The question of the coming months is not who will replace Olmert, but what will replace him. Netanyahu or Barak, Dichter or Livni, Ayalon or Ya'alon. The question is what kind of political culture will replace the substandard political culture represented by Olmert.
Journalistic ethics are often frustrating. Particularly in this case: During the last election campaign, a very senior member of Kadima was asked whether Ehud Olmert was a worthy candidate for prime minister. Ehud? said the man, making a face, Ehud is a speculator. A profiteer. A real estate profiteer.
Were it not for the restrictions of journalistic ethics, the news about this senior official's opinion of Kadima's candidate for prime minister would have made waves. However, Israel is Israel. The journalist was unable to publish, whereas the official did not blink: He positioned himself alongside the real estate speculator and did everything in his power to ensure that the speculator would become the prime minister. Friendship conquers all. A special interest is a special interest is a special interest.
Olmert himself is no longer important; he is drowning, and he knows it. In spite of all the efforts to hide the truth about the war, it will not be possible to sweep it under the rug. It will not be possible to whitewash the recurrent pattern of fiasco after fiasco. And meanwhile, one scandal follows another, one house follows another; quite a few skeletons that were crowded into quite a few closets over the course of a long career of hedonism are suddenly knocking on the door. Like American president Richard Nixon in the spring of 1974, Olmert is still juggling, still twitching, but the net that he himself wove on his way to the top is gradually closing in on him. His time is limited. The game will end soon.
In the history of Israel, there has never been a worse prime minister. Hollow, hasty, irresponsible. Within a very short time, a record time, he established a party of spineless people and formed a government of the untalented. He pulled out the convergence plan, and then changed his mind. He pulled out a war, and failed to win it. But what has been particularly grievous about Olmert's time-limited, profiteering government is his willingness to run a country with negligent recklessness. His willingness to use the fate of a nation with cynical arrogance and conduct a shameless regime of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."
Journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein cleansed America of Richard Nixon's deceit. In this sense, Olmert is lucky: He is continuing, without interference, to do what he does so well - capital gains deals and shady business deals, deals with donors and deals with interested parties. The deals of a public figure whose most prominent achievements during his public life are registered in the Tabu (the Israeli land registry) and the real estate agencies.
Olmert's twilight days are being prolonged somewhat by the public's fatigue and the obtuseness of petty politics. But the incumbent prime minister no longer arouses respect in anyone. He has lost the little moral authority that he had upon his election. And without moral authority, he will not be able to prepare Israel for the challenges awaiting it. Without moral authority, he will also not be able to rule. He is destined to fall.
So the problem now is not the man, but the phenomenon. Because this cynical man represents the extreme expression of a profound cultural affliction: the relinquishment of ideas, principles, basic beliefs, worldviews and an overall grasp of reality. It is sophistication without conscience and without a compass, which leads to a predictable failure.
That is why the question of the coming months is not who will replace Olmert, but what will replace him. Benjamin Netanyahu or Ehud Barak, Avi Dichter or Tzipi Livni, Ami Ayalon or Moshe Ya'alon - the question is not one of personalities. The question is what kind of political culture will replace the substandard political culture represented by Olmert. And whether we are still capable of rising up against the politicians who speculate with the public's trust and replacing them with statesmen who serve us. Whether we will find the strength to clean out the filthy stables and to begin Israel anew.