Analysis: How will Olmert be remembered?

He was unable, in the final analysis, to achieve goals he set for himself.

olmert last cabinet meeting 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
olmert last cabinet meeting 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
In the eight months between when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that he would resign because of the corruption allegations against him, and Tuesday - when he will indeed be leaving the political scene - he has been engaged in framing the way he wants to be remembered. He summed it up Monday, during his Knesset speech, saying that he was just a "step" away from a peace deal. "If I were given the time, I believe that we could have achieved an arrangement to be brought for cabinet and Knesset approval," he maintained. "It would have required dramatic, painful, heart-wrenching, but necessary compromises. That was the case both with the Palestinians and the Syrians." This has been a common theme in various statements, pronouncement and interviews he has given over the last few months: that he was just a hairs-breadth away from a peace breakthrough; that he was willing to go farther in making concessions than any other Israeli leader; that if he had just had a little more time, he would have left the country a far better, more secure, happier and peaceful land than he inherited. That is how Olmert wanted to be remembered: Ehud, the daring and courageous man of peace. History is unlikely to be so kind. Rather than be remembered for a breakthrough with the Palestinians and the Syrians - breakthroughs that did not transpire despite his professed efforts - he will instead likely be remembered as the country's prime minister run out of office because of corruption allegations. The prime minister who wanted to be remembered for highbrow notions like peace and security was chased out of office because of lowbrow antics like cash in envelopes and free trips abroad for his family. Olmert began his premiership in 2006 riding on the coattails of the wildly popular Ariel Sharon, and promised to continue Sharon's disengagement work in Gaza Strip in the West Bank, calling it "convergence." But then reality intervened. Rockets continued to be launched from the Gaza Strip, Hamas won the PA elections, Gilad Schalit was kidnapped, followed by the kidnapping of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev that dragged the country into war. Suddenly, Olmert found that his agenda had been hijacked as well. His first mistake, and one that badly colored his tenure, was his cabinet appointments back in 2006, selecting Amir Peretz as defense minister for political reasons, and Avraham Hirschson as finance minister for collegial ones. When the crisis in Lebanon hit, Olmert had to face it with everyone playing out of position. There was a war in Lebanon, but he had a defense minister unfamiliar with the material, and an air force chief, Dan Halutz, serving as chief of staff (an appointment he inherited from Sharon). The results were disastrous, and he spent the better part of the rest of the three years allotted to him as prime minister trying to recover. He never did. Because of his tremendous political acumen and impressive managerial skills, Olmert survived politically, but he did not fully recover. He never regained the respect and confidence of the nation, as he became preoccupied with political survival. Even vastly important moves that he made, such as bombing the alleged Syrian nuclear installation in September 2007, were unable to erase the memory of the poor execution and missed opportunity that was the Second Lebanon War. Then came the Gaza operation at the end of 2008. This time Olmert was ready - the IDF was prepared, the Home Front was properly organized and geared up. Tactically the war was a success, as Israel pummeled Hamas, while only suffering a few casualties of its own. But the goals of the operation remained elusive: rockets continued to fall after Israel withdrew, and arms continue to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip. Moreover, Schalit is still being held, though his freedom was not a stated goal of the operation. Operation Cast Lead, to a certain degree, symbolized Olmert's tenure - he was unable, in the final analysis, to achieve the goals he set for himself. Peace and security seem more distant now than when he came into office. Is it his fault? Hardly. You can't blame Olmert for Iran's designs for regional hegemony, Hizbullah's implacable hatred, and Hamas's terrorism and intransigence. In the end, despite Olmert's attempts at shaping his legacy, it is not in the context of war and peace that he will even ultimately be remembered. Rather, and sadly, it will be in the context of the corruption allegations that endlessly swirled around, and which - in the end - did him in.