Olmert's Announcement / Pursued by His Past - Not by Prosecutors

It was impossible not to be reminded last night of an announcement by another prime minister, under circumstances that were similar, but nevertheless entirely different. Who could forget that evening? I certainly never will. At that time, 31 years ago, we lived in Kiryat Shmona, and the television screen flickered in darkness and fear: Yitzhak Rabin was announcing his resignation.

He did not wait until his coalition sunk, until all the rats had jumped ship; nor did he rush to get in his announcement before a police interrogation two days later. But above all, he accepted full responsibility. How do they say it nowadays? Rabin turned in a dignified performance. It was clear that he was accepting the sentence. And because he behaved that way rather than otherwise, he unintentionally paved the way for his eventual return to the prime ministry.

Ehud Olmert will never return. Granted, he was trying last night - trying very hard - to demonstrate national responsibility, but for him, giving in without giving it to his enemies is impossible. Unlike Rabin, Olmert has "full and satisfactory answers." It is hard to understand why a man who has such winning responses is incapable of giving them to his investigators during one long, comprehensive interrogation. Olmert is leaving without confessing, which is his right. But there is no justification for self-pity.

His speech to the nation broadcast feelings of persecution. From his first day as prime minister, he claimed, people have pursued him and plotted to oust him. That is not quite accurate: They have been pursuing him, to use his term, for decades, during which he amassed a healthy collection of acquittals and testimonials. It would be more accurate to say that during all those years, he managed to evade conviction by the skin of his teeth, whereas this time, at least for the moment, he is not managing. That is the only difference.

A few days ago, I met a friend who reminded me of a long forgotten conversation that we had some 30 years ago. In this conversation, he recalled, you, Yossi, told me that trouble was lying in wait by Ehud's doorstep. He'll come to a bad end, you said.

Why are you prophesying a bad end for him? The mutual friend asked me at the time. And I replied, according to his recollection: Ehud had not yet decided which is more important to him - his public mission or his personal hedonism. And that is what will trip him up, sooner or later.

Olmert is right to feel pursued. But it is not the investigators and prosecutors who are pursuing him; rather, it is his past and his character. It may be possible to alter one's character when you reach the Prime Minister's Office; sometimes, the job makes the man, and even changes him. But it is hard - indeed, impossible - to change the past. It lies in wait at every step and it is unveiled chapter by chapter, verse by verse.

Perhaps Olmert assumed that his lofty position would deter those who were following his tracks, that they would erase them and forgive him. But if so, he erred. Israel has finally understood that corruption is the mother of all sins, a threat more dangerous than Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran put together. But what Israel understood, Olmert failed to understand in time.

It is a pity that Olmert waited until his resignation had become inevitable. But his insistence on remaining, on not accepting responsibility for the war - that stubbornness truly is an issue of character.