Politics: Down, but not yet out

As Olmert's downfall appears to be approaching, he's losing his friends.

olmert small penis 224.8 (photo credit: AP)
olmert small penis 224.8
(photo credit: AP)
Even the fiercest critics of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert give him credit for one key asset: He knows how to keep friends. Former prime ministers Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak have long lists of disgruntled former friends, confidants, aides and spokesmen, indicating problems with maintaining long-term professional and personal relationships. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has also been known for her frequent staff changes. Olmert, by contrast, has maintained the same personal assistant, attorney, director-general and spokesman for many years. His secretary, Shula Zaken, started working for him when he was a Jerusalem lawyer with a full head of hair, even before he entered the Knesset in 1974. But as Olmert's premiership nears its end, he is losing his friends. His longtime lawyer and former business partner, Uriel Messer, is cooperating with a police investigation that could bring him down. Finding MKs to defend Olmert has become increasingly hard. MKs quoted until recently on these pages as "sources close to Olmert" have been urging him publicly to initiate Kadima primaries to replace him, for the sake of the party and the country. Indeed, this was a particularly bad week for Olmert, where keeping friends is concerned. On Monday, he cried on the grave of former justice minister Yosef Lapid, whom he called his "most loyal friend" and the man he turned to in times of crisis. Former finance minister Avraham Hirchson, who was so close to Olmert that he insisted on giving Amir Peretz the Defense portfolio, was indicted in Tel Aviv District Court on Wednesday for stealing NIS 2.5 million. OLMERT LIKES boasting about his friendship with US President George W. Bush to the point that when he was recently asked if he was worried about the upcoming American election, he joked that his only concern was that Bush would not win. Wednesday's Olmert-Bush meeting was described by both sides as positive, but media in both countries portrayed the trip to Washington as a farewell visit, and indicated that it was unclear which leader would leave office first. Bush gave Olmert a Segway two-wheel electric vehicle as a parting gift, perhaps to allow Olmert to ride off into the sunset. Even American Jewish leaders, many of whom have long been friendly with Olmert, received him Tuesday in a way described by attendees at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference as respectful rather than enthusiastic. Without Messer, Lapid, Hirchson and some former political allies, Olmert will yet again embark next week on an effort to save his premiership and his career. It will no doubt be more difficult without as many friends at his side, but in Israeli politics, sometimes friends are not as beneficial as enemies with confluent interests. Olmert knows the foreign policy doctrine that your enemy's enemy is your friend. That's what has united Olmert in an unofficial political bond with his former critic, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, in an effort to block the advancement of Livni, Olmert's nemesis and the frontrunner to succeed him at the helm of Kadima. The two other Kadima leadership candidates, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, have joined Mofaz's effort to prevent the launch of a Kadima primary that Livni publicly pleaded for last week. The official reasoning that they offered was that they wanted to give Olmert's lawyers a chance to cross-examine American financier Morris Talansky before deciding the prime minister's fate. But Kadima officials accused them of acting to block Livni. Olmert is counting on there being a sufficient number of MKs in Kadima, Labor and Shas who are afraid of elections to allow him to stall long enough to prevent bills to dissolve the Knesset from passing their final readings before the Knesset's summer session ends on July 31. If he succeeds, the Knesset will not be able to be dissolved until it returns after the October holidays, and elections by the end of the year will be averted. The downfall to 14 mandates forecasted for Labor in a Geocartography Institute poll broadcast Tuesday on Channel 1 gives Olmert good reason to gamble that Barak is bluffing when he says Labor would vote for elections. And Shas's support for preventing an election could be bought with even a symbolic raise of a few shekels in child welfare payments. One Shas minister made a culinary analogy this week, when he compared elections to cholent - pointedly using the Ashkenazi, rather than Sephardi, word for the dish: "You know what you have when you begin cooking, but you never know what you will end up with when you're done." It will be up to Livni to take action to ensure that Olmert's ousting is initiated. She has met almost every Kadima MK over the past two weeks and urged them to take a stand in favor of initiating a party primary when the Kadima faction meets next Wednesday to decide on the issue. She has even met on the matter with the MKs closest to Olmert, such as Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik. Kadima council members who support Livni say she ultimately will do what is in the best interest of the country, and not in her own personal interest. They said that is what she did when she decided not to run against Olmert for the Kadima leadership, following party founder Ariel Sharon's stroke. "I don't understand why Olmert is blocking her from becoming interim prime minister," said Moshe Konforti, a council member from Givatayim who has become close to Livni. "If he saw something in her that makes her unworthy, he should say so. But if he is blocking her just for political reasons, that's the politics that people are sick of, and that's the reason why Tzipi will be the next chairwoman of Kadima and the prime minister of Israel."