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Attila Somfalvi  

 

Olmert deserves second chance

Op-ed: After being acquitted of key charges, former prime minister ready to go back into politics

Published: 07.11.12, 00:46 / Israel Opinion

There should be no mistake about it: What happened Tuesday at the Jerusalem district court is no less than a legal, political and public earthquake. An Israeli prime minister, who was in essence impeached as result of charges of bribery, fraud, shady deals and robbing organizations that aid Holocaust survivors, was returned to the front row of the public theater.

 

Indeed, he was convicted of breach of trust in connection with a third affair, yet this is a minor conviction that has already been characterized as a procedural flaw. One way or another, this was not the affair that prompted the dismissal of Israel’s prime minister. This was not why he resigned. This was not the affair that shook up the political establishment some four years ago. We should keep this in mind, and someone should be drawing the conclusions – here and now.

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Prosecution officials should be bowing their heads today. The same is true for the police. The desire to hang Olmert at town square pushed them beyond the red lines acceptable in a democratic state. Prosecution officials charged forward, did not think twice about the grave implications of the words used in the indictment, and kept adding more and more clauses to it: Expensive pens, loans, mafia-style conduct, secret bank accounts and whatnot.

 

This dark desire to eliminate Olmert changed the way things work around here and made a senior public official disappear from the legitimate public sphere. The use of the word “eliminate” above is not coincidental; under the guise of the law, an Israeli prime minister was eliminated.

 

Ordinary Israelis must be shocked by the thought that their leaders were like what was depicted in the indictment. Now they should breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that three district court judges turned the accusations into a joke and threw them out. On the other hand, ordinary Israelis should be shocked by the thought of what can happen to them, the ones lacking Olmert’s top lawyers, power and wealth.

 

One can like Olmert or hate him. One can endorse his political views or object to them. However, it’s not legitimate to persecute him just because he does not fit the conception, and it is not legitimate to use a delusional witness like Morris Talansky and make him the key witness against a serving prime minister.

 

He won’t be alone  

The process of Olmert’s return to the public theater started Tuesday morning and is expected to continue in the near future. It will not be a short process, yet Olmert has no intention of giving up. Not now, with a powerful backwind; not now, when quite a few Israelis from the center of the political spectrum speak longingly about his term as prime minister.

 

Olmert left the political establishment involuntarily. He embarked on a fight for his good name, and on Tuesday he managed to prove that he is not a liar, a cheat, a corrupt man or a thief. He may be a hedonist, he may be arrogant, and he may be cynical. These are his personal problems. However, he is no criminal, and this is what should matter in the public discourse. He has been acquitted by the court, and as one who was forced to quit Israel’s top political post he is now entitled for another chance.

 

Had it not been for the Holyland trial that cannot be forgotten, and which is also premised on a problematic witness, Olmert would have returned to the political game Wednesday morning already. Such return, even though it’s still remote, may prompt a dramatic change in the entire political landscape.

 

Olmert is the opposite of everything that Netanyahu represents in terms of decision-making, in the desire to lead Israel to a diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians, and in the determination and courage he displayed as prime minister. He may deeply shake up the political Center. The former PM possesses what the others (Shelly Yachimovich, Yair Lapid) don’t.

 

Had he returned tomorrow morning with the acquittal in his hand, everyone currently playing in the centrist theater – ranging from Yair Lapid to Tzipi Livni and from Haim Ramon to Shaul Mofaz – would have paled in comparison to the tornado that currently pushes Olmert to again become legitimate. At the right time and in the right place, with plenty of field work, Olmert may be the only political force that possesses both the experience and ability to weaken the Likud and be a real premiership candidate vis-à-vis Benjamin Netanyahu.

 

In any case, regardless of what happens, Olmert’s return to the political arena is expected to be stormy. If he so wishes, he will take over Kadima easily. What is left for him now, and he will certainly aim to do this with full force now, is to wash away everything attributed to him by prosecutors for so many years. It will take some time, there is no doubt about that, yet once Ehud Olmert starts to run – he will not be running alone.

 

 

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