime minister to the American capital. The stated reason for the trip is an invitation to address participants at the annual conference of the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC. As is its practice, the AIPAC conference is planned to showcase Israel and its supporters from across the American political spectrum. This year, the speakers include U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, congressional leaders from both big parties and the next president - John McCain, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton - all three of whom will honor Israel's supporters and receive their applause.
Olmert also has other events scheduled, but wherever he goes, he will be shadowed by the cloud of suspicions of public and criminal corruption that hovers above him. The media will recall details from the testimony of fund-raiser Morris Talansky, senior U.S. officials will be asked for their opinion, and every element of the trip, from the flight to the hotel rooms, will be scrupulously reviewed, a blunt reference to Olmert's extravagance at the expense of Talansky, Jewish organizations or the State of Israel.
It will be an embarrassing spectacle that will last several days and add to Israel's disgrace. As if it weren't enough that its prime minister is suspected of serious offenses, Israel insists on exposing him to the cameras of the entire world.
This is especially true of the White House, where Olmert will meet with President George W. Bush. Olmert's associates have been hinting that fateful issues - a code name for the Iranian nuclear program - will be discussed at this meeting. It is possible that the two will discuss this issue again, but it is hard to believe that there have been any dramatic changes since their previous meeting in Jerusalem just a few weeks ago. After all, if it weren't for the AIPAC conference, Olmert would not be going to Washington and meeting again with Bush.
Olmert is trying to create the appearance of a statesman engrossed in official matters, but the result is infuriating. He has lost what was left of the public trust necessary to advance policy, even when the policy itself is acceptable to many people in Israel. He is postponing the end, and in so doing is sentencing Israel to too long a period of government paralysis and personal and partisan wrestling. Signs of this are evident in the disruptions to the government's functioning, as well as in the security sphere.
By refusing to resign, or at the very least declare himself incapacitated for the coming months, Olmert is sentencing his government to a slow death, instead of granting it the grace of departing in one fell swoop. If it is important to him how he goes down in Israeli history, he must also consider what this last chapter will look like.
It's still not too late to cancel Olmert's superfluous and damaging trip to Washington, which is reminiscent of a similar trip by president Richard Nixon to Israel (and Egypt) in the summer of 1974, a few weeks before he was forced to resign in disgrace. The commitment to appear at the AIPAC conference can be kept by videoconferencing, and the meeting with Bush should be left for the next prime minister, who will be able to make decisions that Olmert is currently incapable of making.