One Out of Four Investigations

As in a Greek tragedy, the end is foretold. No mortal can fight four police investigations simultaneously and emerge unscathed.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's fate has been determined. He is now playing on borrowed time, clinging to the horns of the altar and refusing to acknowledge reality. He is trying to eke out a few more months in power to become like the etrog, the citron in the Sukkot rituals swaddled in cotton wool lest it be bruised and buffeted, like his predecessor Ariel Sharon before the disengagement. He hopes the media will embrace him and forgive him for everything in some vague hope that perhaps something will come out of the Annapolis conference.

But as in a Greek tragedy, the end is known beforehand. There is no mortal who can fight four police investigations simultaneously and emerge unscathed. Investigations have a momentum of their own. The police investigators want an achievement and so do the people at the State Prosecutor's Office. So even if he somehow extricates himself from one or two of the affairs, he will fall in the third or fourth. The moment the decision comes to file an indictment against him, Olmert will have to resign.

The truth is that he should resign now. The norm in recent years says that when a police investigation is initiated against a government minister, he should suspend himself and even resign. This is what Kadima MK Tzachi Hanegbi did when he was public security minister, what Minister without Portfolio Haim Ramon did when he was justice minister and what Kadima MK Abraham Hirchson did when he was finance minister. A resignation by a prime minister means the resignation of the entire government, and there is no escaping this. These are extremely grave investigations both from the ethical perspective - damage to integrity and betrayal of trust - and the legal perspective.

The affair of the house on Cremieux Street in Jerusalem is the least severe of them. According to the examination carried out by the state comptroller, Olmert received a discount of $330,000 on an apartment he bought for $1.2 million. It will not be easy to prove a criminal charge here.

In the affair of the sale of Bank Leumi, Olmert is suspected of intervening to tailor the conditions of the sale to two of his friends, Daniel Abrams and Frank Lowy. One fact is not in doubt. Olmert did not declare that the two men were his close associates. Behavior like this, with such an obvious conflict of interest, is enough to depose a prime minister on an ethical basis.

The third affair concerns a long series of political appointments that he and his bureau made in the Small Business Authority, when he was serving as minister of industry and trade. Here there is a suspicion of buying power with money.

The fourth affair is the gravest of all. Olmert is suspected of a conflict of interest when he intervened in a decision at the Industry and Trade Ministry's Investment Center that determined that a firm was not entitled to state benefits. After his intervention, the state transferred tens of millions of shekels to the plant - which was represented by Olmert's good friend and former partner, attorney Uri Messer. This case is particularly grave because the attorney general at the time, Elyakim Rubinstein (now a Supreme Court justice), had already warned Olmert against intervening in decisions taken at the Investment Center when he tried to grant benefits to a Coca-Cola plant.

But why should Olmert listen to some clueless attorney general? With regard to this affair, in April 2007, State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss published a particularly scathing report, saying that "the suspicions bring to mind the policy that led to the conviction of Shimon Sheves," a former director-general of the Prime Minister's Office. But Olmert lashed out at the state comptroller. His bureau labeled Lindenstrauss a "ratings chaser" and said he had broken "records of lack of professionalism and bias." Olmert is also persecuting Accountant General Yaron Zelekha (because of whom the investigation of the Bank Leumi affair began).

Olmert's bureau does not balk at a chance to vilify or release a nasty and incorrect leak when it comes to Zelekha. But now Olmert has a problem. He cannot add Attorney General Menachem Mazuz - who has ordered investigations against him - to his blacklist of ratings chasers and those who lack professional judgment. This much the public will not buy.

So one thing is clear. Olmert will not be able to deal with matters of state. Not with the budget, not with education and not with negotiations with the Palestinians. He will use all his time trying to prove his innocence. He will devote all his energy to survival. Matters of government will be set aside - and this is bad for the economy and the country. This, too, is sufficient reason for him to relieve us of his burden.