(photo credit: AP [file])
It goes without saying that a situation in which a serving Israeli prime minister undergoes three criminal investigations at the same time is unprecedented.
It also goes without saying that Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz's decision to order a third investigation will renew demands that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resign from office, or at least suspend himself.
But Olmert is a tough politician who, throughout his career, has never been inhibited by moral considerations or public opinion from exploiting his authority to the hilt. It is precisely this kind of unrestrained assertiveness that has gotten him into the legal troubles he now faces.
If Olmert won't go of his own volition, the Knesset could force him. Although his coalition looks strong on paper, his two right-wing partners, Shas and Israel Beiteinu, are unhappy with Kadima's peace overtures toward the Palestinian Authority.
Even MKs within his own party have expressed their displeasure with the alleged concessions Olmert is reportedly willing to make to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. These elements might conclude that it would look better to leave the coalition as champions of honest government rather than opponents of the peace process.
All in all, however, this option does not look likely, either. Until now, there have been few coalition rumblings over Olmert's troubles with the law, even when he was already under investigation for two cases. Why should one more make a difference, especially if some of the MKs who would have to raise their hands in no-confidence know they would not return to the Knesset?
The third option is the High Court of Justice. It is almost certain that some of the watchdog organizations will petition the court to order Olmert to go - if not permanently, then temporarily. But there is no law stating that a prime minister - or any minister, for that matter - must step down because the police are investigating him.
Indeed, at least one other minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is also under investigation by police, and no one is demanding that he resign. The difference, of course, is that Lieberman is being probed for only one affair.
There is a possibility that the court will take a harsher view of Olmert's legitimacy as a public leader because of the sheer number of police investigations. Still, it is hard to imagine that it will go so far as to intervene and take responsibility for the deposition or suspension of an elected official - the leader of the majority party in the Knesset and the prime minister - when no one in authority as yet has even accused him of breaking the law.
Olmert may have to face another challenge to his position in the next few weeks or months, when the Winograd Committee publishes its final report on the degree of his responsibility for the failures of the Second Lebanon War. Until then, his popularity might continue to plummet - if, indeed, it can go any lower than it already is - but the odds are that not only will he continue to govern, but he will do so without displaying even the smallest degree of inhibition in using his powers.
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