Verdict on Olmert: Things didnt work out very well

Now we know one thing for sure: Ehud Olmert will never again be prime minister of Israel.

Olmert, who led Israel’s government from 2006 to 2009, was convicted March 31 of taking bribes in the Holyland affair, a scandal involving the illegal construction of high-rise apartments in Jerusalem when Olmert was the city’s mayor more than a decade ago.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the Tel Aviv courtroom where he was convicted on March 31 photo/jta-flash90-ido erez

Olmert was convicted of receiving about $150,000 in bribes through his brother, Yossi. Nine other former senior Olmert associates and businessmen also were found guilty on various charges, including former Olmert bureau chief Shula Zaken, who agreed last week to testify against Olmert in exchange for a plea bargain; former Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski; and former chairman of Israel’s Bank Hapoalim, Danny Dankner.

It was a soap opera of a case, but what matters now is the bottom line: Olmert, 68, faces significant jail time, not to mention a ban from politics.

Olmert resigned his premiership upon facing a corruption indictment. As recently as last year, though, pundits and advisers floated his name as Israel’s next great centrist hope.

He was the man who could lead an assertive government into a peace deal with the Palestinians, they said, as long as his corruption charges went away. Except they didn’t go away.

If the judgment has demolished Olmert’s personal reputation, his political legacy was already in tatters. His once-mighty centrist Kadima party has hit its nadir. He’s going to prison, and the party he once led has two seats in the Knesset, likely its last hurrah.

Kadima was founded by the late Ariel Sharon, the general-turned-politician, and the party’s appeal was the premise that Israel could take full control of its destiny independent of its adversaries. The state could unilaterally set its borders, move its population and bomb its enemies as it saw fit, rewriting the rules to secure Israel’s strategic needs.

That was the defining motif of Sharon’s career, from the Sinai to Lebanon to the Gaza disengagement. And it’s the approach Olmert adopted when he took the reins of Kadima (Hebrew for “onward”) after Sharon’s 2006 stroke.

But the approach has yielded mixed results: Wars in Lebanon and Gaza left Israel with inconclusive victories and fallout abroad. Olmert’s “consolidation plan,” a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank, never got off the ground. And Israel’s next government was led not by Kadima but by the Likud of Benjamin Netanyahu.

With Holyland, it seems, Olmert tried to rewrite the rulebook to suit his personal needs, disregarding building regulations in Jerusalem for the right price. But that didn’t work out very well for him.