Thursday, January 05, 2006

Who is Ehud Olmert?

The Jerusalem Post calls the acting Prime Minister of Israel "one of the most unpopular politicians in the country." Here is a lengthy profile of Ehud Olmert by the staff of Israeli newspaper Maariv (for quick reference, check out this site):
For years he was considered to be one of the Likud princes and was marked as one of the candidates to lead the party, but Ehud Olmert, particularly as a minister in Sharon's second government, came to be one of the more left wing members of the party. He was one of the sponsors of the "big bang" and, even prior to the announcement of the disengagement plan, was heard saying at a number of instances that Israel needs to resign itself to the death of the dream of the Greater Land of Israel and to carry out a withdrawal from a majority of Judea, Samaria and Gaza. As of yesterday, in the wake of Sharon's hospitalization, he was appointed acting prime minister.
Ehud Olmert was born in 1945 in Nahalat Jabotinsky, which is near Binyamina. He did his military service in the Golani Brigade and then served as a military reporter for Bamahane. Olmert is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he received a degree in psychology, philosophy and law, and by training he is a lawyer. In 1973 he was elected as an MK for the Likud and he served as an MK until 1988, when he was appointed a minister without portfolio in the national unity government. With the Labor Party's decision to quit the government in 1990, Olmert was appointed health minister.
In 1993 the Likud and the Haredi parties decided to run him as their candidate for Jerusalem mayor against the veteran, incumbent mayor at the time, Teddy Kollek. Olmert won the election, and after many years in which the Labor Party controlled the Jerusalem municipality, city hall fell under the Likud's dominion.
As mayor, he worked to increase the Israeli control over East Jerusalem. He pushed for the Har Homa neighborhood to be built and was among the people who supported opening the Western Wall tunnel. With that having been said, in the 1999 elections for prime minister, Olmert surprisingly came to the defense of One Israel's candidate, Ehud Barak, when Binyamin Netanyahu asserted that he would "divide Jerusalem."
After Netanyahu's defeat and his resignation from the Likud leadership, Olmert ran for the party leadership, but lost to Ariel Sharon.

Supports a Final Status Arrangement and a Withdrawal From Most of the Territories

In 2003, in advance of the general elections for the 16th Knesset, he resigned as the mayor of Jerusalem to run once again for a place on the Likud's list. He ran in the party primary and was given the 32nd slot on the Likud's list. Despite his low ranking, Olmert's close relationship with Sharon assured him a place in the cabinet.
Initially, there was talk of appointing Olmert as finance minister. But after Sharon decided to appoint Netanyahu as finance minister, Olmert was appointed as industry, trade and employment minister. Moreover, Sharon placed him responsible for the Communications Ministry and appointed him deputy prime minister.
Olmert was considered to be the most left wing of the second government formed by Sharon. He spoke on a number of occasions about the end of the dream of a Greater Land of Israel and a withdrawal from most of Judea, Samaria and Gaza - even before Sharon announced his disengagement plan. Olmert even said at one opportunity that there was no reason why many neighborhoods of East Jerusalem should remain a part of the State of Israel after the final status arrangement was achieved. After the disengagement plan was approved, Ehud Olmert was one of its chief advocates.

Sharon's Right Hand Man

Olmert is thought to have been Ariel Sharon's right hand man in the past number of years, in which he tried to distinguish himself as the prime minister's "successor." In the wake of Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's resignation last August due to his opposition to the disengagement plan, Olmert was appointed to the post. In his new capacity, Olmert often attacked his predecessor, Netanyahu, and was repeatedly critical of his policies.
At a conference titled, "the earthquake on the capital market," that was held recently, Olmert said: "Sharon felt badly about Netanyahu's economic policies." Olmert said: "the prime minister was in the pocket of the sling for a long time, and felt uncomfortable with the things that were done." He added that Netanyahu had advocated "an extremist and irresponsible view about the market powers' ability to influence."
Olmert was one of the motivating forces behind the "big bang" in Israeli politics when, along with Haim Ramon, he was behind the efforts to persuade Sharon to quit the Likud and to form a new party with Shimon Peres. After the decision was made, he was one of the first people to announce that he was quitting the Likud and joining Sharon in Kadima, which was established in November.
Olmert was indicted in the "fictitious receipts affair," in which he was charged with accepting illegal donations that were made to the Likud in the pre-election period leading up to the general elections for the 12th Knesset in 1988. He was completely acquitted in 1997.
His name was also cited in the context of the "Greek island affair," as the person who received help from David Appel in the Likud primary in 1999 in exchange for helping Appel promote his project. Olmert hosted the mayor of Athens in a trip that Appel had arranged. In 2004, however, a decision was made not to prosecute Olmert.


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