After the dust settled on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's surprise announcement Wednesday evening that he will resign from office after Kadima's leadership primary on September 17, the main question is, What possessed him to act as he did?
Olmert did not actually resign from office in the normal sense of the term. That is, he's not planning to leave office any time soon. What Olmert did was force Israel into a long period of governmental instability.
According to the elections law, when a prime minister announces his resignation, his government is immediately transformed into a transition government that will remain in power until either Olmert's successor forms a governing coalition or until the winner of the next general election forms a governing coalition. If Olmert's successor forms a new governing coalition after the September 17 primary, Israelis won't go to the polls until March 2010. But if Olmert's replacement as Kadima head is unable to form a coalition, Israel will have a general election by March 2009 at the latest. In the latter scenario, Olmert's transition government will remain in power until the winners of that election form a governing coalition. And that could take up to three more months.
So far from leaving office anytime soon, Olmert will remain in power at least three more months, and perhaps for as long as 10 months.
Olmert's non-resignation resignation speech was filled with protestations of patriotism. But it is hard to see how his announcement served the national interest. If Olmert had wanted to do what is best for the country, then he would have announced that his resignation was effective immediately. This would have set the course for a general election in November.
In the interim, and in light of the intensifying security crisis with Iran, a caretaker government could have been formed that would have encompassed all willing Zionist parties represented in the Knesset. If such a government were formed, Israel could have attacked Iran's nuclear installations with the full backing of the Knesset and the people. The political cost of such a vital operation would have been borne equally by all of Israel's political leaders and so, in a sense, it would have been borne by no one. Under such circumstances, Israel's political leaders would have been able to concern themselves only with Israel's survival as they made their best decisions on how to prevent the ayatollahs from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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