In search of a political messiah that will mount a plausible challenge to Prime Minister Netanyahu and transform Israel’s just-announced election campaign, the ghost of former prime minister Ehud Olmert is being called forth. But Olmert’s personal record and dangerous diplomatic legacy should rule him out of the race.
Desperate for a political messiah that will transform Israel’s just-announced winter 2013 election campaign and pose a viable alternative to Prime Minister Netanyahu, some on the Left are concocting a campaign to call forth the ghost of former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Just say no! Olmert’s personal record should rule him out of the race.
This is the lay of the land: Netanyahu’s Likud party is clearly the electoral frontrunner. The two most authoritative recent polls (Camil Fuchs/Haaretz, Sept. 28 and Rafi Smith/Globes, Sept. 27) give Likud 28 seats in Knesset (up from the 27 seats it holds currently). Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima party seems headed into a nosedive, polling only 4 to 8 seats (down from the 28 seats it currently has in Knesset). Shelly Yachimovich’s Labor party is surging to an expected 19 to 20 seats (up from 8 seats). Yesh Atid, a new party formed by former Channel 2 anchorman Yair Lapid, is polling 8 to 11 seats. Yisrael Beiteinu, the party led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, retains its strength at 14-16 seats, as does the Sephardic Orthodox party, Shas, with 10-11 seats.
If these poll numbers remain steady, Netanyahu should have an easy time forming the next government. The center-right and religious bloc currently governing Israel will dominate the next (19th) Knesset.
In addition, every party except Meretz and the Arab parties, is a potential member of the next government. Lapid says clearly that he wants to be a minister in the next government. Yachimovich has consistently refused to rule out joining a Netanyahu government. It’s clear that Mofaz’s Kadima party and Ehud Barak’s Atzmaut party – or what is left of them – would also be partners in a new Netanyahu government, along with Likud’s natural partners: Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and United Torah Judaism. The National Union (Ihud Leumi) and Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi), the two factions of what was once the National Religious Party, poll about 6 seats combined and could join a Netanyahu government as well.
Netanyahu also benefits from the fact that his rivals for the job of prime minister are unimpressive. When one listens to Mofaz, Yachimovich, Lapid, Lieberman or even Tzipi Livni (– remember her?), Netanyahu easily stands out as Israel’s only authoritative and experienced statesman. He has no viable replacement at this time. And that’s before we credit the success (or debate the wisdom) of his diplomatic, defense and economic policies.
But in desperation for a political messiah that might threaten Netanyahu, some on the left are fantasizing Olmert’s immediate return to politics at the head of a new party or a coalition of center-left parties. This theoretical coalition might top Likud in the vote, and then demand that President Shimon Peres give it first crack at forming the next government.
Olmert should not be a welcome contender.
The first and most obvious strike against Olmert is his criminal record. He was recently convicted of breach of trust; he is currently on trial for bribery and corruption; and he is imminently going to be re-tried for money laundering and illegal campaign finances. (His acquittal on some of the recent charges of financial misconduct – the facts of which were unassailably proven – “because the psychological mindset of criminal intention was missing” so flies in the face of Israeli legal jurisprudence and practice that the Attorney General has no choice but to appeal Olmert’s purported exoneration).
Much more importantly, Olmert’s diplomatic policies – which he still swears by – were strategically illogical and downright dangerous.
Olmert’s “shelf agreement” concept, which served as the basis for his negotiations with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, involved promising the Palestinians an “endgame” solution with an almost complete handover of Jerusalem and the West Bank. This, on the novel theory that Palestinian moderates would be strengthened the shelf agreement, and then they’d be able to do the difficult things demanded of them – such as crushing the Hamas, building reliable institutions of uncorrupt government, and forgoing the so-called “right” of return. Israel must not again go Olmert’s risky route.
Even more irritating is Olmert’s pugnacious belief in his own messiah status. If only he had been in charge, Israel would not have current tensions with Turkey, nor be suffering any deterioration in relations with Egypt, or in a confrontation with the US. Iran would have been dealt with successfully – just as he (Olmert) dealt successfully with the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007. All the Ultra-Orthodox would long ago have been drafted to the army. I heard Olmert shamelessly say these ridiculous things (hinting to and boasting about the Al Kibar reactor bombing at least three times) in a September 11 speech at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, and in other recent addresses.
Olmert can hint at Al Kibar all he wants, but voters will better remember, I’m sure, his brilliant military campaigns like the Second Lebanon War, or the swell diplomatic moves he backed, like Gaza disengagement and a further planned (and thankfully never implemented) unilateral withdrawal in Samaria.
Remember also that Olmert was central to the handing over to the Ultra-Orthodox of the keys to Israel’s Jewish character – in order to purchase Haredi support for the Oslo and Annapolis peace processes. Olmert was a key figure in the crafting of a political arrangement between the political left in Israel and the Ultra-Orthodox parties, which brought us Haredi control over the official State Rabbinate, Rabbinical Courts, Conversion Courts, Municipal Religious Councils, Kashrut agencies, and more. As Mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert marched lock in step with the Haredim of that city, paving the way for the election of a Haredi mayor as his successor. Olmert also presided over the election of two Haredi Chief Rabbis. So I doubt that he would have been – or will be – the man to confront the Haredi public and draft them into the IDF.
Olmert’s truculent and self-serving brand of politics is the last thing that Israel needs today. No thank you.