Go Home, Regardless of Winograd

This is a prime minister whose personal aide was forced to step down following suspicions of corruption; whose finance minister was forced to take a leave of absence due to serious suspicions of graft.

On Memorial Day, Ehud Olmert refused to answer the questions of an Israel Radio interviewer about Finance Minister Abraham Hirchson's resignation. He argued that the timing was not right. Olmert preferred to appear at festive Independence Day events and official ceremonies: He comforted the bereaved families, congratulated the nation, warned the enemy and outlined future plans. He sought to postpone discussion of piddling objections to the government's moral standing to an ordinary day. He does not understand that because of their personal conduct, he and senior members of his government have lost their legitimacy to manage the affairs of the state.

Olmert and his ministers are tense ahead of the Winograd Committee's pronouncements. As if their political futures depended on the committee alone. Nine months ago, Olmert bent over backward to prevent the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the Second Lebanon War. He succeeded, and also correctly calculated the weakness of the public protest that cropped up after the war. His moves did ultimately cause the demonstrations to subside and brought about the establishment of a committee of inquiry whose composition and authority he himself determined.

However, Olmert is wrong to look at reality through a legalistic lens alone. It is not the conclusions of the Winograd Committee that will decide his public fate, but rather his moral positions and those of his government. Even without reference to the war and the committee's conclusions (whatever they may be), Olmert and his ministers have lost their authority to lead the country.

So far, the government still enjoys a coalition majority, but under the circumstances, this is nothing more than a technical foundation, and it is fated to collapse because, in terms of its moral standing, it is hanging by a thread.

This is the government whose leader is entangled in an investigation that reeks of improper personal conduct; this is a prime minister whose personal aide was forced to step down following suspicions of corruption; this is a prime minister whose finance minister, whom he chose, was forced to take a leave of absence because of serious suspicions of graft; this is a prime minister who made the hasty political appointment of a justice minister who was subsequently convicted of indecent assault and whom Olmert intends to appoint as finance minister; this is a prime minister who appointed as minister of strategic threats a man heavily overshadowed by suspicions about his integrity.

This is not a coincidental collection of individual stumbles or accidental choices. This is a reflection of official behavior that erases the line between what is allowed and what is prohibited. Not to mention the significance of the government's conduct during the war: the prime minister whose finger was light on the trigger but slow to stop firing, the defense minister who looked at events through capped binoculars; the large majority of ministers who approved the actions of the war in real time, and those who remembered to object to it retroactively.

The Olmert government is fated to exit the stage. It is disqualified from continuing to govern because of its principal members' ethical standing, because the rest of its members have come to terms with the stains on the reputations of its senior members, because of the calamity it wreaked on the country in July and August of 2006, and because it has lost its ideological compass.

This government came to power with the promise of far-reaching changes: "We will make Israel a country that is fun to live in," Olmert pledged. And after a year in office it had nothing left to offer. Its diplomatic vision - major withdrawal from the West Bank ("the convergence plan") - has dissipated; its pretensions of changing government priorities went up in the smoke of the war; its promises to instill a new, positive spirit of optimism in public life and officialdom were set aside in shelters and interrogation rooms.

This is a faltering government, surviving only by the force of the arrogance and stubbornness of its leader and the selfish ambitions of its members. This is a hollow government, which has lost its authority, which has no clearly defined national goals. Even its ability to maintain the status quo has been sorely compromised. The verdict of the Winograd Committee is not needed to reach the proper public conclusion: the Olmert government has no right to exist.