There is a clock ticking, and it does not sound like joyous music for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Politicians close to him for many years are saying that the Cabinet cannot deal with crucial issues when the prime minister is concerned with his personal fate. Members of his own Kadima party are talking openly about an early election, and the need to organize primaries to select the party leader. The implication is that it will be a new leader. There are four prominent candidates. Polls show a considerable lead for the foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, and not much support for Ehud Olmert.
I have not heard one commentator indicate that Olmert is likely to survive the police investigations and the political commotions associated with them.
We have not heard him talk about his political future since a public speech when he denied any wrong doing about two weeks ago. In the last few days he has indicated his agreement to a party primary, but asks that the setting of a date be postponed until his lawyers can cross examine Morris Talansky. Talansky is the American fund raiser who testified last week. Olmert's lawyers said that Talansky's testimony was full of holes, but it has traction as shown by the comments of politicians from all parties, and preparations for a primary in Kadima. Other witnesses are available if Olmert comes to trial. Reports coming out of police inquiries are that one of Olmert's long-time aides has turned against him, with information even more damaging than supplied by Talansky.
Senior officials in the Finance Ministry report that the prime minister has cancelled discussions about the details of next year's budget. They attribute this to Olmert's preoccupation with his personal troubles, and are saying that it will delay the enactment of the budget beyond the timetable legally mandated.
If there is no new budget, it will not stop the government, but it will keep it to current spending levels.
Interest groups want what is promised to them.
The committee of university presidents has said that they cannot open the next academic year without the increased allocations they are expecting. The national association of students is reminding us about agreements concerning tuition and other items important to them.
It will not take long to hear from the unions of primary and secondary school teachers, and all the organizations that have been told that they will get more money for health. There are some very sick people who think they will get better only if the HMOs can implement the additions to the list of medicines that are available at heavily subsidized prices.
The prime minister is scheduled to visit Washington in the next few days. On the schedule, so far, is a meeting with President Bush. If there is a joint press conference, it may sound like the quacking of two lame ducks. If there is no joint press conference, it may be because one or both of them cannot limp to the microphone.
The story is not over. Olmert may slip out of this scandal like he has escaped others, but I would not bet on it.
If he leaves office, many will applaud the rule of law. Some will see a tragedy in a skilled politician who did not get things quite right.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325