Olmert, Let Go

The attorney general's statement that he is considering indicting the prime minister for the Rishon Tours affair does not oblige Ehud Olmert - formally and legally - to resign. First, because the indictment itself is yet to be submitted. Second, because even when it is submitted it does not mean conviction. Third, because the prime minister has already resigned.

So far, from the formal and legal aspect, Olmert, himself a shrewd jurist, is standing on pretty solid ground, as he has throughout his political career. However, from the public, ethical and aesthetic point of view, Olmert is treading on thin ice. Here, in contrast to the considerable skills he displayed in politics and state affairs, Olmert appears to be a victim of his own characteristics.

These worked against him even before any charges were pending against him - arrogance, confrontationalism, personal animosities, the need to argue and have the last word in every confrontation and matter.

Thus, amid the darkness at the end of his term (because, as mentioned, he has already "resigned"), Olmert is continuing in his post as though by inertia - still thrashing, flailing and striking, still juggling formalistic arguments and holding on to the altar of power months after it ceased providing him with protection, honor or prestige, and what's worse - the ability to act.

One could understand Olmert and even sympathize with his feeling of having missed his opportunity. This gifted man, who more than any of his political colleagues succeeded in adapting his political views to the necessities of reality, found himself in a unique political constellation to set in motion peace arrangements and changes in Israel. He missed all those chances, whether because of the vindictiveness and irascibility that ignited the Second Lebanon War or his personal enmities that stuck wedges between him and his leadership colleagues, or whether it was the personal greed displayed in his corruption affairs or the survival calculations that paralyzed every real peace move. For these failings he must first blame himself.

Indeed, politics is not a morality play. But nor is it a series of formalistic legal arguments. One can understand Olmert's will to survive a little longer in office, if only to leave a greater imprint on history than being an El Al frequent flyer. But he should have thought of that over the past two years, when his future as prime minister was still ahead of him.

Paradoxically, Olmert's insistence on staying in his post to "leave a mark" will emphasize the provocative behavior traits that turned his term into such a failure. On the other hand, if he shows the ability to rise above the formalistic disputes and personal rivalries - announce temporary incapacity and pass on the premiership to party colleague Tzipi Livni on the eve of the Knesset elections - this renunciation could still somewhat redeem his image and the imprint he leaves.