OLMERT, Ehud

Ehud Olmert, the Finance Minister of Ariel Sharon’s government in 2003, left the Likoud party in 2005 to co-found the centrist party Kadima. Since 4 January 2006, he is Ariel Sharon’s interim Prime Minister, after Sharon’s hospitalization following two consecutive cerebral strokes.

A political destiny

Ehud Olmert was born in Binyamina, in the south of Haïfa, in the north-west of Israel in 1945. He holds degrees in psychology, philosophy but also law at the Hebrew university of Jerusalem.

He served in the Israeli army as an Officer of the Infantry unit, then as a journalist for the Israeli army daily newspaper, before being elected at the Parliament at the age of 28.

Ehud Olmert comes from a very politically active family. His father Mordechaï was born in Russia, arrived in Palestine in 1933 and was elected at the Knesset in the 1950s to represent the Herout, a Zionist right party and ancestor of the Likoud.

A political career…alongside Ariel Sharon

Ehud Olmert was elected for the first time at the Knesset in 1973. He was reelected seven times in a row, always occupying important positions, like for instance the head of the Commission for Defense and Foreign Affairs.

Between 1981 and 1988, he worked for the cabinet of Finances, education and budget. In 1988 he became Minister without Portfolio responsible for minority affairs, afterwards Minister of Health from 1990-1992.

In November 1993 he was elected Mayor of Jerusalem, and kept this position for ten years. Olmert was the first Likud member to obtain such a position. During his two consecutive mandates, he invested substantial resources in education and in the development of infrastructures.

In 2003, he was called to Ariel Sharon, when the latter was reelected at the head of government. He immediately became his Deputy Prime Minister as well as his confidant. Olmert proved to be a very influent member of the Cabinet. He was one of the first ones to recommend the withdrawal of the Gaza strip. The project was finally approved by the Prime Minister and institutionalized under the term “Disengagement Plan”.

M. Olmert was the first important Israeli official to demand Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from a major part of the occupied Palestinian Territories. He estimated that, taking into account the high birth rate on the Arab side, Israel had no other choice but to accept a Palestinian State on its side if the country wanted “to maintain its Jewish and democratic nature.”

In August 2005, Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resigned in order to denounce the Gaza withdrawal plan, which he judged to be “blind in time”. Olmert took his position as Finance Minister.

After Ariel Sharon’s decision to leave the Likoud party in November 2005, Olmert followed him along with other former Likoud members to create Kadima, the new centrist party.

On 5 January 2006, the day after Sharon’s hospitalization, Olmert was elected interim Prime Minister, a function he exercises along with the function of Finance Minister.

On 28 March 2006, the Israeli legislative elections took place. The Kadima party arrived in first position with 28 seats out of the total 120 seats of the Knesset. More or less 20 days before the elections, Olmert had announced his plan to determine the Israeli borders unilaterally. The project is called “plan for Convergence”, and aims to evacuate the isolated colonies as well as drawing the line of the new Israeli borders before 2010. The plan strengthens the fear of the Palestinians who dreaded that Ariel Sharon’s unilateral approach during the 2005 Gaza withdrawal would only lead to the renunciation of negotiation.

A month later tensions increases between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Shortly after, the firing of rockets from Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon pushes Olmert to respond by the hard way. A one-month conflict begins with negative consequences for the government of Ehud Olmert.

The following year the Prime Minister of Israel sees its legitimacy undermined by both blame on his mismanagement of the war against Hezbollah  (revealed by the Winograd Commission’s interim report) but also because of his involvement in a few cases of corruption. A majority of the Israeli population now wants his resignation, but he refuses to leave his office.

On November 27, 2007 the Annapolis conference is being held to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The conference had the merit to regroup for the first time all Arab leaders around a table. The lack of legitimacy of government Olmert weighted on the proper conduct of negotiations.

In May 2008 Olmert was subject to a new survey. Olmert reportedly received financial aid of a U.S. contractor Morris Talsky while he was campaigning to become mayor of Jerusalem and sought the leadership of the Likud. Talsky has confessed having paid over 100 000 dollars in cash for fifteen years.

In his defence, Olmert stated publicly: « I’ve never taken a bribe, I’ve never taken a penny for myself. I was elected by you, citizens of Israel to be Prime Minister and I do not intend to shirk this responsibility.  »

Yet this umpteenth accusation of corruption makes him even more unpopular man. When at the outcome of the summit for the Union of Mediterranean, the Prime Minister said he had never been so close from a peace agreement with Palestine, the press casts an ironic eye on his promises of peace. Ehud Olmert has no legitimacy to speak on the issue as he did at the summit.

Three weeks later, on July 30, 2008 Olmert says he will not deny the primary elections of Kadima in September and he will leave his post once a new president is elected. In his resignation speech, he talked about the corruption case against him and said he was « proud to be a citizen of a country where a Prime minister can be investigated as any other citizen » .

The announcement of this withdrawal allows the Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni to run the place as Prime Minister.