Analysis: The way he wants us to remember him

Olmert's list of "achievements" is largely at odds with the mood of the country.

olmert quits 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert quits 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Until the very end, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert remained Ehud Olmert: combative, lacking humility, convinced of his own abilities and infallibility. These same traits, which hoisted him up the country's political ladder, eventually brought about his political downfall. There was something unsettling about watching Olmert essentially tender his resignation Wednesday night on the porch of his official residence in Jerusalem, under red chrysanthemums and next to dwarf orange trees. Unsettling because, Richard Nixon-like, the prime minister believes that it was not his own faults and missteps chasing him from office, but rather that he was being hounded out by his enemies. "As a citizen in a democratic state, I have always believed that when a person is elected prime minister in Israel, even those who opposed him in the ballot box would want him to succeed," he said. But that was not his case, he added, saying that from day one he was subjected to "a wave of investigations, probes and criticism," as if those investigations and probes were merely ways to drive him from office, not the product of any of his actions. If Olmert had demonstrated some humility along the way, perhaps the public would have been more forgiving. But he never did. The investigations against him were cooked up to get him. The poorly waged war in Lebanon was someone else's fault - the chief of staff might have had to resign, as did the defense minister, but he could stay on. In a summary of his brief tenure, Olmert ticked off what he said were his achievements: the country's position "steadily improved," the North enjoys tranquility, Israel's deterrence has been bolstered, the economy is better, the war on poverty is being won, the elderly and Holocaust survivors are doing better, and the country was closer than ever to reaching understandings with both the Palestinians and the Syrians. That is what Olmert wants the public to remember, to believe. But that list is largely at odds with the mood of the country. It was as if he was speaking to a nation that has not been around for the last two years, and doesn't remember that for political reasons he appointed a government in which the key positions - the Treasury and the Defense Ministry - were placed in the hands of the wrong people, with tragic results. As if the country did not live through the blunders of the Second Lebanon War, and witnessed how the inability to win that war - or decisively stop the rockets from the Gaza Strip - has not bolstered, but rather damaged, Israel's overall deterrence. Here, however, one must give Olmert credit for the strike on the alleged nuclear installation in Syria, which showed that Israel could, and would, strike when it felt its back was against the wall. Olmert spoke of a robust economy and gains in the war on poverty, as if the people do not feel the impact of the weak dollar, the rising cost of food, and the increasing difficulty for many to make it through the month. He talked of a nation that learns from its mistakes, though the second anniversary of the war in Lebanon passed just two weeks ago with numerous reports of a home front still woefully unprepared. And his comments about being on the verge of an understanding with the Palestinians and Syrians are belied by a lack of any tangible progress on either track presented to the public. What he also left out was a feeling of disgust that has permeated the public because of a feeling that the government is rife with corruption. Olmert decided not to run in the primary because he saw that he had no choice, that were he not to resign, he would be unceremoniously forced out. Defense Minister Ehud Barak succeeded in what he said he would do soon after Morris Talansky's first testimony - force Olmert from office. To Olmert's credit, he backed away during his speech from the war he had begun against the state's attorney and the police. "I want to make this clear: I am proud to be a citizen in a country in which a prime minister can be investigated like any citizen. It is the obligation of the police to investigate. It is the obligation of the prosecution to instruct the police, and I have no complaints against them on this." With these words he put an end to a war in which to defend himself, he would have to undermine the institutions of the state, a war in which everyone would lose. But it was not those words that will be analyzed in capitals around the world tomorrow. What will be discussed there, instead, will be what impact Olmert's decision will have on the diplomatic processes now in motion, both with the Palestinians and with the Syrians. Despite Olmert's statement that "as long as I serve as prime minister, I will not desist from the effort to bring the negotiations between us and our neighbors to a successful conclusion that offers hope," it is clear that nothing real will move now on either track until it becomes clear who will be the country's next leader. Both the Palestinians and the Syrians will want to know with whom they are dealing. Olmert may be interested in concluding some kind of document with the Palestinians charting what was agreed upon up until now, but Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni - with her eye now on the Kadima primaries more than anything else - will be hesitant to agree. She does not need to go head to head with Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz having signed on to a document that spells out what Israel is willing to cede. Concessions will not win Livni the Kadima primary. And as far as US pressure to conclude such a document, that pressure - six months before the end of the Bush administration - is not what it once was. Talks with the Palestinians and, indirectly, with the Syrians, may continue, but it is a safe bet that until next spring, until after there is a new government in the Israel and a new administration in the US, there will be no real movement. There can't be - no one, right now, has any real authority to decide.