Honed over more than two years of attacks on the pillars of Israel’s democracy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s incendiary assault on his accusers shortly before the start of his corruption trial Sunday was a brilliantly calculated assertion of innocence and victimhood.
Its core thesis, that a strong, pro-annexation, right-wing prime minister is facing an illicit attempt — perpetrated by a vast, leftist alliance of politicians, media, cops and state prosecutors — to oust him because of his ideology and policies, is also demonstrably ridiculous.
It relies on his audience becoming so swept along by the prime minister’s rhetoric — his calibrated mix of grievance and determination, and his citing of numerous ostensible flaws, failures, cover-ups and conspiracies in the marshaling of the “absurd” and “fabricated” charges against him, reinforced on Sunday by the sight of all those mute Likud ministers publicly identifying with his cause — as to forget the gaping logical hole at its center.
It relies, apparently to considerable effect, on short memories.
For it is the fate of Netanyahu’s immediate predecessor Ehud Olmert — the former Likud mayor of Jerusalem and Likud MK and minister, turned Kadima MK, minister and prime minister — that exposes the emptiness at the heart of Netanyahu’s inflammatory allegation that a leftist establishment is engaged in an attempted political coup.
Olmert’s was initially a career of singular political success. He won election to the Knesset at the tender age of 28; rose to ministerial office; left parliament after Likud’s 1992 defeat to Labor’s Yitzhak Rabin in order to successfully challenge Jerusalem’s legendary mayor Teddy Kollek, becoming the first Likud politician to run the capital; and then returned to the Knesset a decade later where he continued his rise all the way to acting prime minister under Ariel Sharon.
Hitherto a fierce opponent of relinquishing territory captured in the 1967 war — he had even opposed Israel’s landmark peace treaty with Egypt — Olmert mirrored Sharon’s late-life radical political shift, backing the prime minister’s unilateral 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and following his leader when Sharon abandoned Likud to set up Kadima. When Sharon fell ill in January 2006, Olmert took over, temporarily at first, and then as Israel’s elected prime minister after his and Kadima’s success in the 2006 elections.
The hawkish mayor who had bitterly opposed any division of Jerusalem metamorphosed into a prime ministerial political dove, firmly supporting Palestinian statehood — indeed, offering more to the Palestinians than any Israeli prime minister before or since. In 2008 negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Olmert offered to relinquish almost all of the West Bank with one-for-one land swaps, to give the Palestinians sovereign capital territory in Jerusalem, and to cede Israeli sovereignty in the city’s Holy Basin, with an international trusteeship to instead take responsibility for the Old City and its holy sites, including the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.
According to the thesis Netanyahu presented Sunday, and has presented in one form or another during more than two years of seeking to discredit and tar those investigating, indicting and now prosecuting him, this dovish, leftist, Arab-appeasing, land-relinquishing prime minister Olmert would be just the man the leftist elites would want to insure was taking Israel’s most fateful decisions.
In fact, however, precisely as Olmert was presenting his unprecedented statehood offer to Abbas, he was felled — forced from office as criminal investigations into his conduct as mayor gathered pace. Urged by allies and rivals alike, including Netanyahu, to step down from the premiership and focus on his legal defense, Olmert agreed in principle in July 2008 to do so: He delivered a speech promising to keep trying during his final months in office “to bring the negotiations between us and our neighbors to a successful conclusion” even as he was, he said, being subjected to “ceaseless attacks by the self-appointed soldiers of justice, who sought to oust me from my position.”
Now a lame-duck prime minister, Olmert failed in his desperate attempts to finalize terms with Abbas — and a possible deal on Palestinian statehood, on terms highly unlikely to be offered again in the foreseeable future, was averted. Netanyahu took over as prime minister in March 2009, after winning elections that were held earlier than scheduled because of Olmert’s resignation, and has retained power ever since.
All four of the key establishments Netanyahu cites as using foul means to oust him for ideological reasons played a role in Olmert’s downfall