Tuesday, September 09, 2008

"Slow Like Molasses"

Arlene Kushner

Getting rid of Olmert is that slow. At long last, after months of investigation, the police on Sunday evening recommended that Olmert be indicted on charges of bribery, breach of public trust, violation of anti-money laundering laws and fraudulent receipt of goods.

The two cases involved -- that will generate these charges -- are the Talansky affair, in which he is alleged to have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally in exchange for promises to promote Talansky's business interests, and the Rishon Tours affair, in which he allegedly double billed non-profit organizations for trips, thereby amassing for himself considerable excess funds.

And this is not the end of what he may yet be charged with.


But the process is hardly complete. Material collected in the two cases mentioned will be turned over to the Jerusalem District Attorney's office, where Eli Abarnel, district attorney for criminal affairs will assume the investigation. He will submit his recommendations on indictment to State Attorney Moshe Lador, who will present his recommendation to State Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who will render a final decision on indicting.


The indictment is now not expected before December. And there's more: Olmert's associates are saying that he will stay in office even after indictment, and until a new government is formed.

My assumption, based on standard form and expectations, was that a head of government under indictment would step down. Just a few months ago, in early May, Olmert himself had declared that he would step down if there were an indictment against him. A deputy premier would then take over.

But following this, in July, he declared that he would resign after a new head of Kadima was elected in the primary due to take place this month. And in that instance he would stay in place until the new government was formed.

Now what is being said is that if he is indicted in December, and a new government is not in place by that point, then Olmert -- who would already have resigned in principle -- would remain at the head of the transitional government until such time as the new permanent government was in place, rather than allowing a deputy premier to become prime minister until the new government was established.

Do not be disturbed if this is confusing to you. It's possible that there would be something wrong with you if you were not just a bit confused, actually. For this is a convoluted scenario filled with "if's" and "maybe's."

Part of what remains to be seen is whether the new head of Kadima is able to put together a coalition, which might happen before December. Or if an election is called, which would mean everything would not be finalized by December. Livni, who is riding high in the polls these days, was said to be thinking of calling for a national election if elected head of Kadima, but is now talking about establishing an emergency government. Mofaz, who is running second in the polls, is also talking about forming a new coalition quickly.

All I can promise is to do my level best to keep you informed as this unfolds.


Mahmoud Abbas, who was in Cairo on Saturday, told Egyptian president Mubarak that he doubted an agreement could be reached with the Israelis by the end of this year. He reiterated his desire for a total agreement:

"The solution that we Palestinians want must include all matters, and not defer on any. Both Jerusalem and the right of return are Palestinian rights."

Now, it actually is not the case -- there is no "right of return" in international law. Yet certainly the Arabs have been claiming it for over 60 years, drawing on UN Resolution 194 (which was only a vague recommendation without legal teeth).

But it would be interesting to see how Abbas and company would demonstrate -- legally, historically -- the claim to Jerusalem as a "Palestinian right." They've got a good part of the world believing this, without a basis for it at all.


Top Israeli defense officials, cited by The Jerusalem Post, are now saying that Iran is consolidating its hold on Hezbollah, so that Nasrallah is no longer in exclusive control.

Reportedly a delegation of high level Iranian Revolutionary Guards visited Beirut last week to coordinate the incorporation of Hezbollah into its forces.

According to a Syrian opposition newspaper, this was being done in case Syria were to establish relations with Israel and back off on its involvement with Hezbollah (something that seems extremely unlikely from this vantage point).

What seems to make more sense is the speculation that Iran is seeking to control Hezbollah sufficiently so that it would be able to order it to attack Israel, were Israel to attack Iran.


Iran continues to head the list of major international concerns:

A Russian state-run company that -- in return for $1 billion -- has been helping Iran build its first light-water nuclear reactor in Bushehr says that it should be launched by the end of the year. In theory, this plant is in line with international agreements. The US withdrew objections when Iran agreed to return spent nuclear fuel to Russia so it could not be used for weaponry.


David Kay, who headed the UN inspection program that uncovered the Iraqi nuclear program, writing in The Washington Post, estimated that Iran is two to four years away from developing some five nuclear weapons (a more modest estimate than what Israeli intelligence predicts). He had this to say:

"My humble best guess is that Iran is pushing toward a nuclear-weapons capability as rapidly as it can. But if Tehran were to believe that American - not Israeli - military action is imminent, it might slow work on the elements of its program that it thinks the world can observe."


Ileana Ross-Lehtinen, one of the very best friends we have in Congress, offered this in a piece she wrote for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs:
"The best way to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities is to impose a cost so high that it threatens the Iranian regime's survival unless that regime changes course. U.S. sanctions have hindered Iran's ability to attract capital, materials, and technical support, and have created extensive and growing financial difficulties for the regime. Yet although Congress has repeatedly passed sanctions legislation which has been signed into law, its implementation has been watered down or ignored by successive administrations.

"The latest U.S. response has been to join the European Union's efforts to bribe the mullahs into suspending uranium enrichment, while failing to apply U.S. sanctions...

"We must impose immediate, comprehensive, tough economic sanctions, along with every other source of pressure that we can muster, in coordination with as many countries as we can persuade to do so...

"The United States should make a moral statement that we will not deal with pariah states and will not help such states to fortify themselves and thereby endanger our own national interests and the interests of our allies, such as Israel.

"The Iranian regime's expanding political and military involvement across the Middle East and South Asia is a force to be reckoned with. We need to wake up and understand the implications of this matter...History has taught us that failing to act when threatened by a deadly foe like Iran usually ends in an avoidable tragedy. We ignore Iran's growing hegemony at our own peril."


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