Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced on Wednesday evening he would not seek reelection in the upcoming Kadima primaries. Olmert said he would step down after a new chairman is elected within his party on September 17th.
"I have decided I won't run in the Kadima movement primaries, nor do I intend to intervene in the elections," Olmert said in a surprise announcement from his official residence in Jerusalem.
"When a new (Kadima party) chairman is chosen, I will resign as prime minister to permit them to put together a new government swiftly and effectively."
"I want to make it clear – I am proud to be a citizen of a country where the prime minister can be investigated like a regular citizen," Olmert said. "It is the duty of the police to investigate, and the duty of the prosecution to instruct the police. The prime minister is not above the law."
"I will step aside properly in an honourable and responsible way, and afterwards I will prove my innocence," he said.
Man watching Olmert's address (Photo: Reuters)
"From my first day in office I was forced to defend myself against relentless attacks from self-appointed 'fighters for justice' who sought to depose me from my position, when the ends sanctified all the means.''
"I continue to believe with all my heart that the achievement of peace, combating terror, strengthening our security, and the realization of a different type of relationship with our neighbors are all necessary goals for the future of the State of Israel."
Timing is everything
A senior law enforcement official said in an interview with Ynet that one of the reasons for the timing chosen by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to announce his resignation may have to do with the new investigation against him.
"It's going to be a serious investigation; perhaps the most serious investigation so far. Olmert will have to handle questions and facts he has not dealt with so far," the official said.
Another official added that Olmert did not receive additional investigation material because he would have a difficult time dealing with questions he knew he was going to be asked during the investigation.
The official claimed that police were prepared to submit the cases formed by the two investigations against Olmert to the State Prosecutor's Office within the next few weeks, along with a recommendation to indict the prime minister.
Olmert is scheduled to undergo a fourth round of questioning by the National Fraud Unit on Friday at 10 am. Questions are expected to focus on new material gathered for the 'Olmertours' investigation in the US.
'You can't run a country this way'
Prior to his announcement on Wednesday, Olmert became enraged in the Knesset and said, "This is terrible, you can't run a country this way." According to coalition members, the prime minister was angry
at the recent losses suffered by the government and coalition in recent bill proposals, the costs of which are estimated at billions of shekels.
Olmert's associates claimed that "the Labor Party got on his nerves," and senior Kadima Party officials slammed the Labor's behavior. "Their behavior is lawless. You can't act this way. The Labor is every coalition's nightmare," one official said. Their grievances were based partly on the party's bill proposals, such as the recent bill calling for the extenuation of maternity leave, which may cost the State millions.
"These laws will cost a fortune," Olmert said during the Knesset discussion. "Who will pay for this? Where is the social responsibility?" Sources said the prime minister appeared infuriated, but neglected to point out the steps he planned to take in order to remedy the situation.
'I will prove my innocence,' Olmert on Wednesday (Photo: Avi Ochion, GPO)
Olmert is currently under two separate criminal investigations. One involves suspicions that he took bribes from American businessman Morris Talansky and the other, dubbed 'Olmertours' by the media, charges him with submitting duplicate claims for travel expenses during his former office as trade minister and mayor of Jerusalem.
Olmert has denied wrongdoing with respect to the police probes, but has said he would resign if indicted.
The prime minister has chosen to address the nation while his chief political opponents are away. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are currently visiting the US.
Livni had planned to make a press statement following her meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the head of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' negotiating team, but has recently announced that she would postpone it, apparently due to Olmert's public address.