Although he resigned as prime minister after three years in office, Ehud Olmert never gave up his hope of returning to political life. Analysts believe his acquittal of major criminal charges on Tuesday will pave the way to a potential comeback bid to the prime minister's office.
Olmert himself, however, may postpone any mention of a comeback until after his sentencing on Sept. 6 over his conviction of breach of trust, which may or may not involve prison time or community service, as well as a judgment of moral turpitude, all of which may bar him from running for office in the short term at least. Additionally, Olmert is still facing possible serious charges in the Holyland case, in which he is being accused of bribery and corruption.
Kadima MK Yoel Hasson, an Olmert ally, said on Tuesday "I hope Olmert's acquittal will be instrumental in his return to Israeli politics. His political character has been missed in recent years." Olmert's other supporters inside Kadima include party heavyweights such as faction chair Dalia Itzik, Ronnie Bar-On, Yohanan Plesner and Yaakov Edri.
Political analysts believe that although Olmert will not run for a position in the next elections, currently slated for October 2013, he will try to use his influence with Kadima to help the party present a viable alternative to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Towards that end, he may solicit help from political allies like Haim Ramon and Yair Lapid, close personal friends who are both making bids to represent the political center. Olmert may also try to work against former Kadima chair Tzipi Livni, who was a partner in the move that lead to his resignation as Kadima chairman and prime minister in 2009.
Since his resignation as prime minister, Olmert has on occasion operated behind the scenes to influence events. Two years ago, when Kadima faced a possible split due to a power struggle between Shaul Mofaz and Livni, Olmert spoke with several Kadima MKs and urged them to keep the party united. Olmert supported Mofaz in his successful bid to oust Livni from the leadership of Kadima earlier this year.
Olmert currently serves as an adviser to Lapid, who heads the left-of-center Yesh Atid ("There is a Future") party and has also advised Plesner on issues concerning the new law.
After a Jerusalem court acquitted Olmert on Tuesday of two major charges that prompted him to resign from the prime minister's post, but convicted him of breach of trust, Netanyahu congratulated Olmert and said he trusts the judicial system.
"I have complete faith in Israel's judicial system and congratulate Olmert on his acquittal on two of the three charges against him," Netanyahu said.
Other reactions across the political spectrum to Olmert's acquittal and conviction ranged from support to condemnation, as well as caution. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who at the time lead the campaign to force Olmert's resignation as prime minister, congratulated his former political colleague "on the two acquittals and the end to the discomfort he endured." Barak echoed Olmert's remark upon leaving the courthouse on Tuesday and said "There are judges in Jerusalem."
Vice Prime Minister and Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz said, "I congratulate Olmert, a member of the movement and its former leader, upon his acquittal in the major charges against him. He has many merits due to the variety of positions he held in the service of the country."
Opposition leader and Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich said, "The judicial system acted professionally, courageously and in an unbiased manner," and warned against those lashing out at the state prosecution. "Denouncing the state prosecution may lead to severe repercussions regarding the judicial process. This is the first time a prime minister was convicted of breach of trust. The police, prosecution and courts must continue to deal with prime ministers, presidents and other political and economic leaders as they would with average citizens and Israelis should be proud that the law is equal for both leaders and laymen."
Hasson asked Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin to schedule an emergency meeting of the State Control Committee concerning the way the state prosecution handled Olmert's case.
Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh submitted a proposal to the Knesset for a law that would prohibit the criminal investigation of a prime minister during his term of office regarding crimes he allegedly committed before his term.
Meretz Chairwoman MK Zahava Gal-On said "A prime minister in Israel should not be convicted of even one crime, and we should not allow acquittals based on lack of reasonable doubt to cloud our judgement regarding that fact. The fact that Olmert was convicted of breach of trust is extremely severe and should force him out of politics forever."
Gal-On went on to describe what she felt was Olmert's character and said "The ruling depicts a corrupt politician who used his position to amass wealth for himself and those close to him. Although he was acquitted of criminal charges, he was not acquitted of moral and value-based crimes; the acquittals did not clear him of corrupt behavior."
State Control Committee Chairman MK Uri Ariel (National Union) said "The day a former Prime Minister is convicted of breach of trust is a difficult day and a dark stain on the country. The acquittals, on the other hand, represent a day of atonement for the prosecution, and there is no way to avoid the establishment of a body to oversee the prosecution's work."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas phoned Olmert on Tuesday and congratulated him on his acquittals. Abbas wished Olmert success in his Holyland case as well.