Verdict shows Olmert was no saint, but trial reflects a desecration of Israeli democracy
ANALYSIS: Olmert was removed from office because of the Talansky case. Today three judges completely cleared him from any wrongdoing in that affair.
One fact is undisputed: Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was removed from office due to the "Envelopes of Cash," affair involving Moshe Talansky. Today he was found not guilty, and completely cleared of any wrongdoing in that case. The Rishon Tours affair, also made public during Olmert's term as prime minister, sealed his political-public coffin. He left his post shamed and humiliated, and was publically tagged as a scoundrel, a liar, a schemer and a thief. Politicians, including from his own party, senior journalists and knowledgeable attorneys, all convicted him with the breath of their words - vainly, often gleefully, and beyond all reasonable doubt.
Today he was acquitted on that charge as well. The effect of all those years, and especially the last few weeks, was visibly present in court today: Olmert was never that thin. His eyes sunk in. He looked like the living dead. Though more alive than dead.
Three judges, unanimously, acquitted him of the charges in the two affairs that led to his resignation. Olmert's conduct in these affairs may be far from perfect, or even praiseworthy in the least, but when one recalls the hysteria at the time, the bold headlines, Talansky's first testimony and the serial leaks from the prosecutor's office, the tale about the fishy witness' intention to escape and Olmert's intention of hunting him down (!) – it still make's one hairs stand on end.
The only possible conclusion is that during these years Israeli democracy was desecrated. Abused.
The fact that Olmert was convicted only of breach of trust in the Investments Center affair should not be cause for celebration or pride on behalf of the former prime minister. The judges did not opt for diplomacy when describing Olmert's conduct in this affair. Still, the decision also declared the offence as a 'procedural impropriety.' Not corruption, per se. And that, too, causes the hindsight pains to swell, and the unanswered question to multiply.
Opposition chairwoman, Shelly Yachimovich, warned today that the State Prosecutor's Office should not be scalped following the verdict. "Damaging the State Prosecutor's Office could have severe repercussions on the process of justice in Israel," Yachimovich said, and rightly so. One should be wary of harming the State Prosecutor's Office. Then again, one should definitely ponder the motives and conduct of one man who dragged a whole country into an unprecedented judicial mire. The Olmert cases are the brainchild and personal project of State Prosecutor Moshe Lador. Talansky was his cherished baby. Today's verdict is a merciless indictment of the judicial judgment of the most senior attorney in the civil service. Lador turned on Olmert with froth running from his lips, hatred in his eyes and a considerable degree of boastfulness and condescension. He seemed – at the time and even more so today – as one guided by emotion rather than logic or judicial serenity. Demanding his immediate resignation should not be interpreted as an effort to harm the State Prosecutor's Office, but rather as a necessary cleansing of the stables. As long as Lador continues, the whole office will remain suspect.
Two central questions were added today to the public debate, won judicial and the other political. The first, deals not only with the state of the Prosecutor's Office, but with the possible implications on the Holyland affair as well. In this case, Olmert is accused of accepting bribes, but one must wonder if these charges stem from the same frame of mind that produced the decisions to indict in the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs. When the first details of the Holyland affair were made public, it was unclear if Olmert would be accused of accepting bribes. He wasn't seen as a central player in the affair. The state witness is soon to be cross-examined: if he implodes in court, especially concerning Olmert's part in the affair, the Prosecutor's Office might be forced to reconsider the accusations against the former prime minister, even before the trial ends. If the state witness stands his ground, Olmert can expect another grueling year of process and testimonies.
The political question is just as intriguing. If Olmert comes out clean, one way or another, from the Holyland case, he will most definitely consider a political comeback, if not in the upcoming elections, then in the next. He was considered a good prime minister who knew how to take important and brave political or military decisions, especially vis-a-vis the Palestinians. He is an efficient and level headed director, who knew how to steer his coalition, while handling Israel's international standing , which enjoyed a relative bloom during his term. He is well liked and appreciated by world leaders.
The Second Lebanon War, which began his term, seems less a debacle as time goes by. One cannot doubt that he learned his lesson from that war. Many actors in the political and military arenas miss his presence.
His former party, Kadima, is currently suffering from a huge vacuum. If Olmert can legally return to the fray, he won't find it too hard to recapture its leadership. Shaul Mofaz won't stand in his way, nor will Tzipi Livni, herself currently searching for a route back to center stage.
When Haim Ramon, Olmert's close friend, began exploring the possibility of new centrist part that would be an alternative to Kadima's sinking prospects, he immediately thought of Olmert as the head of two centrist formations – Yair Lapid's "Yesh Atid", and Ramon's new party. As long as it is Olmert, Lapid won't hesitate to step down and let him lead. Ramon's wild fantasy was that Olmert would be acquitted of most of the charges and could be active as soon as the upcoming elections, in a year. Well, fantasies sometimes do come true. Olmert is already half way back.
Still, before counting one's political chickens, Olmert must still await the punishment in the 'breach of trust,' conviction today, and how the Holyland affair unravels in court. It's highly unlikely that as soon as 2013, Olmert will be able to take on Netanyahu and co. it might be too early. 2017 would be a better bet, but, then again, it might be sooner than we think.