Welcome to Israel
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was all smiles a day after police recommended that he face criminal charges in a corruption scandal.
Declining to answer reporters’s questions, an ebullient Olmert grinned broadly and waxed patriotic as he greeted a jumbo jet-load of new immigrants from the United States.
“Welcome to the State of Israel,” Olmert said in English to applause, holding his arms out in a symbolic embrace. “I want to tell you something: You came from a great country to the greatest country in the world.”
He hadn’t looked this happy in public in months. Widely unpopular at home, a chance to speak to a largely foreign audience might have been a welcome break.
A day earlier, Israel’s national police said they had evidence showing Olmert illegally received money from a U.S. businessman and made duplicate claims for travel expenses when he served as mayor of Jerusalem and trade and industry minister. He has denied any wrongdoing.
With Olmert committed to resigning after his Kadima party holds a leadership vote on Sept. 17, the police recommendation to indict him — a decision only Israel’s attorney-general can make — will have no immediate impact on his tenure. And he could soon be a lame duck in limbo — a caretaker prime minister in charge until his Kadima successor forms a new coalition government, or failing that, until a general election can be held. That process could take weeks or months, and there’s no telling when Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz will make his decision.
In the meantime, speculation is mounting in the Israeli media that Olmert might just call it quits — sort of — by announcing a leave of absence, perhaps to undergo a long-delayed operation to treat his prostate cancer. If that happens, Olmert’s deputy, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would become acting prime minister — even if she loses
the Kadima leadership race to her main challenger Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz. That would reshuffle the political deck in Israel.
Confused? Well, as Olmert would say: Welcome to the State of Israel.