A Kept Politician Cannot Be PM

Citizen Olmert has the right to his innocence before proven guilty. However, Olmert the prime minister lost all legitimacy and all moral authority this week.

It is still not official, but it is very tangible: the envelopes with $3,000 to $7,000, the face-to-face meetings in hotel suites, the transfer from hand to hand in offices. It is still not incriminating, but it is very gloomy: the payment on Shula's request, the loan for a vacation in Italy, the swiping of the credit card at the Ritz-Carlton. It is still not convicting, but it is very embarrassing: upgrading from business to first-class, favors, insisting on cash.

Thus although ostensibly expected, Morris Talansky's initial testimony created a new political and public situation: a situation in which the prime minister is incapable of carrying out his duties for moral reasons.

At the beginning of 2000, when it turned out that president Ezer Weizman had received monthly support from an acquaintance, Weizman had to resign. It was made clear to the president that a public servant supported by businessman Edward Sarousi cannot continue to live in the President's Residence.

That is the case now. A politician who is kept by businessman Talansky cannot continue living in the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem. If Ehud Olmert cannot understand this on his own, then his family, friends and colleagues should make the obvious clear. The prime minister must return without delay to one of the two homes from which he came: the (empty) house on 29 November Street, or the (mortgaged) home on Cremieux Street.

Citizen Olmert is innocent. He has the right to his innocence before proven guilty. However, Olmert the prime minister lost all legitimacy and all moral authority this week. Talansky's testimony may be undermined on cross-examination. Olmert's magicians may pull some rabbit or other out of the defense attorney's hat. However, at this moment, the prime minister has not even bothered to deny the facts.

Olmert admits that he knew Talansky and received money from him for 15 years. He does not explain in detail to the public what he did with the money and where he recorded it, as the law requires. Although the public burden of proof is his, he does not explain to Israel's citizens how the money he received covertly is legitimate. The legal process that began this week will be long, complex and torturous. That is a good thing: Olmert must be given a fair chance to prove his innocence. The private Olmert's privilege must be maintained to use every trick and take advantage of every legal loophole.

However, the public process that intensified this week must end immediately, because this week Olmert moved from being a tainted prime minister to being a paralyzed one. He cannot move forward any peace process, just as he cannot embark on a military operation. He cannot evacuate any settlers, just as he cannot endanger any soldiers in the service of the country. A recipient of envelopes cannot lead a nation. A kept politician cannot serve as prime minister.

In recent years, Olmert has vowed to follow Yitzhak Rabin's path. In the spring of 1977, when the attorney general informed Rabin that he was suspected of breaking the law, Rabin resigned immediately. That was Rabin and that was his way. That is the path Olmert must follow. Only in this way can he restore somewhat the destruction of norms that he has caused here over the past two years. Only thus can he fight properly for his innocence and save something of his honor and the honor of his country.

If Olmert does not do the right thing, the burden will fall to others. Ehud Barak acted appropriately yesterday. He proved that his courage is not only military. However Barak's declaration is not enough. Now he must cooperate with Tzipi Livni to establish a proper government.

Livni, for her part, cannot remain passively decent. In the wake of Talansky's testimony, she must make her integrity active. At this hour of fundamental significance, cooperation between Livni and Barak is essential. These are very bad times. Olmert will fade, but he might leave behind a country with damaged values and norms. A state in which the space between the criminal and the legitimate will become blurred. A state in which almost all means are justified because almost all personal ends are sanctified. This is, therefore, a critical moment. Under Livni and Barak's leadership, Israel must purify itself from the affliction. Here and now it must be stamped out.