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Ha'aretz Editorial: "Fall on the right sword"

If there is any realpolitik justification for Olmert's continued tenure, it lies in the faint hope that if the prime minister is already fated to fall, he will at least choose to fall on the sword of peace efforts rather than the sword of a failed war.

2/1/08

If Prime Minister Ehud Olmert thought he would be "let off" by the Winograd Committee, just as he has been saved thus far from an incredible number of other investigations against him during his brief tenure, he was mistaken. Even if he manages to survive in his post for a while, he will soon learn what most of his predecessors learned, to their misfortune: An Israeli prime minister's term is not measured by its length, but by its quality - by how much it contributed to or damaged the country. In other words, by its legacy.

From this perspective, the principle question after publication of the Winograd Report is not whether this or that section of it used "acquitting" or "incriminating" language, but whether Olmert will be remembered solely as the prime minister of the failed war in Lebanon, or whether he should be given another chance to be remembered for some contribution or positive legacy.

The political lives of Israeli prime ministers have never been beds of roses. Most of them were bitter and briefer than expected; most ended prematurely, with a sense of tragedy or missed opportunity, and generally before the premier had managed to implement a historically significant move. But even in comparison with all his predecessors, Olmert's situation looks particularly grim. Being a man without charisma, who by chance stepped into his predecessor's very large shoes, and with the burden of a dubious legacy (the "disengagement" that brought no calm), Olmert suffered from unprecedented unpopularity for an Israeli prime minister. Even before publication of the report on the war, his position in the polls was so poor it seemed he could go no lower.

Olmert was clearly not helped by the fact that before the war, he left no significant mark (other, perhaps, than attacks via an emissary on the Supreme Court's status). He was mainly notable for evasive maneuvers, procrastination and survival games. His term thus far has been distinguished by fitting and courageous statements and speeches. Of course, one can denigrate these statements. Nevertheless, it is hard to recall a previous prime minister who made such well-marshaled, systematic and fleshed-out promises for carrying out a political agenda of dividing the country and making peace with the Palestinians.

Olmert's immediate resignation or ouster would satisfy a desire for revenge and let him go down in history as Israel's worst prime minister ever. The question is how the state would benefit from this, given that his removal would absolve him, and us, of any attempt to satisfy the obligations he has undertaken, on the basis of which he was elected with a party and coalition that may well prove one-time events. This is all the more true when the alternative is a policy that gloried in torpedoing the Oslo Accords and has a hidden but firm agenda of not dividing the land. Following the report's publication, Olmert will no longer have the excuse that he is waiting for Winograd and so is refraining from bold actions that would implement his diplomatic declarations.

If there is any realpolitik justification for Olmert's continued tenure, it lies in the faint hope that if the prime minister is already fated to fall, he will at least choose to fall on the sword of peace efforts rather than the sword of a failed war.