Is­rael’s Olmert: From prom­ise to prison

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ehud Olmert was once de­scribed as “prob­a­bly the best” politi­cian Is­rael ever pro­duced, but the debonair ex-pre­mier who was re­leased from prison yesterday has seen a hu­mil­i­at­ing fall from grace. Olmert, 71, be­came Is­rael’s first ex-prime min­is­ter to serve jail time when he walked into the Maasiyahu prison in the cen­tral city of Ramle in Fe­bru­ary 2016 for the 27-month term over cor­rup­tion scan­dals.

He was granted early re­lease by a pa­role board last week, shav­ing about a third off his sen­tence. He did not speak to re­porters when leav­ing prison yesterday. Once known for re­launch­ing peace ef­forts with the Pales­tini­ans while prime min­is­ter be­tween 2006-2009, Olmert is now likely to be re­mem­bered for al­le­ga­tions that led one judge to speak of “cor­rupt and filthy prac­tices.” A bald­ing fa­ther-of-four with a lean physique, rogu­ish grin and a re­puted taste for fine cigars, Olmert main­tained his in­no­cence in a video mes­sage be­fore en­ter­ing prison.

“You can imag­ine how painful and strange this change is to me, my fam­ily, loved ones and sup­port­ers,” Olmert said in the video. He added that he be­lieves the pub­lic will even­tu­ally see that “while I was prime min­is­ter, there were sin­cere and promis­ing at­tempts” to reach peace. The main al­le­ga­tions against him date to be­fore his time as prime min­is­ter, to the years when he served as mayor of Jerusalem and econ­omy min­is­ter, among other po­si­tions. Olmert was born near Haifa on Septem­ber 30, 1945 dur­ing the Bri­tish man­date of Pales­tine.

A lawyer by trade, he sur­prised many right-wing friends in the early 1970s by mar­ry­ing left-lean­ing artist Al­iza Richter, who brought up their chil­dren with equally lib­eral views. He en­tered the cab­i­net in 1988 and five years later was elected mayor of Jerusalem, a post he held for a decade but in which he rarely dis­tin­guished him­self, be­fore re­turn­ing to the govern­ment un­der Ariel Sharon in 2003. With Sharon, he broke away from the right-wing Likud party in 2005 to form the cen­tre-right Kadima and be­came pre­mier the fol­low­ing year af­ter Sharon suf­fered a mas­sive stroke and slipped into a coma.

Be­fore tak­ing over as prime min­is­ter, Olmert was rec­og­nized as a key strate­gist be­hind many of Sharon’s bold­est moves, in­clud­ing Is­rael’s 2005 with­drawal from Gaza as well as their split from the Likud. Time mag­a­zine was so im­pressed that it dubbed him “the 12th Is­raeli to serve as prime min­is­ter and prob­a­bly the best politi­cian of them all”. Af­ter Sharon’s col­lapse, Olmert led Kadima to vic­tory in March 2006 on a plat­form of dis­man­tling dozens of set­tle­ments and with­draw­ing troops from most of the West Bank. But things be­gan to go down­hill, with his West Bank plan shelved af­ter a bloody 34-day war against Le­banon’s Hezbol­lah that sum­mer which left more than 1,200 dead in Le­banon, mostly civil­ians, and 160 in Is­rael, mostly sol­diers. Un­like many of his pre­de­ces­sors, Olmert lacked an il­lus­tri­ous mil­i­tary back­ground and his han­dling of the con­flict was harshly crit­i­cized. Al­though he re­jected peace talks for decades, Olmert un­der­went a late-ca­reer con­ver­sion. Fol­low­ing the re­launch of ne­go­ti­a­tions in Novem­ber 2007 end­ing a seven-year hia­tus, Olmert met sev­eral times with Pales­tinian pres­i­dent Mah­mud Ab­bas, re­port­edly mak­ing far-reach­ing con­ces­sions in a bid to reach an agree­ment.

But the talks were abruptly halted just over a year later when Is­rael em­barked upon a dev­as­tat­ing three-week of­fen­sive in Gaza. Olmert also en­tered into Turk­ish-me­di­ated talks with long-time foe Syria in May 2008 over Is­rael’s oc­cu­pa­tion of the Golan Heights. He re­signed as pre­mier in Septem­ber 2008 af­ter po­lice rec­om­mended he be in­dicted for graft, but he re­mained in of­fice un­til March 2009, when Likud leader Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu was sworn in to the post, which he has held since. — AFP

For­mer Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ehud Olmert

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