Olmert on his way out?
Olmert on his way out? File photo

At a suddenly-called press conference Wednesday evening, the Prime Minister announced he will not participate in his party's primaries. He said he would resign when a new party leader is chosen, "in order to enable the new leader to form a new government."

Kadima's primaries are to be held on September 17.

Olmert began his speech, timed to coincide with the national televised evening news broadcasts, by boasting of his administration's economic successes, such as low unemployment. He added, however, that he believes that peace with the Arabs is the most important mission he faces. 

Olmert's speech can be viewed here.

"I have never tried to boast of my achievements for political purposes," Olmert said.  "I have always had to defend myself from attacks... I am the Prime Minister, and am therefore an address for political attacks, but everyone knows that it has gone out of control. Have I made mistakes? Certainly I have, and I regret them.  But I deserve to be treated as innocent until proven guilty - yet this has not happened.  I am proud to live in a state where even a Prime Minister can be investigated; the police must investigate, and the Prosecution must do its job as well. The Prime Minister is not above the law - but he is in no way below it.    It cannot be that minor clerks determine whether a Prime Minister continues in office.  Unfortunately, this is not what is happening..."

Towards the end of his talk, Olmert said, "The campaign of mudslinging being waged these days against me raises a question that I cannot and do not want to avoid: What is more important - personal justice for me, or the interests of the State?"  He answered categorically that the latter take precedence, and therefore: "I have decided not to take part in the Kadima primaries, nor will I intervene in them.  When a new party leader is chosen, I will resign in order to enable him/her to form a new government." 

"We have a wonderful state," Olmert concluded, "which I love with all my being. I thank you for the opportunity you have given me to act on your behalf."

Unsurprisingly, Olmert did not entertain reporters' questions, and quickly left the room.

The media event was announced only two and a quarter hours before its scheduled starting time, and was held in Olmert's official residence in Jerusalem.  No further details were provided, and even some of the Prime Minister's close aides said beforehand that they did not know what Olmert planned to say.

More Excerpts

Olmert summed up his term in office while decrying the "constant attacks" he has suffered from "self-appointed warriors for justice... I will not interfere in the internal elections. I will accept their results and give them my blessings.

"As a citizen of a democratic state I always believed that once a Prime Minister is elected in Israel, even those who voted against him in the ballot box must wish for him to succeed," Olmert said. "However, almost from my first day in the Prime Minister's Office, I have had to fight off wicked attacks even as I dealt with matters vital for the state's security."

"I have decided not to run in the primaries, and I will not interfere in the internal elections. I will accept their results and give them my blessings," he said.

Speculation: Rife

Speculation had been rife that Olmert would in fact announce that he would not run in the upcoming Kadima party primaries. However, it had also been rumored that Olmert planned to step down from office, either by resigning, suspending himself, or possibly by announcing an indefinite vacation.  Olmert's close friend Vice Premier Chaim Ramon had intimated that the last option was the most likely, according to the NFC Hebrew news site.

Four Police Probes

Olmert is currently under four different police investigations: The Talansky cash envelopes, the Cremeiux St. house, the double-billing for his trip abroad, and his alleged intervention in an Investment Center decision on behalf of a close friend.

The police have asked that Olmert dedicate two or mour hours each week to these investigations. The Prime Minister has not yet responded to the request.

The political situation in light of the suspicions against Olmert is complex.  Under pressure from the Labor Party to quit in light of the revelations that he had received cash-filled envelopes from New York philanthropist Moshe Talansky, Olmert agreed several weeks ago to hold primaries in his Kadima party in September - a far cry from the immediate resignation Labor appeared to be demanding.

Ironically, and in total defeat of Labor's intentions, Olmert never said - until now - that he would not take part in the primaries. 

Livni or Mofaz

The current front-runners for Kadima party leader are Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Sha'ul Mofaz.  The primaries winner will then be granted a chance to form Israel's next government. If he or she does not succeed within 42 days, elections must be held 90 days later - somewhere around the end of January. Olmert will remain the Prime Minister in the duration.

It is known that Olmert favors Mofaz, and had looked into the possibility of installing Mofaz as Acting Prime Minister in place of Livni.  This would have paved the way for Olmert to resign and Mofaz to assume the premiership, if only on a temporary basis, even before the primaries. However, such a move requires the approval of the Knesset, and was considered an unlikely scenario. 

Hana Levi Julian and Gil Ronen contributed to this story.