• August 17, 2006

Olmert …Dead man walking

Here is the news: Aliza and Ehud Olmert will be summoned to an investigation in the State Comptroller’s office within a few days.
The prime minister and his wife will be presented with these findings: The price they paid for their new house on 8 Cremieux Street in Jerusalem is lower than its market price by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The difference between the sum they paid – some $1.2 million – and the house’s value – $1.6-1.8 million – is hard to explain. It raises suspicion that the prime minister and his wife illicitly received about half a million dollars.
There is another suspicion: The house the Olmerts bought had been earmarked for preservation. Converting a house marked for preservation into a house that can be torn down, rebuilt or expanded requires special and irregular permits from the Jerusalem municipality. There is evidence to support the suspicion that Olmert’s confidants helped the contractor who sold Olmert the house obtain those irregular permits. If this is the case, the real estate deal was probably a bribery deal. The prime minister and his wife will be questioned about that.
Presumably, the questioning of the Olmerts by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss’ investigators and his adviser on corruption, retired detective Yaakov Borovsky, will wrap up the comptroller’s investigation.
The comptroller will present the attorney general with a slim but weighty document. It is very likely that the document will leave Attorney General Menachem Mazuz with no choice but to open a criminal inquiry against the prime minister and his wife.
It is highly doubtful that Olmert could even temporarily survive such a police probe considering the present public mood. Chances are that within about two months he will no longer be “Israel’s” prime minister.
When reporter Yoav Yitzhak exposed the affair of Olmert’s house sale before the last elections, other journalists defended Olmert. They portrayed the experienced investigator as eccentric, helping to smooth Olmert’s way to the prime minister’s office. But as soon as honest professional officials became involved, the path led instead to investigating Olmert.
The significance is clear: politically, Olmert is a dead man walking. Whatever Yoav Yitzhak did not do, the State Comptroller’s men will do. Whatever they don’t do, the police will probably do. Whatever the police don’t do, the public, hopefully, will do. This time the public will not be deceived or keep quiet. Its cry of outrage will rock the foundations.
One may hazard a guess that by the Knesset’s winter session, Olmert will no longer be prime minister. But leaving him in power until then could cause incalculable damage. How could the vital task of shaking up the national institutions be undertaken when a man suspected of criminal behavior stands at their head? It will not be possible to prepare for the danger of an approaching war when the head of the state is a man whose honesty, integrity and personality are cast in doubt.
Therefore the good of the state requires accelerating the inquiry process, not suspending it. The Olmert issue must be sorted out swiftly and thoroughly. It cannot continue to hover like a shadow over a country in an emergency. A country committed to embark on a new era without delay cannot accept at its helm a man embodying the affliction of the old era.