In desperation for a political messiah who will transform Israel’s just-announced winter 2013 election campaign and pose a viable alternative to Prime Minister Netanyahu, some on the Left are concocting a campaign to call forth the ghost of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Just say no! Olmert’s personal record should rule him out of the race.
Here is the current breakdown: Netanyahu’s Likud party is clearly the electoral frontrunner. The two most authoritative recent polls (Camil Fuchs/Haaretz, Sept. 28 and Rafi Smith/Globes, Sept. 27) give Likud 28 seats in the Knesset (up from the 27 seats it holds currently). Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima party seems headed toward a nosedive, polling only four to eight seats (down from the 28 seats it currently holds). Shelly Yachimovich’s Labor Party is surging to an expected 19 to 20 seats (up from 8 seats). Yesh Atid, a new party formed by former Channel 2 anchorman Yair Lapid, is polling eight to 11 seats. Yisrael Beytenu, the party led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, retains its strength at 14 to 16 seats, as does the ultra-Orthodox party Shas, with 10 to 11 seats
If these poll numbers remain steady, Netanyahu should have an easy time forming the next government. The Center-Right and religious bloc currently governing Israel will dominate the next (19th) Knesset.
In addition, every party, except fringe parties Meretz and the Arab parties, is a potential member of the next government. Lapid has explicitly said that he wants to be a minister in the next government. Yachimovich has consistently refused to rule out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition. It is clear that Mofaz's Kadima and Ehud Barak’s Independence — whatever is left of them — would also be partners in a new Netanyahu government, along with Likud's natural partners: Yisrael Beytenu, Shas and United Torah Judaism. The National Union and New National Religious Party — the two factions of what was once the National Religious Party — poll about six seats combined and could join a Netanyahu government as well.
Netanyahu also benefits from the fact that his rivals for the job of prime minister are unimpressive. When one listens to Mofaz, Yachimovich, Lapid, Lieberman or even Tzipi Livni (remember her?), Netanyahu easily stands out as Israel’s only authoritative and experienced statesman. He has no viable replacement at this time. And that’s before we credit the success (or debate the wisdom) of his diplomatic, defense and economic policies.
But in desperation for a political messiah who could potentially unseat Netanyahu, some on the Left are fantasizing about Olmert’s immediate return to politics at the head of a new party or a coalition of Center-Left parties. This theoretical coalition might collectively gain more votes than Likud, and then demand that President Shimon Peres give it first crack at assembling the next government.
Olmert should not be a welcome contender
The first and most obvious strike against Olmert is his criminal record. He was recently convicted of breach of trust; he is currently on trial for bribery and corruption; and he is about to be retried for money laundering and illegal campaign finances. (His acquittal on some of the recent charges of financial misconduct — the facts of which were unassailably proven — “because the psychological mindset of criminal intention was missing” flies in the face of Israeli legal jurisprudence and practice in such a grievous way that the attorney general has no choice but to appeal Olmert’s purported exoneration.)
Much more importantly, Olmert’s diplomatic policies — which he still swears by — were strategically illogical and downright dangerous.
Olmert’s “shelf agreement” concept, which served as the basis for his negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, involved promising the Palestinians an “endgame” solution with an almost complete hand-over of east Jerusalem and the West Bank. This, on the novel theory that Palestinian moderates would be strengthened by the shelf agreement, and then they’d be able to do the difficult things — such as crushing Hamas, building reliable institutions of uncorrupt government, and forgoing the so-called “right” of return. Israel must not again go Olmert’s risky route.
Even more irritating is Olmert’s pugnacious belief in his own messianic status. If only he had been in charge, Israel would not have current tensions with Turkey, nor be suffering any deterioration in relations with Egypt, or in a confrontation with the U.S. Iran would have been dealt with successfully — just as he (Olmert) dealt successfully with the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007. All the ultra-Orthodox would long ago have been drafted to the army. I heard Olmert shamelessly say these ridiculous things (hinting to and boasting about the Al Kibar reactor at least three times) in a September 11 speech at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center and in other recent addresses.
Olmert can hint at Al Kibar all he wants, but voters will better remember, I’m sure, his brilliant military campaigns like the Second Lebanon War, or the swell diplomatic moves he backed, like the Gaza Strip disengagement and a further planned (and thankfully never implemented) unilateral withdrawal in Samaria.
Remember also that Olmert was central to the handing over to the ultra-Orthodox of the keys to Israel’s Jewish character — to purchase haredi (ultra-Orthodox) support for the Oslo and Annapolis peace processes. Olmert was a key figure in the crafting of a political arrangement between the political Left in Israel and the ultra-Orthodox parties, which brought us haredi control over the official state rabbinate, rabbinical courts, conversion courts, municipal religious councils, kashrut agencies, and more. As mayor of Jerusalem, Olmert marched lock in step with the haredim of that city, paving the way for the election of a haredi mayor as his successor. Olmert also presided over the election of two haredi chief rabbis. So I doubt that he would have been — or will be — the man to confront the haredi public and draft them to the military.
Olmert’s truculent and self-serving brand of politics is the last thing that Israel needs today. No thank you.