Charges or Treaty?

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert left his office in the Knesset yesterday holding a thick portfolio of documents. Walking down a long and deserted corridor he came across MK Amir Peretz, and two reporters. He smiled widely because of his friend Peretz, not because of the journalists.

"I told them I was in favor of the Syrian track, and that sometimes what starts out as a trial balloon or rumors could end up the real thing," Peretz told Olmert.

"Well, it started during your time," Olmert said to Peretz, referring to his term as defense minister.

Olmert was asked how he was dealing with the claim that the talks were a spin to deflect interest from the investigation against him. The prime minister appeared to welcome the question.

"First of all, the report came not only from my bureau but also from Damascus and Ankara. I don't suppose that Assad and Erdogan are sitting talking on the phone to Mazuz and Danino," he said, referring to Israel's attorney general and police investigations and intelligence chief. "Second, the meeting in Damascus, excuse me, in Ankara, was set a month ago, before we heard about this Talansky-Shmalansky," Olmert added.

It does not matter what Olmert does in the months he has left in office, whether he brings peace, finds oil, blows up the Iranian reactor, or takes out Nasrallah - everything will be considered a spin. That is his fate. He is the immediate, main suspect. That is how he has been conducting himself and teetering along for two years, from the Second Lebanon War to the State Comptroller, from police probes to the two Winograd reports.

The facts, in the Syrian case, speak in his favor: talks began in February 2007, the meeting in Ankara was set up a month ago, and the Syrians wanted to release a joint statement as much as he did.

But it is difficult not to wonder: Is it only a coincidence that the breakthrough came about yesterday, the day the embarrassing and incriminating details came out about Olmert and the money, two days before his second interrogation by police, and a few days before Talansky's testimony? For example, were Olmert's emissaries Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turjeman - known as "TNT" - sent to Istanbul with clear instructions to soften Israeli positions?

In any case, if it is spin it is very successful. It will be taught in spin classes. It will be a candidate for a Nobel Prize in spin. Only a bomb that heavy could push details of the investigations against Olmert out of the headlines.

Olmert's adversaries were waiting impatiently for the gag order to be lifted. "We will not let him pull us into the diplomatic arena," a Likud lawmaker said. "We will chase him with the envelopes, we will treat him like any criminal, as if the jailhouse is right around the corner."

Spokespeople on the right, but also senior figures in Olmert's Kadima party, downplayed the talks. No one believes that Olmert will be able to get a peace agreement with the Syrians to pass in the Knesset in his present situation.

"Talks, shmalks," they called it yesterday in the Knesset. After all, he cannot even get MK Eli Aflalo's ministerial appointment approved, or Avishay Braverman made chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee.

Everyone knows that Olmert wants to end his term on a diplomatic note, not a criminal one. The question is, what will come first - an indictment or a peace treaty?