You gotta hand it to the Leaning Tower of Jello. Its months after it was predicted that he would be put out to pasture but Olmert and his comb-over are still in power. He remains in as the Prime Minister to disable the Israeli/Jewish Dreams. Why is this guy still around ? Because as lousy as he is as a public politician —he is excellent as a back room politician . His goal remains as it has always been–not to lead his country–but to stay in power, even if he destroys the security of his country in the meantime. Its time for new elections but the ones that want them the most (Likkud) are powerless to bring them about.
Democracies that run on a prime-ministerial system, as do most European ones, have a major drawback and a major advantage when compared with presidential democracies like America.
On the one hand, they are less stable, since a prime minister can be made to resign by his own party or by parliament at any time. On the other hand, they are more flexible, since such resignations are routine. Heads of state do not tend to remain in office when they are extremely unpopular or discredited, as do American presidents, who can be deposed only by the rare drama of an impeachment process.
It would be only normal, therefore, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was informed two days ago of a third official police investigation launched against him on suspicions of corruption, were to resign — or to be made to do so if he declined to.
Even apart from the corruption charges, Mr. Olmert, after all, has not been a great success. His government’s major initiative, the 2006 war in Lebanon, was a costly failure; on the social and economic fronts, where he has continued the policies of previous governments, his influence has been unfelt; his political party, Kadima, inherited by him, like the post of prime minister, from Arik Sharon, has been doing worse than poorly in the polls; and he himself has been hovering around the ten percent mark in public approval — which means that 85 to 90% of Israeli voters think he is doing a bad job.
And yet, remarkably enough, as though he were not a prime minister but an American president, Mr. Olmert has shown no inclination to resign and has had no significant political pressure exerted on him to do so. A public campaign to force his resignation in the months after the Lebanese war fizzled out for lack of widespread support. Within his own party, a brief insurrection in the same period was quickly quelled. None of the parties in the Knesset that are his coalition partners have shown any signs of turning against him. Even the demands of the parliamentary Opposition that he step down have been more pro forma than inspired by genuine political zeal.
Why is this?
In part, it is because of Ehud Olmert’s particular skills. Ineffective as a national leader, he has been extremely effective as a behind-the-scenes politician. The same talent for cronyism that lie behind the charges of corruption has served him well in holding his party and coalition together. He has rewarded loyalty and been a good friend to his political partners, none of whom bear him any personal ill will or are anxious to desert him.
But beyond that, Mr. Olmert’s parliamentary coalition has not been rocked from within because no one in it believes there is a better alternative to him. In Kadima, his only potentially strong challenger, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, has backed away from a confrontation. Were Kadima — a party jerrybuilt by Ariel Sharon when he bolted Likud in 2005 and having no popular roots — called upon to replace him, it could easily fall apart in a fit of internal squabbling or quarrel with its coalition partners. In the end, this would necessitate new elections.
And new elections is what almost nobody in the Israeli political system wants right now. Kadima and Mr. Olmert do not want them because they would do badly. The Labor Party, Kadima’s coalition partner on the Left, does not want them because at best it might maintain its present strength, which is not enough for it to come out on top. The religious and heavily Sephardic-supported Shas party, and the nationalist and heavily Russian-supported Yisrael Beiteinu party, Kadima’s coalition partners on the Right, do not want them because they are feeding well from the political trough right now and do not wish their meal to be interrupted.
This leaves Likud and Benjamin Netanyahu — who want new elections very much, because they would be their true beneficiaries. Poll after poll in the last year has shown Likud, whose strength was drastically curtailed in the 2005 vote because Ariel Sharon jumped ship from it, returning to its old strength if elections were held now and emerging as the Knesset’s largest party. This would put Mr. Netanyahu back in the prime minister’s seat, last occupied by him in 1998.
If truth be told, Mr. Netanyahu looks a lot better to most Israelis today than he did in 1998, let alone in 2005. His free-market economic policies, once widely feared by a country not used to them, have become accepted and have led to an economic boom; his unpopular opposition to Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza, seemingly irrational at the time, has proven to be soundly based. Although he still strikes many Israeli voters as overly erratic and impulsive, many today would be willing to give him a second chance.
Mr. Olmert’s term still has three years to run and he seems firmly in command at the moment. But there is something illusory about this. Should any of the investigations of him lead to an indictment, should next month’s planned Annapolis summit, on which he has staked his reputation, come off badly, should the long-delayed Lebanese war report of the Winograd Commission, due to be released within the next few months, make his conduct of the war look worse than it is assumed to have been — his position could quickly become shaky.
Until then, Benjamin Netanyahu will go on waiting quietly in the wings. There’s not much else he can do with a 12-member Likud in a 120-member Knesset.
But his cue may come sooner than most people think.