An Israeli acquaintance was called last week by someone in a friendly Western embassy, a country that even operated its army in western Iraq last year to foil the missile launchers that weren't there. The caller was asking for some insight, not into matters of foreign or defense matters, but rather about Ariel Sharon's legal status, how deep the problem is and the rhythm of the process that might replace him.
That process could be called the "Amsterdam Process." Not Oslo, not Geneva, but what will take place in the Tel Aviv District Court before a three-judge panel headed by Judge Yehudit Amsterdam, with Judges Dan Be'eri and Mordechai Peled at her side; a panel considered by experts in the field to be one of the best in the legal field in the country.
Amsterdam and her colleagues are considering charges against businessman and political wheeler-dealer David Appel. This week, the prosecution was to widen the original charge sheet to include the "Greek island" affair, in which Appel is suspected of bribing senior officials, including Sharon and his deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert. It will be a thunderclap on a stormy day: Sharon and Olmert are serial escapers from legal affairs. In the 1980s, then attorney general Yosef Harish ignored the link Sharon created for himself between receiving help from his friend Meshulam Riklis and the financing of Sharon's libel suit against TIME Magazine, and Sharon's help for Riklis' business enterprises in Israel.
In the 1990s, then attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein issued a meaningless reprimand of Sharon and closed the books on suspicions regarding mutual benefits Sharon derived with Vladimir Gusinsky and Yanosh Ben-Gal, while District Court Judge Oded Modrik acquitted Olmert in the matter of the Likud's invoices. The Bach Committee would later find Modrik unworthy of being attorney general.
Without Modrik, after Rubinstein, Sharon and Olmert's luck is running out. Seemingly, they won't have to change any routines as long as they aren't accused of crimes of moral turpitude - after all, they've already spent two years as suspects in a police investigation. Anything below the threshold of the Aryeh Deri precedent would seem to allow them to remain in their jobs.
But in practical terms, the minute the indictments name them, the government would cease to function. Sharon and Olmert would be in the same position as Golda Meir in the weeks between the publication of the Agranat Report (which twisted itself to clear her and blame the army and intelligence for the war) and her resignation. The political blood will be in the water and if he is foolhardy enough to try to help them, their friend Justice Minister Yosef Lapid will also fall.
Buckets of hypocrisy will be poured into the public arena. People who believe that Sharon's collapse is essential and justified will step up to the microphones to say that they wish for themselves and the state of Israel that the prime minister is cleared of all suspicion, that no charges are pressed against him for receiving bribes and that if he is indicted, that he will be acquitted.
Those clamoring for the crown in the Likud who lately have been busily analyzing the Basic Law for dealing with a prime minister's resignation, are practicing a new tune, meant to rebuff claims by Sharon supporters that forcing him to resign would cause an irreversible injustice: they are certain Sharon will come out as pure as the driven snow, and thus regard the premiership as a returnable deposit, which they will be happy to give back to him at the end of the road, like Moshe Sharett did to David Ben-Gurion. It will be a singing telegram attached to a letter bomb.
From Benjamin Netanyahu and Silvan Shalom and from Austria to Australia, the reality is emerging from the verbal smog. When the prosecution crosses Weizmann Street in Tel Aviv, from its offices to the courthouse and accuses Appel of bribing Sharon, the transitional government begins.
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