Monday, May 05, 2008

Will Political Scandal Finally Topple the Olmert Government?

Will Israel's long national nightmare soon be over? There are signs. In recent days, the Olmert government has once again been rocked by political corruption scandal that apparently reaches to the Prime Minister's office. Olmert has been subjected to renewed interrogation by the National Fraud Unit. A court-imposed news blackout has kept details of the public, but that will be partially lifted on Tuesday. Earlier this morning, as reported by the Jersualem Post, officials in the police and the attorney general's office were quoted by Army Radio as saying the that findings that have been accumulated so far are "reliable" and "will shock the country" when they are revealed. Opposition leaders in the Knesset are predicting openly that Olmert's Kadima-Labour led coalition government will soon fall apart, leading to new elections. That does not sound good for the Olmert government, or for the hopes of the President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for a meaningless Israeli-Palestinian "peace treaty" by the end of the Bush Administration. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

UPDATE, 5/5/2008 @ 8:45 p.m.:According to the Jerusalem Post, Israeli police are now saying that the media blackout concerning the ongoing investigation will continue. A statement released by the police and Justice Ministry cited the exceptional circumstances behind the police investigation of the Prime Minister as justifying the information ban. The statement, in the form of a letter signed by Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen said:

"We are well aware of the public interest and need to receive information. Indeed, the situation in which the reigning prime minister is interrogated under caution, while no information, general lines of inquiry, or the substance of the suspicions against him are released creates difficulties for the public, as well as legal-constitutional challenges."

"At the same timeā€¦ there is a vital public interest not to thwart the investigation and not to harm chances of discovering the truth."

The officials promised "to closely monitor the situationā€¦ with a view to allow, as early as possible, the release of information to the public."

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post reported, opposition politicians from the Likud Party have been quick to capitalize on the latest scandal eminating from the Olmert government. Likud faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar, speaking in the Knesset, said:

"It is inconceivable that from investigation to investigation Olmert continues with negotiations about concessions. Between investigations, don't touch the lands of Judea and Samaria. Don't you dare to place a hand on Jerusalem. It isn't one of your apartments up for sale. Don't pass on secret messages to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad that Israel is ready to leave the Golan Heights because it is not true. You don't have a majority in the house to continue your process of unilateral concessions."

The phrase, "It isn't one of your apartments," was a veiled reference to one of several prior corruption probes into the affairs of Ehud Olmert. The Israeli premier was suspected of having received an effective bribe when he and his wife purchased the west Jerusalem home in 2004 for an estimated 300,000 dollars below market price. In return, Olmert's associates are alleged to have helped the firm that refurbished the property to gain construction permits from Jerusalem city hall, which Olmert headed as mayor between 1993 and 2003. The investigation did not lead to criminal charges or prosecution, due to insufficient evidence of wrongdoing.

Interestingly enough, that Olmert scandal is rather reminiscent of the sweetheart home purchase by Senator and U.S. Presidential candidate Barack Obama, from his next-door neighbor Antoin "Tony" Rezko, who is currently himself on trial for criminal fraud. Should Obama win the Presidency, and should Olmert manage to hold onto his office into 2009, the two politicians might find that they have a good deal in common. Let's hope that both are denied the opportunity.


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