Olmert's 'Surprise' No Surprise

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CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's announcement Wednesday evening -- that he would not run in his party's primaries on September 17 -- took very few people by surprise.

In fact, it was a little anticlimactic.

 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he'll keep pushing for peace in the Middle East despite his decision to resign from office. His resignation could lead to more uncertainty in the region. Click play to watch the report along CBN News Report John Waage's analysis.

"When a new [Kadima party] chairman is chosen, I will resign as prime minister to permit them to put together a new government swiftly and effectively," Olmert announced at a press conference from his Jerusalem residence.

Olmert has remained in office far longer than many would have thought.

Not only did he survive a series of criminal investigations before his term as prime minister and after, he refused calls to step down last April, with the publication of the interim Winograd Commission report, evaluating the government's handling of the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006.

The Commission harshly criticized Olmert, along with then Foreign Minister Amir Peretz and former IDF (Israel Defense Forces) Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz, the government's three top decision-makers during the war.

But Olmert took the opportunity at his press conference Wednesday to criticize his opponents and laud his accomplishments.

"As a citizen of a democracy, I have always believed when a person is elected prime minister in Israel, even those who opposed him in the ballot want him to succeed," he began.

"But instead I found myself subjected to constant investigations and criticism. Almost from day one, I had to repel personal attacks and postpone decisions that are pertinent to the security of the State," he said.

Olmert may have been referring to any of the six criminal investigations opened against him during his relatively short tenure as prime minister.

"Israel's position has improved. The North enjoys tranquility," he said.

No mention was made of IDF assessments that Lebanese-based Hezbollah terrorists have accrued nearly three times the missile cache over the past two years than the estimated 10,000 missiles it had at its disposal prior to the war.

"Israel's deterrence has immeasurably improved. I'm proud of these accomplishments," Olmert said, apparently referring to the leadership of IDF Chief of Staff Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi, who replaced Halutz and began immediately to shore up Israel's armed forces by applying the lessons learned from the botched war.

The third person taken to task by the Winograd Commission for his performance during the war, former Defense Minister Amir Peretz, lost the Labor party chairmanship and the Defense portfolio to Ehud Barak.

Only Olmert survived Winograd, though his approval rating dropped to the low single digits.

Turning to his coalition's clandestine negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and with Syria, Olmert again praised his government's achievements.

"We are closer than ever to understandings that can serve as a basis for agreement on both tracks -- the Palestinian and the Syrian. So long as I will continue to serve as prime minister, I will not hold back my efforts to bring negotiations to successful conclusions that would offer hope," he said.

Olmert made no mention of the chaos in Palestinian Authority or the buildup of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, nor Syria's close alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.

Olmert will leave office as he entered -- with words that don't relate to the reality on the ground.

Meanwhile, two investigations against the prime minister are still pending -- one for allegedly receiving tens of thousands of dollars in cash-stuffed envelopes from American businessman Morris Talansky and the second for double billing trips abroad and pocketing the leftovers -- but Olmert blamed the system.

"To my sorrow, proper [legal] proceedings no longer take place [in this country]," he said Wednesday evening.

The winner of Kadima's primary will have until October 26 to form a new government. Should he or she fail to do so within that time frame, President Shimon Peres is authorized to grant an additional three months to form a new coalition.

Theoretically, Olmert could remain in office until March 2009, though he said in early May he would resign if indicted.

Sources: The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, YNet news

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Tzippe Barrow

Tzippe Barrow

CBN News - Jerusalem Bureau

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