Analysis: Tripped up in the dash to the wire

Olmert is trying with all his might to reach a declaration that would bind the next government.

Olmert 88 (photo credit: )
Olmert 88
(photo credit: )
By notifying Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday that he plans to indict him in the Rishon Tours affair, Attorney General Menahem Mazuz effectively tripped Olmert up in his dash to some kind of diplomatic achievement before he hits the finish line. In almost Taba-esque fashion, Olmert went to Washington this week still determined to reach an agreement in principle with the Palestinians before leaving office. "In principle there is nothing to prevent us from reaching an agreement on the core issues in the near future," Olmert said of the prospects of coming to an agreement with the Palestinians. "I believe it is possible. I believe it is timely. A declaration is needed. I am ready to make it. I hope the other side is." To some, the prospects of Olmert pushing for a declaration now, at the very end of a scandal-shortened tenure, is surrealistic, very reminiscent of the last-ditch attempt in the waning days of then prime minister Ehud Barak and former US president Bill Clinton's terms in office to reach an agreement with the Palestinians at Taba. But then Barak made clear that nothing would be agreed upon with the Palestinians until everything was agreed upon, and if no agreement was reached, what was discussed would not bind the next government. Olmert seems to be taking the exact opposite approach, trying with all his might to reach a declaration that would bind the next government. Olmert argues that he is doing this because if an agreement is not reached now, there is a real likelihood that the opportunity for reaching a two-state solution would be lost, as the torch would be passed to a new generation of radicalized Palestinians advocating a one-state solution, something perilous for Israel. Olmert's critics say there is more to it than that. According to his critics, Olmert is concerned now about how he will be remembered: the legacy thing. This reasoning argues that Olmert needs a diplomatic achievement because in the absence of any such achievement, his three-year term as prime minister would be remembered for two things: a less-than-successful war in Lebanon, and corruption scandals that hounded him from office. An agreement with the Palestinians would go a long way toward rectifying the balance sheet. Mazuz, however, has just made that more difficult. If prior to Mazuz's announcement Olmert could argue that he had all the authority in the world to conclude an agreement with the Palestinians until he was legally bound to leave office, his critics will now say that Mazuz has now robbed him of any remaining moral authority he may have retained to do anything. Moreover, as much as Olmert might have liked to come to terms with the Palestinians after two years of negotiations, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would likely think twice now, knowing that Olmert's weak moral position would make it nearly impossible for him to pass any agreement through the cabinet, let alone the Knesset. Why would Abbas want to expose himself to inevitable criticism on the Palestinian street for dealing with Israel, if he knows that the next government might not feel itself bound by whatever Olmert signs off on? Ironically, the big loser in all this is likely to be Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. First of all, Kadima will now, even more than in the past, be attacked as a party of corrupt politicians. Secondly, had Olmert suspended himself at the end of July, rather than holding on until a new government was formed, Livni would have had precious months to prove herself as prime minister, and gone to the elections in a much stronger position than she is in right now. Until now, Olmert has argued that there was no reason to suspend himself because all the allegations would amount to nothing, and no indictment would be served. But as of Wednesday, this doesn't look like the direction things are headed. Mazuz has indeed cast a cloud of indictment over Olmert, yet Livni didn't get her golden opportunity to sit in the prime minister's chair and influence events from there.