Show the Bandit the Door

Olmert harnesses the tools of government to the effort to save his skin. He will fight for his good name until the last drop of the country's good name.

What did the French, Egyptian, German and Syrian television commentators tell the tens of millions who watched their shows when the cameras focused on Israel's prime minister? Obviously the latest developments in his dealings with the police interested people a lot more than the talks between Israel and Syria. And if Ehud Olmert were Syria's president, would he volunteer a goodwill gesture by shaking the hand of an Israeli prime minister under investigation? Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has actually learned to like Olmert, can tell him during their meeting in Paris that from a political point of view the Israeli prime minister has returned his soul to the voter.

The person representing Israel today at the Union for the Mediterranean conference in Paris lacks a moral mandate and the public's trust. Cabinet ministers and senior government officials interpret his statements and maneuvers as part of a lost legal and political campaign. All his talk about peace stops a great distance before it reaches the Israel Defense Forces' checkpoints and settler outposts in the West Bank. If he offers the Golan Heights to Syria in return for genuine peace, who will believe that the real prize he is after is not a chance for a pardon?

On the other hand, what will happen if the experts recommend to the cabinet to attack Iran, or only to strike Hezbollah's missile arsenal? How many people, in Israel and throughout the world, will allow Olmert the benefit of the doubt that his decisions to embark on such operations are free of personal considerations? In medical terms his condition would be described as "paralysis." In legal terms, when a political leader is suffering from such a serious paralysis, it is called "incapacity." The required solution is for him to resign, or at least, to take leave until the investigation and legal proceedings are over.

Lacking a clear decision by the attorney general and amid pressure from his coalition partners, Olmert continues to treat the country's most fundamental interests as his own. He harnesses the tools of government to the effort to save his skin. Today an investigation, tomorrow a trip abroad. Today consultations with attorneys, tomorrow a group photograph with world leaders. He will fight for his good name until the last drop of the country's good name.

And after all this, Olmert and his cronies blame law enforcement for trying to carry out a political putsch. As if the damage that he and his friends - ministers Haim Ramon and Daniel Friedmann - have done is not enough, they continue to undermine the judiciary and its public standing. The prime minister complained to reporters accompanying him that "the investigation, the media reports, and the leaks that began a short while after [the probe began] are a break with the norms, diverging from all that is acceptable, correct and appropriate in a democracy." In a democratic regime, such as the one now leading the State of Israel, the accepted norm is that if the police were investigating the director general of the Prime Minister's Bureau on suspicion of regularly receiving cash envelopes from an American citizen, it is highly likely he would not spend a day in Paris.

According to the regulations laid out by the Civil Service Commission, "if an employee has carried out a criminal violation, or a criminal investigation was started against the employee by the police, the person responsible must evaluate whether there is room to propose that the employee be suspended." Moreover, "if the employee gave false testimony, and on the basis of it the employee demanded or received payment related to his job that he should not (such as per diem and travel allowances), the person responsible must bring the matter before the deputy civil service commissioner (disciplinary), and he will present the matter, along with his recommendations, to the State Prosecution." But Olmert is an elected official, not a public servant, and these norms are not relevant to him.

The question is not whether Olmert will have to give up the Prime Minister's Bureau in shame, but when it will happen, and how many rules he will break until then, without blushing. And maybe he will learn a lesson from Richard Nixon, who decided to put an end to the debasement, of himself and his country, to avoid impeachment. Nixon's resignation was counted in his favor when his successor pardoned him. And if Olmert has problems finding the way out, the cabinet, those who share responsibility for the war's failures, will show the bandit under investigation the door.