Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Olmert: About F#%king Time

This evening Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that he has decided not to run for leader in the Kadima party primaries in September, and to resign as PM once a new party chair has been elected. With that, the farcical Olmert government will come to an end. And with that, the very last nail in the coffin can be put through President George W. Bush's wistful "expectation" that by the end of his presidency the rough outlines of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal will be hammered out. Now we know for certain that it will be up to one of two warmed-over US foreign policy teams to re-engage the Arab-Israeli mess in 2009. Either it will be round two for the chastened neo-cons (if McCain wins) or round two for the old Clinton foreign policy hands (if Obama wins) to work with a new Israeli government to promote some kind of resolution of the ever-worsening problem. But George Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Keith Dayton and Robert Gates can now once-and-for-all let it all go. For all intents and purposes, the Annapolis "process" -- a still-born diplomatic initiative if there ever was one -- is over.

But back to Olmert. I've already described him as the "accidental Prime Minister" of Israel. He was never, ever supposed to arise to such things. It was only the incapacitating stroke of Ariel Sharon in January 2006 that elevated Olmert into such a vaunted position of power. Olmert was a party hack, a man already stained by tales of corruption and kickbacks while he presided as mayor over the decade-long deterioration of Jerusaelm. He proved himself unfit to lead Israel when he cavalierly barreled into a disastrous war with Hizbollah back in July of 2006. For those who knew a bit of the back story, Ehud Olmert was a disaster waiting to happen. And disaster there was, in spades.

But it is not just Olmert. The stench of corruption pervades Israeli politics. It doesn't matter whether it is Kadima, Labor, or Likud. Everyone does it, and there are many wealthy diaspora Jews willing to foot the bill for these venal Israeli machers. This is why small, short-lived protest parties crop up so often during Israeli national election cycles. The entrenched parties seem to be rotten to the core. There is a real possibility that Kadima -- the artificial creation designed by Sharon to buttress his massive political ego -- won't be around by the time of the next election. But if it is, expect two fairly inept and insignificant political underlings to duke it out for party leadership -- the inexperienced Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and the military man Shaul Mofaz. If there actually is a party to lead, one of them will then have to contend with the elder Likud and Labor parties for the bulk of the Israeli electorate. These will likely be led by two former (and failed) PMs respectively -- Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. But don't be surprised if some new boutique "clean government" party rises out of this political swamp.

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