Analysis: Olmert's 'resignation' looking more like a ploy

Thursday, July 31, 2008 |  Ryan Jones

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday said in a televised address to the nation that he will not run in his Kadima Party's upcoming mid-September primary and will immediately following that election step down to make way for the winner.

In a speech most of the Israeli press curiously characterized as "dignified," Olmert lashed out at political opponents for having chased him out of office, while remaining adamant in his refusal to take responsibility for any of his shortcomings, failures or improprieties.

In fact, Olmert maintained his innocence in each of the six corruption investigations still opened against him, and insisted that his premiership had been marked by tremendous achievements that had left Israel better and stronger than when he took office.

Closer analysis of what some reports said amounted to a resignation, however, suggested that Olmert may have perpetrated a clever ruse aimed at keeping himself in office for at least another nine months.

While Olmert did promise to step down following the Kadima primary, that move was conditioned on the winner of the internal election successfully forming a new majority government. It is widely believed that both of the Kadima leadership frontrunners, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, will have great difficulty accomplishing that task.

Should the winner of the primary fail to form a new majority government, Olmert will by default remain prime minister of the current government until new national elections can be held, probably in March or April of next year. Olmert made no commitment to refrain from running in that election, if it takes place.

Also sidestepped was the fact that Olmert made no promise to leave politics, but only to step down as prime minister for the time being. Even if his successor as Kadima chairman manages to form a new government, Olmert is expected to remain a Knesset member and representative of the party, free to contest the leadership position at some future date.

Giving credence to the theories that Olmert is planning to retain or regain power in the future is his insistence on continuing to make far-reaching commitments and concessions to the Arabs in order to hastily conclude a peace deal by the end of the year.

If Olmert succeeds in overseeing some kind of peace deal, regardless of how unfavorable its conditions, he will reclaim legitimacy in the eyes of enough Israelis to stay in office or win a future election.

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