Israel’s attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, has informed Prime Minister Olmert that he will likely be indicted for systematically billing multiple agencies to pay for private trips abroad (Ha’aretz, AG plans to indict Olmert over double-billing affair). This would be the first time a sitting Israeli PM was indicted.
There is no law in Israel which demands that the PM resign if he is merely indicted for a serious crime (he would need to be convicted), although Olmert has said that he would step aside if indicted. If he does resign or declare himself incapacitated, the ‘designated acting PM’ is Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and she would take the position of PM for up to 100 days. New elections are already scheduled for February.
Previously Olmert promised to quit after the Kadima primary in September, assuming that the winner could form a coalition. Livni won, but for various reasons — in particular because the Shas party escalated their demands for tribute — she was not able to do so. Olmert then chose to stay on. My guess is that Olmert is looking for a way to hang on even now, unless things get a lot worse. A spokesman said that “…in this case the prosecution is presenting a one-sided, incorrect version of the events that is destined to crack and collapse.”
Polls show that the coming election may be close, although the Likud party of Binyamin Netanyahu presently has the advantage. That could change, and there is also the possibility of a unity government. In any event, there’s no question that Tzipi Livni today would be much more effective as PM than Olmert, the lamest of ducks.
There have been suggestions that the Obama administration wants to get moving immediately after his inauguration on a far-reaching ‘peace’ plan. Olmert has already made inappropriate statements about what Israel should be prepared to accept in negotiations with the Palestinians, statements which will be construed as bottom lines when serious negotiations resume with the new administration.
Considerations of national interest as well as decency and self-respect demand that Olmert step down now.