Ehud Olmert on the Ropes

The news this week that police recommended indicting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on a number of charges that include fraud, breach of trust and bribe-taking came as no surprise to Israelis. In fact, it was leaked to the press two days in advance -- just as the entire case, including dozens of pages of police interrogation transcripts, was leaked to the media over the past several months.

Now it is a waiting game -- Attorney General Meni Mazuz must decide whether or not to accept the recommendation of the police.

Meanwhile, Olmert is doing his best to show a brave face and conduct business as usual -- seemingly unfazed by the fact that he is a lame-duck prime minister who long ago lost the public's trust. As Maariv columnist Ofer Shelach put it in an August 7 editorial (Hebrew link), Olmert has no mandate to govern. This fact will prevent him from achieving anything  in terms of diplomatic relations or domestic policy -- whether it be passing the budget, or arriving at any kind of permanent settlement with the Palestinian Authority.

But Shelach does not think that Olmert has any intention of leaving office anytime soon, and most Israeli political analysts close to the story agree with him.

According to an anonymous source close to Olmert quoted in this Jerusalem Post article, the prime minister will not resign even if the attorney general decides to indict him. This flies in the face of his explicit promise, made during his Independence Day speech on May 8, to resign if indicted.

Olmert has also promised to step down after his party's primaries on September 17. This, too, may well turn out to be a bluff. The prime minister is required by law to remain in office until his successor puts together a coalition government, which could take up to three months. If his successor -- either Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni or Transportation Minister (and former IDF chief of staff) Shaul Mofaz -- fails to cobble together a government, which is a very possible scenario, elections will be called for sometime in March 2009. Meanwhile, Olmert will still be prime minister.