Ehud Olmert: An ambitious career that collapsed in scandal

By Simon Rocker, August 1, 2008

Dogged by allegations of corruption, Ehud Olmert will bring his undistinguished premiership to an end after less than two-and-a-half years in office.

The son of a right-wing Herut parliamentarian, the former lawyer was one of a new breed of pragmatists who abandoned the Greater Israel ideology of his father's generation and accepted that peace with the Palestinians lay in territorial compromise. He was born in 1945 in Binyamina, a town near Haifa noted for its wine production, fittingly for a man with a pronounced taste for a good life, whose penchant for cigars signalled a more sophisticated style of Israeli than the warrior-politicians that bestrode the state in its formative years.

After entering the Knesset in 1973, he rose to become Minister without Portfolio in 1988, then Minister of Health in 1990, before chalking up his most notable political victory in 1993 when he unseated the seemingly invincible Teddy Kollek as Mayor of Jerusalem.

Ten years later, having resigned the mayoralty, he returned to the Knesset, assuming the role of Vice-Premier and first Trade, then in late 2005, Finance Minister.

In January 2006, Ariel Sharon's stroke propelled Olmert into power as acting Prime Minister, but although his Kadima party topped the polls two months later, its lacklustre performance showed that he still had much to do to win over the Israeli public.

Within months, the country was at war but despite the Winograd Report and the criticism of his handling of Israel's military misadventure in Lebanon two years ago, Olmert appeared to have seen off any challenge to his position.

But any hopes he might have had of redeeming his political reputation by clinching a peace deal with the Palestinians have been buried beneath the wads of cash he allegedly received from an American philanthropist - one of a number of corruption allegations that could yet see him indicted.

Last updated: 12:31pm, July 31 2008