Ehud Olmert: Symbol of the Peace Process

May 21, 2014

3 min read

P. David_Hornik

…We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies.

Those words were spoken by Ehud Olmert in a speech to the dovish, American Jewish, Israel Policy Forum in June 2005. At that time Olmert was Israel’s deputy prime minister. Less than a year later, in April 2006, he became prime minister.

The words shocked many at the time; they sounded morally and intellectually corrupt. The Second Intifada, a savage five-year Palestinian terror war waged mostly against Israeli civilians, was then still winding down—thanks only to the courageous fighting of the Israeli security forces. To intimate that Israel was exhausted, and only looking to get chummy with “enemies” of murderous ilk, sounded like stunning, cavalier cynicism. 

Olmert was prime minister from April 2006 to March 2009. Last week a Tel Aviv District Court judge, David Rozen, sentenced him to six years in prison and a million-shekel ($290,000) fine for taking bribes as part of a massive real estate scandal, both while Olmert was mayor of Jerusalem from 1993 to 2003 and subsequently when he was a cabinet minister.

Judge Rozen censured Olmert with particularly harsh words:

A public official who accepts bribes, an individual who abuses his power to gain illicit benefits for his own gain, is no better than a traitor. An individual who offers bribes is corrupt and his actions corrupt others. Those who accept bribes evoke nothing but disdain, as they antagonize the public and undermine state institutions.

Some in Israel—generally those who still share the dovish outlook that Olmert adopted—see the sentence as excessive and put hopes in Olmert and his lawyers’ planned appeal to the Supreme Court. Others note that Olmert, going back to when he was mayor, was known to be a focal point of corruption in Israel and see the sentence as justice finally catching up with him.

Eli Hazan, a commentator for the right-of-center daily Israel Hayom, notes that Olmert as mayor

left behind enormous debts, failing municipal services, a mass exodus…from the city…. Ahead of the 2006…election, many Jerusalemites tried to raise the question of Olmert’s conduct in the national media…. The sentence given to Olmert on Tuesday provided Jerusalem residents with closure.… Olmert learned that everyone is equal before the law. This is how things work in a properly run country.

That Olmert’s corruption continued well after his tenure as mayor was dramatically affirmed on Thursday, just two days after his sentencing, in testimony by a former bureau chief. As part of a plea bargain, the former aide implicated Olmert in taking undeclared donations, a double-billing scheme, and obstruction of justice.

One can speculate whether there is a psychological link between Olmert’s personal corruption and that other kind of corruption evident in his “We are tired of fighting…” statement. What is clear, though, is that Olmert was known for most of his career as a hawkish Likud politician; that by the time he made the statement, 2005, he had crossed over to a dovish outlook; and that the Israeli dovish outlook is based largely on bribery—that is, the notion that peace with the Palestinian Authority can essentially be bought with sweet inducements of land, sovereignty, and economic benefits.

It hardly escapes notice that Olmert’s comeuppance roughly coincides with the demise of yet another round of peace-processing, this one American-driven in the persons of John Kerry and Martin Indyk. What is lost on Israelis like Olmert and Americans like Kerry and Indyk is that the Palestinian side has certain—passions? principles?—out of which it cannot be bribed. Such as that the whole land is Palestine, and allowing any part of it to be, and remain, Israel is a horrible, unthinkable transgression.

Ehud Olmert may have been too far gone to think anyone was beyond being bribed. His example is not one to emulate but, rather, to detest.

Reprinted with author’s permission

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