Olmert Must Rise Above and Accept His Fate

The ex-PM should have said: ‘I expect the citizens of this country to take part in processes that not everyone accepts. I must now apply this expectation to myself.’

Ehud Olmert appears in the Supreme Court on Dec. 29, 2015, for the appeal hearing on the Holyland corruption affair.
Emil Salman

If Ehud Olmert were a serious person, or at least if he relied on real advisers and not sycophants, he wouldn’t have sufficed with a statement that he respects the Supreme Court’s ruling, as if he had a choice (and could afford to anger the justices who might hear his other cases). He would have made a speech looking to the future, to generations of schoolchildren and voters. Something like this:

“This morning, the road ended that brought me to the highest court in the land. This is the final station. I continue to proclaim my innocence, but to my mind, justice was not done, the law was applied.

“I accept the decision because the rules of the game are more important than the players on the field, and even the referees. The process is more important than the outcome.

“As someone who headed the executive branch and took part in life-and-death decisions, war and peace, I expect the citizens of this country to take part in processes that not everyone accepts. I must now apply this expectation to myself.

“I do not do this out of love, but in pain. I bow before the supremacy of the law and the finality of the proceedings. I was a Knesset member and a mayor, a minister and a prime minister, and soon I will be a prisoner. I am not Job, but I accept his question: ‘Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?’

“When I enter prison and serve the sentence imposed on me, I will agonize, but I will be comforted in the knowledge that the State of Israel and its institutions are greater and more important than any of us.”

To produce such words, to make December 29 a milestone in the history of the country that celebrates its beginning on November 29, Olmert must rise above himself. He has yet to show his hidden greatness. In 45 years of observing him, it turns out the only thing that has grown greater is his ostentatiousness, from minor corruption to enormous malfeasance.

Olmert’s odyssey, unlike Homer’s work, does not twist and turn toward a good ending. The government, which fell into his lap by chance a decade less one week ago, will not return to him. The remnants of his good name have been crushed and swept away. His freedom will be taken from him as if he were former President Moshe Katsav, or his former aide, Shula Zaken.

He was greedy from youth, taking advantage of loopholes and seams between gray and black areas. Arrogant and boastful, condescending and abrasive. He used the same shovel to dig both a political staircase and a legal grave.

This was a deal with the devil. Olmert obtained political money and bought influence but was forced to pay his debts when he reached the top, when the devil came to demand his soul.

At the beginning of the last decade, four senior Likud officials were familiar to law enforcement, three of them prime ministers and one Silvan Shalom. Ariel Sharon in his second government gave the finance portfolio to Benjamin Netanyahu and the foreign ministry to Shalom. Olmert made do with a normally meaningless title but one worth gold when somebody falls into a coma – acting prime minister.

When Sharon fell ill, never to recover, his party was already in pieces. Sharon and Olmert were in Kadima, Netanyahu and Shalom in Likud. Olmert, the erstwhile health minister, benefited twice from ill health – first Sharon’s and Tuesday morning the state’s witness’. In death, Shmuel Dechner bequeathed a partial acquittal and a shorter prison sentence.

Most ridiculous is the imaginary link between Olmert’s policies and his corruption trials. He committed crimes, as was proved even before his approach to the Israeli-Arab conflict softened; those who uncovered his corruption were there long before he changed his mind.

A peace agreement isn’t something signed secretly and pushed on the people of both sides. It needs broad support to achieve and implement. A corrupt prime minister will never shirk the suspicion of external interests.

Olmert wasn’t at the center of the Holyland corruption scandal. He was a supporting actor, though he overshadowed the lead roles and others who benefited from the affair. In another casting, another plot turn, he might have reached a different end.

Retired police Maj. Gen. Aryeh Amit brought Dechner to the chief of the investigations and intelligence branch, Maj. Gen. Yoav Segalovich, who didn’t give in to the pleas by the Jerusalem district prosecution.

Segalovich and then-State Prosecutor Moshe Lador are the main people responsible for the judgment in the Holyland case. They refused to restrain themselves and learn the lesson that politicians and a former attorney general, Elyakim Rubinstein – who pushed for Maj. Gen. Moshe Mizrahi to be dismissed from the investigations branch due to overenthusiasm – tried to teach them.

Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen belongs to the strict House of Shammai; the justices of the Supreme Court belong to the lenient House of Hillel. Tel Aviv on one side, Jerusalem on the other.

Rozen aimed very high, the Supreme Court low. A reasonable balance was made because quality is more important than quantity. Olmert’s goal now is to avoid a consecutive sentence for the eight months in the Talansky cash-envelopes affair and the 18 months in the Holyland affair, as well as a plea bargain that will include the obstruction-of-justice case of Zaken’s audio recordings.

He might have been able to get a better deal than this – resignation and probation, or community service – when he was prime minister. But arrogance was – and perhaps remains – a no better adviser than fear.