A Much-probed PM

It was predictable. No one in the country's political or justice systems believed that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz would close the industry and trade ministry investigations, considered the meatiest and most explosive of the cases against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in terms of the material involved.

Still, expectations are one thing and official decisions are another. Overnight, Olmert has officially become the most-investigated prime minister in Israeli history, a multi-case leader. Overnight, the musings about his ability to concentrate on affairs of state, on the Iranian threat, on the tensions in the north and in the south, on the peace talks, have all become weightier, more disturbing. The investigations against the prime minister are piling up like dirty laundry on the bathroom floor. Even if nothing comes of them, no one can ignore the stench they give off for miles, to the ends of the earth, to the glory of the State of Israel.

It is true that previous Israeli PMs have suffered investigations and came out of them safely (sometimes by the skin of their teeth), but no prime minister in the past was ever forced to cope with such a burdensome batch of cases, most of them with an identical modus operandi: giving preferential treatment to friends or attempting to help them to move up in life. Plus, there's that whatitsname committee - Winograd - that is supposed to be issuing its final report on Lebanon War 2.0.

Another man would have considered resigning, or going on vacation - but not Ehud Olmert. His response last night to the AG's decision was aggressive and oppositional: "These are superfluous investigations that will end without results ... Every halfhearted claim made turns into an investigation..." To reassure the worried populace, Olmert was quick to assure the citizens of the state, via the Prime Minister's Bureau, that he intends to continue to be involved "and to exercise his responsibility fully and vigorously for the benefit of the public in all areas under his care, as he did in the ministries of finance and of trade and industry."

This points to the most urgent item on the Olmert & Co. agenda: to send the public the clear message that there is a functioning prime minister in Jerusalem. Olmert knows that the first wave to hit him won't be a legal one, guilty or innocent; rather it will be an administrative one: prime minister, functioning or paralyzed.

What now? In the short term, nothing. These investigations will continue for a long time, for months. Olmert's popularity ratings will fall a little; in any event, they don't have far to go. The coalition will carry on. Police investigations interest Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor "Yvette" Lieberman and Shas Chairman Eli Yishai about as much as the rain in Spain. What worries them is the Annapolis summit. On that score they can probably relax. A leader in Olmert's condition cannot divide Jerusalem. Ariel Sharon withdrew from Gaza under the shadow of criminal investigations, but Gaza is not Jerusalem and Sharon was popular.

The steam released by the Labor Party last night, mainly from MKs Shelly Yachimovich and Ophir Pines-Paz, will not force Ehud Barak out of the coalition. They are sure to tell the party chairman that a values-based resignation from the coalition of the serial suspect will help his public image, but in all likelihood it would come off looking artificial rather than ethical. In a few days, the dust will settle. "Olmert's investigations" will become a constant companion for some time to come, like the changes in the water level of Lake Kinneret.