Zionism and Israel - Biographies
Biography of Ehud Olmert (Ulmert, Ohlmert)
Biography of Ehud Olmert (Ulmert, Ohlmert)
Olmert's political career is marked by quiet innovation and independent opinions. In November 1993, Olmert was elected Mayor of Jerusalem, ousting the popular but aging Teddy Kolleck on a platform of unified Jerusalem. As mayor, he did not succeed in halting the progressive impoverishment of Jerusalem, nor did he succeed in equalizing the level of services and development provided to Arabs in East Jerusalem with those provided to Jewish sections of the city. He broke with right-wing members of his Likud party by advocating Palestinian self-rule. He resigned from the Knesset in 1998. In 1999, his insistence that he believed opposition party leader Ehud Barak would not divide Jerusalem was a material help in Barak's election campaign.
Olmert's career has not been untouched by hints of scandal. In the 1970s he was involved in a complex libel suit. Critics say he tried to get the Likud to pay for his defense, even though his lawyers were from his own firm. The Israel police also investigated his involvement with irregularities in campaign financing in the 2003 campaign.
In February 2003, Ehud Olmert was appointed Minister of Industry and Trade, and Deputy Prime Minister. Olmert became an influential member of the Cabinet. In November 2003, he gave a speech foreshadowing the disengagement plan of Ariel Sharon. Soon after, he gave his views in an interview:
"We are approaching the point where more and more Palestinians will say: we have been won over. We agree with [National Union leader Avigdor] Liberman. There is no room for two states between the Jordan and the sea. All that we want is the right to vote.
"The day they do that, is the day we lose everything. Even when they carry out terror, it is very difficult for us to persuade the world of the justice of our cause. We see this on a daily basis. All the more so when there is only one demand: an equal right to vote.
"The thought that the struggle against us will be headed by liberal Jewish organizations who shouldered the burden of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa scares me."
"Had I believed that there is a real chance of reaching an agreement, I would have recommended making an effort. But that is not the case. The choice we will be facing will be between less than a Geneva Accord -- which means a return to the 1967 border, the crushing of Jerusalem, and a struggle to our last breath to ward off the international pressure to absorb hundreds of thousands of refugees into the shrinking State of Israel -- and a comprehensive unilateral move, and I stress the word comprehensive. Through such a move we will define our borders, which under no circumstances will be identical to the Green Line and will include Jerusalem as a united city under our sovereignty."
Disengagement, modified to a much smaller scope, became announced Israeli government policy a few weeks later. Olmert worked closely with PM Ariel Sharon to advance the idea in the Likud party, in the face of stubborn opposition.
In the summer of 2005, when Benjamin Netanyahu resigned in protest over disengagement, Olmert became finance minister.
In November 2005, Sharon decided to leave the Likud party and found the Kadima Party. Olmert joined with Sharon. Skeptics insisted that Kadima was a "Sharon party," dependent on the leadership of Sharon.
On January 4, 2006, Sharon suffered a massive stroke hemorrhagic stroke and was hospitalized under anesthesia. Olmert assumed the powers of acting prime minister, holding a cabinet meeting on January 5 to signal the transfer of power. On March 28 2006, Ehud Olmert's Kadima party won an election victory sufficiently decisive to allow him to form the government, becoming PM in his own right.
After the unsatisfactory conduct of the Second Lebanon War; in the summer of 2006, Olmert and his government came under increasing criticism. Despite plummeting popularity ratings for Olmert and the Kadima government, Olmert held on. However, police investigations began to uncover several damaging cases of corruption attributable to Olmert. In the most sensational of the cases, Morris Talansky, an American millionaire, testified that he had regularly passed enveloped containing cash to Olmert to finance in his political campaigns. It became increasingly difficult for Olmert to retain control of the Kadima party and to lead the nation. On July 30, 2008, Olmert addressed the nation and announced that he would resign after the Kadima party had chosen a new leader in primaries. The primaries were set for September 17, 2008. The leading candidates were Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister and former IDF chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz. Olmert rather obviously backed Mofaz. Tzipi Livni won a narrow victory in the primaries.
Ehud Olmert is married to Aliza. They have four children.
Updated September, 2008
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