Olmert considers comeback for election
THE Israeli former prime minister Ehud Olmert is considering a political comeback, despite his recent conviction for breach of trust and his forthcoming trial on bribery charges, to challenge Benjamin Netanyahu in a general election next year.
Olmert, who was prime minister from 2006 until 2009, is expected to decide on the move within days, according to media reports. His allies claim there is no legal bar to such a move.
Netanyahu announced on Tuesday evening that he would go to the polls early next year rather than face the defeat of his austerity budget. The date is to be set in the coming days, with most commentators predicting late January or early February. Olmert could return to lead the centre-right Kadima party, ousting its present head, Shaul Mofaz. Other possibilities are that Olmert leads a new centre party or heads up a bloc of centre parties, which may be able to muster enough seats to dislodge Netanyahu. Olmert is considered to be the only figure capable of mounting a credible challenge to the incumbent prime minister.
“What is driving Netanahu to the polling stations at almost hysterical speed is Ehud Olmert. Bibi also reads the polls . . . and he knows that the only one who can give him a real fight, as an equal, with an actual chance, is Olmert,” wrote the columnist Ben Caspit in the Ma’ariv newspaper. Netanyahu’s move was intended “to pre-empt Olmert’s comeback, catch his opponents off guard and steal a new term before it’s too late”, he said.
The former Kadima minister Haim Ramon confirmed that he had approached Olmert about joining a new centre party. “I am talking to Ehud Olmert, he has obviously not made his decision and we need to wait patiently and if you want to find out from him you need to talk to him, but in principle we are talking,” Ramon told Army Radio.
Kadima, which emerged from the last election as the biggest party but was unable to form a government, is projected to win only eight seats in the 120-place parliament, down from 28 in 2009.
Amit Segal, chief political correspondent for Israel’s Channel 2, said: “Kadima is in such a desperate position that Mofaz would be happy to give up his place to Olmert.” However, he added, Olmert’s public appeal was tempered by his criminal cases and the fact that he took Israel into two wars, in 2006 and 2008.
Last month Olmert was fined and given a suspended prison sentence after being convicted of breach of trust when a minister. He was cleared of corruption charges. He still faces another trial on bribery charges over a residential development called Holyland. He has denied the accusations and his lawyers say the case against him is weak.
As prime minister, Olmert was responsible for the second Lebanon war in the summer of 2006, and the three-week conflict in Gaza that began on Dec 27, 2008. He entered into secret and detailed negotiations with the Palestinians on a settlement to end the conflict, which reached an advanced stage before he was forced to resign as party leader over corruption charges. — The Guardian, London