Olmert, the Star of Israel's Own Little 'House of Cards'

Despite his unresolved legal issues, Ehud Olmert continues maneuvering on a level worthy of prime-time drama. He opened a firm this week with the ex-chiefs of the Mossad and the IDF.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is the Israeli Frank Underwood. For anyone who has yet to watch “House of Cards,” he is an aggressive and uninhibited politician, calculated and sophisticated, who paves his way to the top one step at a time, and occasionally looks directly at the viewers and reminds them of the truth of life, including his motto: “Democracy is so overrated.” In the United States the series is only ending its second season - it was adapted from a BBC mini-series - with Underwood banging on the table in the Oval Office and with his future ahead of him.

The Olmert House of Cards is at a far more advanced stage of the story. Ostensibly he is no longer really relevant in politics, and the public’s preoccupation with him is mainly in the criminal-legal sphere. But he doesn’t stop for a moment. His most recent dubious gift to the Jewish people was regular advice to his friend Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the Yesh Atid leader, in advance of his entry into politics.

His present mud fight with Shula Zaken, with the help of a battery of public relations men and the top attorneys who always surround him, is a classic underdog scenario. On television there are no limits, and therefore there you can not only exploit those close to you and abandon them when their work is finished, you can also eliminate them physically when there’s no other choice. In the real world, people make do with ignoring, crushing and trampling others.

Olmert’s steadily escalating tone towards Zaken, who was his faithful confidante, apparently implies serious distress. The same is true of the cynical wailing about “the unacceptable involvement of the media” on the part of someone who is known as a whiz at wooing the press.

The prolongation of the legal procedures in which he is immersed up to his neck caused a public paradox: More than five years after he vacated the Prime Minister’s Office, there has yet to be a proper summary of his Underwood-like career. One reason is the Pavlovian coddling on the part of the left, after Olmert presented himself as being a step away from a historic breakthrough with the Palestinians.

The truth, of course, is less romantic. Olmert grew up on the right and captured city hall in Jerusalem through an alliance with the ultra-Orthodox. During the days of the Oslo Accords he spoke loudly against then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and he reached the premiership from the margins of the Likud slate, riding on the broad back of Ariel Sharon and benefiting from a dramatic chain of events.

Only towards the end of his tenure, when he was about to be ousted and lacked public legitimacy, did Olmert throw the far-reaching document to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Since then, Abbas has repeatedly denied the legend about the dream proposal that met with Palestinian refusal, and explained that when he wanted to discuss the details of the proposal, Olmert turned his back on him and embarked on the murderous pounding of Gaza known as Operation Cast Lead.

That was the second war that the leftist Olmert embarked on during a tenure of two and-a-half years. The first was in Lebanon in 2006, where he preferred to expand an effective aerial strafing into an arrogant and unsuccessful ground operation. The low point was throwing 33 Israeli soldiers to their death in a final and superfluous land battle, under pressure from the media and for propaganda reasons, when a cease-fire mediated by the United Nations was already written and on the table.

We have yet to receive a serious explanation from Olmert about this unforgivable lawlessness, which is far more serious than all his indictments put together. But this week we were informed that he has established a new business with Dan Halutz, the chief of staff in that disgraceful war, and to hell with everyone. The truth is that Frank Underwood could take lessons from Olmert.