What hap­pens if they press charges?

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY AN­SHEL PF­EF­FER

PRIME MIN­IS­TER Ehud Olmert’s aides have been promis­ing re­porters, in off-the-record brief­ings, that the cur­rent in­ves­ti­ga­tion will blow over, just as oth­ers have in the past. But even ac­cord­ing to what has been pub­lished so far, un­der the con­straints of the court’s gag-or­der, this is clearly not the case. In pre­vi­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions, the po­lice and Jus­tice Min­istry of­fi­cials trod very care­fully, ques­tion­ing first ev­ery pos­si­ble wit­ness in the outer cir­cles be­fore reach­ing the Prime Min­is­ter. This time they be­lieved that the ev­i­dence in hand was im­por­tant enough to take straight to the top.

Part of the ur­gency is due to the need to se­cure the tes­ti­mony of the for­eign cit­i­zen in­volved. Once that is done, it will be up to At­tor­ney Gen­eral Me­na­hem Mazuz to de­cide on the speed with which to con­tinue and when, if at all, to press charges.

This is seen as the wa­ter­shed mo­ment, since le­gal prece­dent man­dates that a cabi­net mem­ber, once in­dicted, must re­sign. But things could well move at a much quicker pace.

Mr Olmert is a hostage not only of the le­gal process, but also of his coali­tion. So far, save for two rebel Kadima Knes­set mem­bers, there have been no calls within the rul­ing party for his res­ig­na­tion. For­eign Min­is­ter Tzipi Livni, who will au­to­mat­i­cally fill in for Mr Olmert if he re­signs, has said that she has full trust in the jus­tice sys­tem and called to wait for mat­ters to take their course. The main coali­tion part­ner, Labour Leader and Defence Min­is­ter Ehud Barak, said that he hoped the ac­cu­sa­tions would be proven un­founded. But th­ese state­ments cover fever­ish cal­cu­la­tions go­ing on in both par­ties.

Even if an in­dict­ment is still months away, the pub­li­ca­tion of the po­lice’s sus­pi­cions, ex­pected at the latest at the be­gin­ning of next week, may put Mr Olmert in an un­ten­able po­si­tion. Se­nior Kadima mem­bers will not want to re­main any longer on the deck of a rapidly sink­ing ship. Nei­ther will Labour lead­ers be in­ter­ested in stay­ing al­lied with a prime min­is­ter un­der such cir­cum­stances. If the al­le­ga­tions seem strong enough, they will not al­low Mr Olmert to hang around wait­ing for the in­dict­ment.

Kadima is the only party large enough to form a coali­tion in the Knes­set’s present struc­ture. But Ms Livni, who was shown in a news­pa­per car­toon this week look­ing at the por­trait of Golda Meir, Is­rael’s first and so far only fe­male prime min­is­ter, will have a tough job con­vinc­ing other min­is­ters not to chal­lenge her lead­er­ship.

Shaul Mo­faz, Avi Dichter and Meir Sheetrit all see them­selves as wor­thier prime min­is­ters. Each of them will have to de­cide whether to ac­cept a Livni premiership for the time be­ing or risk party tur­moil that could bring about early elec­tions.

Mr Barak is mak­ing sim­i­lar cal­cu­la­tions. He des­per­ately wants to be PM, but be­sides lag­ging be­hind in the polls, he has not even con­sol­i­dated con­trol over his own party. A Livni-Barak part­ner­ship could be his only op­tion. The coali­tion would still need the sup­port of the smaller par­ties to sur­vive, but one use­ful in­di­ca­tion came this week when se­nior Shas mem­bers said they would have no prob­lem serv­ing in a Livni gov­ern­ment.

Op­po­si­tion leader Binyamin Ne­tanyahu will try to chip away enough MKs to force a no-con­fi­dence vote that will lead to elec­tions and al­low him to re­alise his lead in the polls. But the coali­tion’s sur­vival in­stinct may prove stronger.

Mr Olmert will not go with­out a fight. His con­fi­dent state­ments this week on the pos­si­bil­i­ties of achiev­ing peace are aimed to raise doubts among politi­cians, in­ves­ti­ga­tors and jour­nal­ists about whether it is wise to de­pose a prime min­is­ter at a po­ten­tially crit­i­cal junc­ture for the peace process.

Iron­i­cally, it might be the Pales­tini­ans who hold Mr Olmert’s last chance of sur­vival. An an­nounce­ment by them, or the Syr­i­ans, of a sig­nif­i­cant ad­vance could give him a glim­mer of hope. But even that prob­a­bly would not be enough to save a to­tally dis­cred­ited leader.

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