Further disqualification

This newspaper stands by its oft-stated belief that Olmert should have vacated the Prime Minister's Office in the wake of the Second Lebanon War.

olmert fie on you 88 (photo credit: )
olmert fie on you 88
(photo credit: )
You know Ehud Olmert's political future is looking bleak when the only people appearing on radio and television to say a good word about him are those in his employ. The political consensus here is that the premier cannot possibly carry on. The reverberations from Morris Talansky's deposition in Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday are simply too overpowering. Polls show that 70 percent of Israelis do not believe Olmert's protestations that not a penny from Talansky went into his own pocket. Even usually cynical Israelis are incredulous. Did the prime minister really feel that the indignity of flying business class was too much to bear when first-class seats were to be had? Did he really shy away from staying in a luxury hotel room because a suite was available? Cigars, pens, vacations - all on the house? Does he really have such a sense of entitlement? Yet having survived the Winograd Commission report, which exposed his government's mishandling of the Second Lebanon War, and having held on as one perturbing investigation after another raised questions about his personal and professional probity, that our tenacious prime minister will hang on a while longer is a possibility which cannot be discounted. Olmert said he would resign only if indicted. His immediate goal is probably to wait until July, when his lawyers will cross-examine the magnanimous Mr. Talansky. His spokesmen are reminding us that Ehud Olmert has not even been indicted, much less tried or convicted. ALL THIS is true, but none of it really matters. A prime minister whose flaws were bitterly exposed by the stewardship of the Second Lebanon War ought to have stepped down in the wake of that war's failures. That he has subsequently become embroiled in an accumulation of corruption investigations only further depletes his ability to safeguard the nation in this most demanding of jobs. On Wednesday, Defense Minister and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak finally climbed off the fence. At a brief afternoon news conference in the Knesset, he called on Olmert to step down. He cited a number of difficult challenges facing Israel - including on the Palestinian front, the IDF captives issue, the burgeoning threat from Hizbullah-controlled Lebanon and the menace posed by Iran. Even without his referencing Israel's more "mundane" but pressing domestic agenda, Barak is right that the country cannot afford a part-time premier diverted by the overarching aim of staying out of prison. Morris Talansky was a compelling witness for the state prosecution on Tuesday. The pattern of cash payments he described delivering to mayor and then minister Olmert amounted to a dismal depiction of thoroughly untenable behavior. But as the state prosecutor rightly cautioned, Talansky has given only half of his testimony. He has yet to be cross-examined by the prime minister's lawyers, who insist, however improbably, that some of Talansky's "facts" are fiction and that there is a perfectly reasonable, and legal explanation, for those envelopes stuffed with cash. Compounding Olmert's loosening hold on his job, however, is that instead of urging his lawyers and his associates to help clear his name as speedily as possible, the opposite tactics are being employed. His longtime aide Shula Zaken is staying resolutely silent under police questioning. His lawyers made every effort to stave off Talansky's day of "preliminary" testimony in court. These may be eminently appropriate legal moves if the aim is to buy time and postpone the day of reckoning. They are wrongheaded, however, if you are a prime minister insisting that you can somehow contrive to devote sufficient attention to clearing your name while simultaneously running the country. That ambition requires demanding the fullest cooperation from your colleagues, and the speediest of legal processes, to refute the corruption allegations and enable a rapid return to the exclusive preoccupation with matters of state. This newspaper stands by its oft-stated belief that Olmert should have vacated the Prime Minister's Office in the wake of the Second Lebanon War. Needless to say, therefore, the fact that he is now deeply implicated in an ugly corruption scandal, and is not doing everything he can to ensure all evidence is made available as rapidly as possible to clear his name, only further disqualifies him from that most critical of offices.