Laughing All the Way From the Bank

The characters in Agatha Christie's best-selling novel "And Then There Were None" (also published as "Ten Little Indians") die in the manner described in the nursery rhyme in the title, which begins, "Ten little Indians went out to dine; one choked his little self and then there were nine."

Like the Indians, the numerous obstacles on the path of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which threaten to shorten his term in office, are being removed one by one.

Yesterday Olmert managed to get rid of yet another obstacle. The police recommended against indicting him over the Bank Leumi affair. Granted, this is merely the police recommendation, but state prosecutor-designate Moshe Lador is likely to adopt it when he finishes examining the case, in a few months' time.

After surviving the interim Winograd Report, putting together a firm coalition and making it through the Annapolis summit in one piece, Olmert can strike the Bank Leumi affair from his busy agenda as well.

The affair had been inflated to monstrous proportions by outgoing Accountant General Yaron Zelekha, who called it "one of the most serious affairs in Israel's history." Yesterday it ended with a whimper. Zelekha, who had promised to go home only after Olmert was indicted, has resigned. Olmert, who returned from a high-profile international conference and meetings with President Bush, isn't going anywhere. At least, not if he can help it.

So far he has been lucky in several matters, including the Bank Leumi affair. His conduct in the bank's sale was problematic, but apparently not criminal. Two other investigations into Olmert's affairs - the political appointments and the Investments Center - appear more serious, if only because of the precedents - the Shimon Sheves and Tzachi Hanegbi cases. But these probes are just beginning and will not be concluded in less than a year.

The third affair, surrounding the purchase of a house on Cremieux Street in Jerusalem, is unlikely to lead to an indictment of the prime minister. So the two immediate issues threatening Olmert's third year in office are the Winograd Report, expected to be released in a month, and the negotiations with the Palestinians.

The Winograd Report could lead to Labor's quitting the government, as Labor Party Chairman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak promised in the party primaries. The peace negotiations could lead at a certain stage to Yisrael Beiteinu's quitting the government - if Israel is required, for example, to dismantle outposts. In the latter case, there would be pressure from the right, on Shas, to quit the coalition as well.

Labor sources currently believe Barak will not quit the coalition and force early elections. This gives Olmert several months to juggle politics and state affairs. So far, at least, he has displayed considerable skill in this field.