July 30, 2008

Israel's Olmert to resign over corruption investigation

Israel's Olmert to resign over corruption investigation

By Dion Nissenbaum | McClatchy Newspapers

JERUSALEM — Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced Wednesday That he'll resign as prime minister in September, setting the stage for a successor to take over as early as the following month.

Olmert made it clear that he was reluctantly stepping aside because a deepening political corruption investigation was making it increasingly difficult span for him to serve effectively.

The timing of his resignation is keyed to a meeting of his ruling Kadima Party, which will choose a new leader in mid- or late September. Olmert, who took office early in 2006, could remain in power as a caretaker prime minister As late as January. he decision will make it much more difficult for Olmert to cement a historic legacy by securing groundbreaking peace deals with Syria or the Palestinians

Before he leaves office.
"He's a lame duck, and this curtails his ability to do anything really dramatic in the areas of war and peace,"
said Yossi Alpher, a former Israeli Intelligence official who now serves as a co-director of the political Web site Bitterlemons.org.

Instead, Olmert is more likely to wind down his term by stepping up his fight against the corruption investigations. The impact of the investigations on Olmert and his decision was clear when he delivered his surprise announcement from an enclosed garden at his Jerusalem home.

"As soon as I was elected I found myself in a wave of investigations, examinations and criticism,"
he said in a televised address.
"From almost my first day in office as prime minister I had to parry these attacks, even as I was making fateful decisions regarding Israel's security and existence."

Most of the allegations failed to affect him seriously until this summer.

Calls for Olmert to step aside increased after American businessman Morris Talansky told Israeli police that he'd given the Israeli leader tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars in cash over the last 15 years.

New allegations surfaced earlier this month that Olmert had double-billed companies and nonprofit groups for his expenses when he traveled to speak to them, then used the money to pay for family vacations.

In his address, Olmert admitted that he'd made unspecified "mistakes" during his political career, and he apologized.

He expressed confidence that he'd be cleared of any wrongdoing, but made clear that the investigations had become an unwelcome diversion.

"What's more important?"
Olmert said.
"Justice for me or the good of the public?"

Olmert's party is scheduled to hold its first vote to choose a new leader on Sept. 17, with a second round set for a week later. The new party leader would have up to 42 days to establish a new coalition. If the attempt fails, Israel would be thrown into elections within three months.

Olmert's most likely successors in Kadima are Tzipi Livni, the Foreign Minister, and Shaul Mofaz, the more hawkish transportation minister.

Kadima Party voters currently favor Livni in the polls, but it's thought that Olmert favors Mofaz.

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