ANALYSIS: Is this where it all ends for Ehud Olmert?
Even Olmert's closest aides, veterans of past affairs and Winograd Committee reports, sound defeated.
When a supporter of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Saturday "That's it, it's over," it was not clear whether he was asking a question or stating a fact. This was a statement repeated in different words over and over during the weekend - by ministers, MKs and political allies. Like everyone else, they were all in the dark, driven by rumors, hints, innuendos, flying through the cellular telephony at tremendous speeds.
Even the more experienced among them, the veterans of past affairs and the two Winograd Committee reports, are sounding defeated. They did not know how to defend themselves against this enormous tidal wave. On the one hand, the law enforcement and the prosecution were leaking that it was a most serious affair that would bring an end to Olmert's tenure as PM; on the other hand, the court is preventing the man under investigation to talk and present his version of the story.
Those on the right who wish for Olmert's fall also found it difficult to come to terms with this upsetting decision. Would an American court prevent president Clinton from responding to the allegations against him in the Lewinsky case? Or president Nixon on Watergate? Olmert had been waiting eagerly for May 2008, a month that would be filled with positive headlines, pomp and ceremony: Independence Day festivities, and then the visit of President George W. Bush, followed by the visits of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and other leaders. Since the Second Lebanon War he did not have it so good. He believed that the worst was behind him: that nothing would come of the probes against him, and that he would make progress in talks with the Palestinians, or would have some surprising result on the Syrian track.
He was already feeling as though "he had emerged from the grave," a source close to him said. And then the skies fell and the earth split open. All over again. This is the fifth investigation in two years. This could be the critical mass that will break even an experienced survivor like Olmert.
The worst-case scenario for Olmert is this: when the gag order is lifted, the details of the case will be revealed, and there will be a public and media outcry that will soon be taken up by the politicians. He will lose his support in Kadima and Ehud Barak will announce that Labor cannot remain in a coalition headed by a man with such terrible stigma. From that point to Olmert's fall or resignation, the path will be short, painful and embarrassing.
In this scenario, questions raised by the first Winograd report will reemerge: Will the deputy prime minister, Tzipi Livni, fill in for Olmert, for the defined period until elections? Will a new government be set up, and by whom? Or will there be no way to avoid elections before the end of 2008?
If we believe the leaks, this is more or less what is expecting us. If we believe a different version, this case is more monetary-political than monetary-personal. We have seen these before, more than once. Meanwhile, the coalition has lost three precious members; the Pensioners seem to have reached the conclusion that their days in the Knesset are numbered, and have decided to jump a sinking ship. Ehud Barak, who may play a crucial role in the future political drama, is silent - except for a curt statement wishing that Olmert's innocence will be proven. Barak intends to keep quiet until the curtain is lifted. From his point of view, until the attorney general speaks, he is not going to promise any action.
Sunday marks two years to the formation of the Olmert government. This is not they way he wished to celebrate this date.