A Plan for Disengaging From Olmert

The most appropriate way for Olmert to deal with the situation is to resign immediately, but the prime minister considers this to be an admission of guilt.

Like a driver stuck in the mud who, working against his own welfare, steps on the gas, pulling himself deeper into the pit, so Ehud Olmert is sinking deeper into the hole he has dug for himself. He knows he has been caught in the wrong, but the hubris that drove him into the abyss is still guiding his moves: He pretends he still has the wheel in his grip and has failed to comprehend the circumstances in which he finds himself. Instead of extricating himself through the most efficient and elegant means, he is trying to determine who is going to drive the tow truck and in which direction. Along the way, he is also splattering some of those who have come to his aid with mud.

The most appropriate way for Olmert to deal with the situation is to resign immediately, but the prime minister considers this to be an admission of guilt. It is problematic in a different way: It keeps Olmert at the head of a transitional government, while it is in the nation's interest that he immediately stop conducting the affairs of state. The reasonable alternative before him is to step away from his job for 100 days.

This is exactly the opposite of what the Kadima leadership seeks: It prefers to stay in power for now and to appear to carry on as usual, while authorizing the beginning of the party's internal election process. According to this approach, only after the Kadima primaries are over and a new party leader emerges, will a legal option be selected for Olmert to step down. This way, Olmert hopes, he will maintain control over internal party proceedings and will be able to ensure Tzipi Livni is not elected to the party leadership.

Moreover, he thinks that this way, and as he continues to serve as prime minister, he will be able to limit the impact of the Talansky deposition on his tenure and end it honorably. Also, it seems to be hard for him to give up a position of power, and he is trying to extend it as long as possible and enjoy it to the maximum. This is an approach that is not guided by the welfare of the state but by the prime minister's desire for vengeance and his personal needs. Olmert claims Livni joined Ehud Barak's effort to try and overthrow him. Apparently her image as a clean politician angers him, as does the fact that she symbolizes his exact opposite in this respect. These are sufficient motivations for Olmert to choose a flawed path and maintain his post, ignoring the damage that such conduct causes to the affairs of state.

The serious implications of his approach can be seen in the events of the past 24 hours in the Gaza Strip: The dispute between Israel and Hamas over the terms of the truce and the inclination of Ismail Haniyeh and his people to escalate their struggle to open up the crossings by continuing rocket attacks, for example, may get out of control and lead to a situation in which the IDF is drawn into a major operation in the Strip.

How will Olmert conduct that military campaign with the red stain of corruption on his forehead? After all, every political or military move he undertakes is henceforth suspected of stemming from his crumbling stature. The public has drawn a connection between the investigation against him to the announcements of peace talks with Syria; it also draws a link between Talansky's deposition and the timing of news of a deal taking shape with Hezbollah.

Olmert has destroyed the public's trust in his decisions and lost the ability to run the country. An immediate disengagement from his role as prime minister (through suspension, vacation, by declaring he is incapacitated) will give him a 100-day hiatus to focus on preparing his defense in the investigation against him. It will also ensure governing contiguity (by appointing Tzipi Livni as acting prime minister), and will allow Kadima and the rest of the parties to prepare, in a relatively orderly fashion, for the upcoming political developments, including elections. Opting for this path will also leave Olmert the possibility, in principle, or reclaiming his stature and returning to his post, if he so chooses, and if he emerges clean from the police probe.

Opting for the alternative - remaining in office in the coming months while the police investigation continues and political chaos ensues when early elections come upon us - increases the damage his behavior has already caused. All that Olmert needs to do to make the appropriate choice is to relinquish his hubris, but his moves in recent days suggest that despite the blow he has suffered - he is unable to do so.