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Will Ehud Olmert become Israel's Richard Nixon?

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TEL AVIV – Foreigners may remember former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as the leader who, despite leaving a wake of destruction in two wars against Islamic militants in Lebanon and Gaza, re-engaged Palestinians in serious peace talks for the first time in nearly a decade.

But if the indictment against Mr. Olmert yesterday on charges of fraud and breach of public trust isn't debunked by his lawyers, the former leader will go down in Israeli history books as the local version of former President Richard Nixon.

The indictment comes as no surprise to Israelis. The 61-page charge sheet submitted to the Jerusalem District Court seemed an inevitable outcome of a series of marathon police interrogations that forced Olmert to step down nearly a year ago – well before the end of his term in office.

Israelis have already watched the public reputation of a former president and finance minister implode in the face of a public indictment on corruption charges. Despite that, the new inglorious milestone for the Jewish state was not lost on commentators. For the first time, a former prime minister will be dragged into court to face multiple charges of fraud.

Describing the tone of indictment as "angry," the Ha'aretz newspaper excerpted a quote for the lead headline of its print edition: “With His Acts of Fraud, Concealment and Deceit, Olmert Damaged the State’s Good Name.”

Avraham Diskin, an Israeli Political Science Professor, believes the charges against Olmert and the potential outcome could be worse than Watergate.

"I think it's going to be a gloomy precedent…. You are talking about pure criminal activities that had nothing to do with politics. With Nixon it was criminal, but rooted in dirty political competition,'' he said.

Israel now awaits yet another sordid corruption trial, likely to drag on for years. The chances of an Israeli president stepping in with a pardon like former President Gerald Ford are slim.

"If he is convicted, I cannot see a chance he will be pardoned," Mr. Diskin said. "There is no room for that.''

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