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May 11, 2008: Inevitable Complications

May 11, 2008

Now, perhaps Olmert is a totally innocent man , who never illegally took an agora (the Israeli equivalent of a penny), but this is not stopping him from having his lawyers fight a tough fight on his behalf with regard to the case being made against him.

The background:

Last week, the State petitioned the Jerusalem District Court for permission to take a deposition from Morris Talansky, and on Friday that permission was granted, although to be done in open court, not behind closed doors as State officials would have preferred.

They requested this permission because Talansky will be returning to the US and might not return to testify if there is an indictment against Olmert, and a trial. This deposition would serve in lieu of testimony within a trial.

(Additionally, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador told the court that Talansky "has expressed his concern to a police officer that Olmert might send someone to hurt him." Whether this was hyperbole only, expressing Talansky’s discomfort with testifying against a former associate and friend, or a real anxiety, I cannot say.)


Olmert’s lawyers are now going to the High Court , seeking permission to appeal the Jerusalem Court decision. The argument, as I understand it, is that such a deposition would be prejudicial to Olmert because it would not permit his lawyers to do the cross-examination that would go on in court.

A lawyer with whom I consulted advises me that it would be very unusual (though not impossible) for the High Court to intervene in a procedural matter such as this. In any event, there is a way to handle Olmert’s protest without blocking the State’s ability to do the deposition: Olmert’s lawyers must be provided with the current case against Olmert in all particulars and must be permitted to cross-examine Talansky during the deposition. Thus would Olmert’s rights be protected.


Talansky is remaining here voluntarily for the time being. He has made a public statement regarding his having promised the police he would remain and cooperate. He himself has been charged with no wrong-doing, at least not yet. While there has been no indication officially that he is a state’s witness, the logic of the situation makes it exceedingly likely that there is some sort of (however unofficial) understanding between Talansky and the police; otherwise he would be greatly reluctant to provide testimony with which he might damage himself.


There are potentially two sorts of charges that might be leveled against Olmert. One is the illegal acceptance of foreign donations for his campaigns. There are stringent legal limits (I believe something less than $10,000) regarding what a foreign national can contribute to the campaign of an Israeli candidate. This is for the obvious reason of avoiding the "purchase" of a campaign by foreign elements. In Olmert’s case there was allegedly a "fortune" in money passed to his campaign over an extended period of time.

A potential legal loophole here involves the time-frame during which the money was provided. The law forbids large foreign donations to a campaign in the nine months prior to an election; if no donations were provided by Talansky during that period before elections in which Olmert was running, it might be more difficult to make a case. .

A second potential charge, which has been mentioned by official sources, is that of bribery. The money, which may have gone into campaign funds, may have been intended for purposes other than campaign expenses. I wrote recently that there is no information on what was "bought," if this was a bribe. But I’ve since learned from my legal contact that it is not necessary to document this.

In essence, it would have been Olmert himself who was "bought,’ and not a particular service. There is even a legal term for this when large sums of money exchange hands in such situations. Olmert would have been in a potential position down the road to do one or more good turns for Talansky, who, it happens, does business in Israel. It is possible, legally, for the exchange of considerably large sums of monety to represent the forging of an unspoken agreement: "I give you this now, and we understand that when I need help you’ll be there for me."


And there is yet another issue. As I mentioned last week, Olmert and Uri Messer had co-founded the New Jerusalem Fund, which was ostensibly intended to do projects for Jerusalem (whether there were any such projects is not clear) and which was used to manage Olmert’s campaign. The Fund is a registered non-profit, and its use for a campaign may have been blatantly illegal.

Coupled with this is the whole issue of whether Messer (who, it is now being said, may go "state’s witness") was Olmert’s partner or his lawyer, or both. Olmert made a public statement last week about the fact that donations were turned over to Messer, as the Fund’s lawyer; Olmert expressed confidence that Messer would have handled them legally. This, of course, was intended to put the onus on Messer, who is not having it. (Messer would have no protection under notions of attorney-client confidentiality if he assisted in the breaking of the law.)


Lastly (for now), the NY Times has broken a story alleging that Talansky in 2005 (when Olmert was a minister in the government) paid for Olmert to stay in a $4,700 a night suite in the Ritz-Carlton in NYC.


According to Ali Waked, writing in YNet, the Palestinians are increasingly concerned about the effect of Olmert’s legal troubles on the peace negotiations. According to one unnamed Palestinian official, they believe that if Livni should come in, hers would be a "weak, fragile government, unable to push any significant political move." The PA is worried that "any headway made in the negotiations at this time may just amount to a waste of time."

Warned this PA source, if there is cessation of talks with Israel, the PA will begin talks with Hamas with an eye towards reconciliation.


The attacks continue:

On Friday, Jimmy Kedoshim was killed by a mortar shell shot from Gaza, while he was gardening in his yard in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, near northern Gaza; three others were wounded in the barrage. Hamas claimed responsibility.

Yesterday, over 20 rockets were fired on Israel from Gaza, lightly wounding five. One Kassam damaged a building at Sapir College, another landed next to a synagogue, and a third hit a home.

Today one Kassam landed near a school bus in Sderot, one landed on the property of Sapir College and a third landed in an industrial area of Sderot. This time Islamic Jihad took responsibility. But Israel holds Hamas, which controls Gaza, responsible.

Over 700 rockets and 500 mortars have been fired at Israel this year.


At the weekly Cabinet meeting today, Olmert declared, with regard to these attacks: "We are not planning to accept the [current situation].

"It won’t end in one day or one week, we haven’t promised this and don’t intend to promise this. But I will promise one thing: Either there will be quiet or we will act with such force that will impose quiet."

Threats are one thing, action is something else.

Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz , who has been increasingly critical of the government’s response to the rocket attacks, stated:

"The time has come to make a decision. If they don’t stop terro
r activities of their own accord, and I am referring to Hamas, we need to return to the policy of 2004, when Hamas and terror – meaning all the terror infrastructure, all the fuel and money used for terror and everything linked to Gaza gunmen – were targeted. We need to act against these components continually with all our might in order to bring quiet…"


Omar Suleiman, Egyptian intelligence chief, is due here shortly to discuss a proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza, in accordance with what has been worked out with Hamas and other groups. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter has expressed great reservations about this so-called ceasefire, because arms are continuing to be smuggled into Gaza from Egypt.

What is more, Dichter is concerned about Hamas influence in Judea and Samaria: "Hamas is interested in getting to the same point in the West Bank that Hezbollah has gotten to in Lebanon – to be in control without bearing the responsibility of the population. Under no circumstances can we allow that."


As to Hezbollah being in control in Lebanon…

While Hezbollah has pulled back from Beirut , clashes between pro- and anti-government forces continue in other parts of the country, including in the mountains overlooking the capital, and north towards Tripoli.

Amos Yadlin, head of military intelligence , providing a briefing in the Cabinet today, warned that "Hezbollah’s use of arms inside of Lebanon is a different sort of message."

And, indeed, Dichter’s statement at that Cabinet meeting was that "Hezbollah continues to be in control of Lebanon, without carrying the responsibility of managing the country."

Haim Ramon’s statement echoed this:

"Lebanon must be treated as a Hezbollah state. Everything that happens there is the responsibility of Hezbollah. The country is controlled by this terror organization and its government has become irrelevant. The notion that there is another government apart from Hezbollah is entirely fictitious."

While there is no panic, and no intention at this point to get involved, clearly Israeli intelligence is watching the situation in Lebanon very carefully.


While Israel celebrated Independence Day on Thursday, in terms of calendar the actual date was yesterday, Saturday. The move in national celebration was made by the Knesset so that there would be no desecration of the Shabbat. Israeli Arabs are clearly not concerned with desecration of the Jewish Sabbath, and so recognized Israeli Independence Day according to the calendar yesterday, and are continuing today.

And how do they recognize it? With the concept of "Nakba" (catastrophe). This means essentially protests against the existence of the State of Israel, organized by groups such as the Islamic Movement of Israel.

At one such commemoration in an Arab village in the north, Sheikh Kamel Khatib declared, in a statement that should not be taken lightly:

"Sixty years they have asked us to be Israeli Arabs and tried cutting us off of the Islamic nation. But their plan has failed."

There is enormous irony in the fact that Israeli Arabs have it better then Arabs in surrounding areas, with regard to a number of freedoms and benefits. And yet they would destroy us.

It is also ironic that Jordan banned such commemorations , but Israeli courts permit them.


Shmuel Katz has died at 93. Associated with Ze’ev Jabotinksy before the founding of the State, and then a member of the first Knesset on the Herut list, he has long provided a strong and principled voice for the Israeli nationalist camp. He mentored many, and towered as a writer and historian who was able in recent years to speak incisively for the concept of "peace for peace" as opposed to the failed notion of "land for peace."

With his passing, an historical era is gone.

I salute his memory.


According to Reuters, President Bush is thinking of offering Israel a powerful US radar system when he comes this week — one of several parting gifts under consideration.. Built by the Raytheon Company, this system can track an object the size of a baseball from 4,700 kilometers away. This would allow Israel’s Arrow missile to engage a Shahab-3 ballistic missile shot from Iran about halfway through its flight, considerably sooner than would be the case with current Israeli radar.

This strikes me as a very, very good idea.




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