As recently as the run-up to last year’s elections, Ehud Olmert was looking forward to a prime ministerial comeback.
Several opinion polls suggested that he might have a realistic opportunity to oust his former Likud colleague Benjamin Netanyahu from power.
He had been acquitted in the Talansky and Rishon Tours affairs. And although the state was appealing those graft cases, and he was deeply embroiled in the Holyland affair, in which he was suspected of taking bribes to push through a Jerusalem housing project, many legal analysts saw no absolute legal impediment to Olmert running for office.
For months ahead of that January 2013 vote, Olmert kept the public guessing in “will he, won’t he” mode, not quite ruling out the possibility that he would seek to regain the office which he had relinquished when the legal clouds gathered five years earlier.
In the end, Olmert chose to sit out last year’s elections — sparing, one suspects, many Israelis the dilemma of whether to vote for someone whose national policies they liked but whose conduct was under such relentless legal scrutiny. But until Monday, he still cherished the notion that his political career would yet be resurrected.
In the wake of Monday’s shattering verdict, in which he was convicted of taking bribes in the Holyland case, Olmert’s lawyers and advisers insisted, properly, that they would carefully examine the judge’s findings before deciding their next steps forward.
Some of them also asserted that the last word had yet to be said on the Olmert corruption affair — a sordid, shameful, unprecedented case of an Israeli prime minister convicted of bribe-taking, and facing the very real possibility of a prison term.
Olmert and his team undoubtedly have much to discuss. If nothing else, his years of legal battling, and his demeanor throughout them, have shown Ehud Olmert to be a fighter, a man not easily overwhelmed.
But however the former prime minister chooses to internalize and then seek to recover from Judge David Rozen’s damning verdict, Olmert’s political career is emphatically over. There is no comeback from the assault on his integrity delivered in the Tel Aviv District Court Monday morning.
Olmert may now choose to extend his legal battles, to try to save himself from the punishment that awaits. But his days of seeking to act on behalf of others, on behalf of Israel, are over.
It’s a dire end to the career of the man who once ran the biblical Jewish capital, the man who later shifted politically in offering to divide that capital in the cause of a peace treaty.
It’s also a dire indication of the corruption so long suspected in some of the highest echelons of Israel’s government.
But Rozen’s verdict might also mark a vital milestone in the reassertion of honorable leadership.
Shadows of suspicion currently flicker over other high-profile Israeli public figures. Monday’s resonant verdict showed Israel’s courts are capable of exposing those who act dishonestly to the full glare of the rule of law.